Nearly half of children surveyed by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) say that the Covid pandemic has significantly changed their lives, with 83 per cent of respondents reporting that it had a negative impact on their learning.
No Filter: A Survey of children’s Experiences of the Covid Pandemic, conducted by OCO in conjunction with Amarach Research, also reveals that 74 per cent of children experienced feelings of loneliness throughout the pandemic, while 76 per cent experienced levels of worry.
“So much has been said by adults throughout the pandemic on how the experience of the past two years has impacted children, but this survey is a chance to hear directly from children on how they feel their lives were affected,” Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children, said, commenting on the report.
“As we adjust to life without restrictions, we wanted to take a snapshot in time and record while still fresh in their minds, how children feel they coped with the extraordinary situation they found themselves in.” .
The survey heard from 1,389 children aged nine to 17 across the country who attend Deis, non-Deis, Gaelscoileanna and private primary and secondary schools.
Worryingly, the survey revealed that 14 per cent of children had no help at all from parents or guardians with their online schoolwork, while 42 per cent of children’s parents or guardians could only help “sometimes”. Twenty-eight per cent of students, meanwhile, had missed more than two weeks of school since September 2021 due to testing positive for Covid or isolation guidelines.
But while children acknowledged the negative impact Covid had on learning and communication with teachers, it was the extracurricular activities that were missed most, with 60 per cent of children reporting school restrictions as having impacted “a lot” on activities such as training, trips, choir or drama.
Children were invited to share any other comments they had about the pandemic during the survey. While some positives of the past two years were acknowledged, such as having more time with parents, guardians and siblings, and enjoying time outdoors, the replies mainly emphasised the negative and potentially long-lasting impact of Covid-19 for children.
One girl aged between nine and 11 said: “The pods made school not as fun as you could not interact as much as you used to and the masks made it very hard for me as you could not see people’s faces during class which made it hard to understand people, especially the teachers, during class time.”
A boy aged between 12 and 14 said: “I was never able to properly experience first year in secondary school. A lot of the teachers are doing their best to teach us but some of us are struggling . . . To be honest, sometimes I feel like I’m drowning underneath all the work, pressure and self-doubt.”
Another child aged between 15 and 17 said: “My social skills have deteriorated a lot and I get anxious in crowded places, get burnt out quicker in the company of others. I care less about school.”
A boy aged between 15 and 17 said it “had a huge impact on my mental health. I developed depression and was later diagnosed with an eating disorder. I do not believe that the pandemic was the sole reason for this but it certainly contributed.”
In more positive findings, in the spring of 2022, with restrictions now lifted, 54 per cent of children surveyed reported feeling happy now with almost 40 per cent feeling hopeful.
“The survey has thrown up some interesting and, in some cases, worrying insights, particularly in relation to some of the children’s comments,” Dr Muldoon said. “With just under half of children surveyed saying the pandemic had changed their lives ‘a lot’, it is clear that there is more work to be done to fully understand the true impact of the past two years on our children and young people.
“Hearing directly from children and young people and ensuring their views are given due weight is an important part of my job as Ombudsman for Children, and I will work hard to ensure the powerful messages shared in this survey inform what we do and are heard by decision- and policymakers alike.”