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Covid-19 is putting stress on under fives, NCB warns

By Rachel Lawler

The coronavirus outbreak is putting children under five under additional strain, according to new analysis from the National Children’s Bureau (NCB).

The NCB has warned that the anxiety and stress caused by lockdown periods coupled with a lack of face-to-face support for families could worsen existing mental health problems.

Research published in 2018 suggests that one in every 18 children aged between two- and four-years-old has a diagnosable mental health problem and the NCB says that the effects of the pandemic could have worsened these.

The findings were published as part of a report, Nurturing Healthy Minds Together, to mark the start of Infant Mental Health Awareness Week.

The report argues that parents have a vital role in improving children's wellbeing and that secure attachments are essential for children's emotional development. 

It also suggests that while there is an intention to provide support for the emotional wellbeing of babies, infants and their families, provision of services is inconsistent and take-up is often low.

Wider family support
Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the NCB commented: “During the COVID-19 crisis, babies are arriving into this world without the support of their wider family circle, and many parents and very young children are struggling to maintain their emotional wellbeing: supporting their mental health has never been more important.

“We’re convinced that building parents’ capacity to have rich and rewarding relationships with their children can bring mental health benefits for them both. Sharing what might traditionally have been seen as ‘specialist’ knowledge on brain development with families is an important way of enabling them to reach their full potential.”

Infant mental health
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: "As we begin 'Infant Mental Health Awareness Week', it is deeply concerning to hear the impact that the coronavirus outbreak has had on infant mental health.

“The last few months have been turbulent to say the least and we should not underestimate the impact that this has had on children, their parents and families.

“We have already heard anecdotally from providers who tell us that many children under five are anxious, fearful of germs and worried that their loved ones will become ill.

“As children begin to return to their childcare providers, I know that practitioners will be doing all they can to ensure a safe and nurturing environment where children's well-being is at the heart of their practice. This will be vital for those children and families who need that additional support at this critical time.

"This, of course, should not just be the responsibility of providers. If the government wants to limit the long-term impact of Covid-19 on infant mental health, it also needs to address the wider underlying health inequalities which have a significant impact on a child's development and wellbeing."