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End the silence on the impact of lockdowns on our kids

Children in Melbourne have been locked down for more than 220 days and have suffered through six consecutive terms of interrupted schooling. Image: pexels-Arthur Krijgsman

ShadowPandemicVic is a Victorian advocacy group that works with health professionals, mental health experts, teachers, and parents to end the silence around the impact of Covid and lockdowns on children’s mental health and advocate a return to face-to-face learning.

Opinion piece by Jacquie Blackwell, Spokesperson, ShadowPandemicVic

Silence – in our schools and briefly in our playgrounds, on our sporting fields, everywhere but online and in social media. That is what is greeting our kids.

The horror expressed by Victorians following 800 deaths in aged care during 2020 Covid lockdowns was palpable.  Such a number is inexcusable and inexplicable in its magnitude.  No one should lose a loved one in this manner – alone and without visits, dying before their time, even if only by a few months or years.

But where is the horror when it comes to the children?

There is legitimate fear over rising case numbers and the strain these put on our hospitals and frontline medical workers. 

But where is the fear about what is happening to our children?

Where are the mental health and physical and social wellbeing of children being discussed? What of future lives to be lived that have given so much already.

Each daily press conference has a myopic focus on statistics – case numbers, hospitalizations, tests, vaccinations.  We hear of death and disaster that awaits if we don’t hide away and protect ourselves.  We hear of children who will get sick, even though the National Centre for Immunization Research and Surveillance has confirmed most children diagnosed with the Delta variant experience mild or no symptoms. We hear fear.  

Our children are getting sick, and their mental, physical and social health is suffering.

In recent times, the statistics that have come to light need to be discussed, not cast aside as a sideshow to the main game. For our children, the frightening statistics about mental health are the main game.

Children in Melbourne have been locked down for more than 220 days and have suffered through six consecutive terms of interrupted schooling. Regional children in Victoria have fared marginally better regarding school interruptions.

A Murdoch Childrens Research Institute survey has found that 40 per cent of young people aged 12-17 have experienced mental health problems, and 20 per cent have had suicidal thoughts either most days or every day due to lockdowns.

According to Kids Helpline, 1057 children and teens at risk of self-harm between March and August 2021 required emergency intervention by counsellors.  Double last year’s figures.

A confidential report obtained from Victorian Agency Health Information states that, on average, 342 teenagers are admitted each week to hospital with mental health emergencies, an increase of 57% since the last reporting period.

Eating Disorders Victoria has reported a 300% surge in demand for support since the beginning of the pandemic.

For many children, school is also a safe haven.  Last week was National Child Protection Week, but you may not have noticed. The risk of under-reporting of child abuse during a pandemic is immense. As the Australian Association of Social Workers has stated, “child abuse happens behind closed doors”.  The doors of the State Government are closed, at least they are to children.

It is time for adults to give back to our children.  It is time for the adults to act like adults – we should take risks, not them.  In all the statistics and fear, we have lost the good news.  The virus has a high recovery and survival rate, particularly for those who are vaccinated. We need to get on with it.

The children need a voice, and they need champions. The children need hope. Schools must reopen, and children’s sport must return.  Things will look different but let us be creative. Tell mums, dads and grandparents they are getting vaccinated so children can again live as children should.  Incentivize the older generations. We must consider rapid testing, mask-wearing,  ventilation and other mitigating factors.  I love the idea of classes outside.

Life for children cannot immediately return to pre-Covid normal, but every future step, restriction, and measure must be justified. We need a plan that offers a life with certainty and hope. Whatever the method, it needs to start now.

We need the Government, all Governments and Oppositions, to speak out for our kids, act for our kids and not sacrifice our kids on the altar of fear. Give the children and plan, educate them, give them a life and give them hope.

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