The little girl who refused to speak after the pandemic began – charity warns of deep emotional impact on the next generation

Reporter: Alice Richardson
Date published: 23 April 2021

A little girl from Manchester who refused to speak to adults after the pandemic began is just one child affected by an ‘intensifying emotional health crisis’ faced by youngsters following Covid lockdowns, a charity has said.

Twelve-year-old Prayer Oloton David from Newton Heath suddenly stopped talking to adults at school when she went back to the classroom between lockdowns in 2020.

It was out of character, her mother Esther David-Osamwen said.

Prayer’s selective muteness came as she felt increasingly overwhelmed.

Esther said: “My daughter was not so confident before. 

"When in school she wouldn’t speak to adults, she would just be quiet and was only talking to other children.

“She was talking at home, she talks and screams, but [outside the house] she said she was so nervous when it was crowded.

“Confidence is really, really important.”

According to Manchester-based Transforming Lives for Good (TLG), the impact of the coronavirus pandemic could have ‘potentially catastrophic life-long consequences’ for kids.

Children from Greater Manchester and beyond have shown signs of anxiety, a lack of confidence and a fear of going outside since the pandemic began.

The charity, which helped Prayer, said it worked with another little girl who struggled to regulate her emotions once lockdown began and often became angry and emotional.

She struggled to follow instructions and was often overwhelmed.

TLG also worked with a young boy who found school hard and struggled to focus before the pandemic.

Things were made worse when lockdown forced children home. Increasing anxieties around Covid-19 meant he refused to go outside and tensions escalated at home.

After TLG offered their support, those children have grown in confidence and are learning to express their emotions, regulate their feelings and build better relationships.

For Prayer, TLG assigned her a support worker who has been in contact with her regularly to help her build confidence again.

Her mother Esther added: “Now she’s more confident, it has helped her a lot.

"In the first lockdown, [Prayer’s support worker] called her once a week and has stayed in touch.

“Now, she makes friends, speaks to friends and now adults.”

According to TLG, a rise in school exclusions, increased anxiety levels and rock-bottom emotional wellbeing are all possible outcomes in an ‘intensifying emotional health crisis’ for children as a result of the pandemic.

The charity has released its latest findings in a new report and is calling on the government to take action.

Esther, Prayer's mother

The charity, labelling the issue a ‘hidden crisis’, said: “Even before Covid-19, children’s emotional wellbeing had been in decline for a decade.

“If nothing is done, this intensifying emotional health crisis – exacerbated by the pandemic – will lead to a rise in exclusions, increasing pressure on social services and more children falling through the education system, with potentially catastrophic life-long consequences.”

Tim Morfin, founder of TLG, said: ” Urgent action must be taken to mitigate the consequences of Covid-19 for emotional wellbeing, before it impacts our society for generations.

“This feels like a huge task, but one that can be achieved if individuals and organisations work together to prioritise children’s emotional health and wellbeing.”

The TLG report sets out a range of ways in which children are likely to be impacted by the current situation.

The report read: “If we do not act, we are risking a generation of children being left behind due to circumstances beyond their control, falling through the net that could easily have been strengthened to prevent this.”

TLG has made a series of recommendations to the government to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on children and young people.

The charity has also called for a public inquiry into the emotional wellbeing of children nationally, both before and during the pandemic, as well as the creation of a government task force to examine the problem further.

The government’s Minister for Mental Health, Nadine Dorries, said: “I am acutely aware how difficult this pandemic has been for children and young people and I remain absolutely committed to supporting their mental wellbeing.

“Early intervention and treatment is vital, and we are providing an extra £2.3bn to help an additional 345,000 children and young people access NHS-funded services or school and college-based support.

“This month we announced £79m in funding to expand children’s mental health and eating disorder services for thousands more children and young people and help accelerate coverage of mental health support teams in schools and colleges.”

It is understood the government is also investing £8m into teacher training ‘so they can better respond to children’s emotional and mental health needs as a result of the pandemic’.

Guidance to help people deal with their mental health and wellbeing can be found on the government’s Every Mind Matters website here

For immediate support if you or someone you know is struggling, you can contact Samaritans on 116 123 or visit their website here:

Transforming Lives for Good can be contacted via their website here:

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