Supporting children’s wellbeing critical to safeguard the next generation’s mental health
Research from Camp Australia, the nation’s largest provider of Outside School Hours Care (OSHC), has found children in Australia’s most locked-down states – ACT, NSW, and Vic – have been most impacted by the pandemic.
These findings have highlighted the need to support young Australians’ mental wellbeing now to decrease the likelihood of the continued disruption from the pandemic impacting their future.
In the ACT, 97% of parents said children felt disconnected from friends and family due to remote learning and pandemic restrictions. In NSW (94%) and Vic (93%), parents also shared this concern.
Across the country, parents were concerned about the increase in the amount of time their children spent in front of screens (82%) and the fall in their physical activity (68%). Principals (91%) were mostly concerned about the pandemic increasing children’s social anxiety and emotional instability. Principals (80%) were also concerned about the impact on learning.
Parents and principals were both concerned about children feeling disconnected from friendship groups, particularly in the states where children spent the most time learning and connecting in virtual classrooms. Continued disruption from the pandemic and the recent flooding events are set to exacerbate feelings of disruption and disconnection.
The research, completed by Camp Australia in December 2021, surveyed more than 3,000 parents and 89 principals from Camp Australia partner schools.
Clinical psychologist and family therapist, Dr Andrew Fuller, says Camp Australia’s latest survey calls for immediate action from parents and schools.
“We need to take these impacts like children feeling more disconnected very seriously. Because one of the patterns of psychological ill health is that when you have a condition, you have increased likelihood of that condition in the future. In times of dislocation like now, we all need to work harder to recreate a sense of belonging and connection,” he says.
“Getting children involved in activities where they learn and socialise in a less structured environment, outside the classroom is helpful, says Dr Fuller.
“COVID took fun away so we need to create safe play spaces for children where they can learn, have fun, feel excited about their lives, try different activities and explore the world.”
Warren Jacobson, CEO for Camp Australia, said: “Two years into the pandemic, children have missed their friends; they have spent more time in front of screens and less time being active outdoors. As a result, they’re more anxious.
“Knowing the issues children face gives parents and educators a great opportunity to work together to help children settle back into school, redevelop a sense of belonging, rekindle friendships, and reconnect with their learning.
“Outside of school we offer a range of activities such as sport, cooking, drama and ‘arts and crafts’ that encourage socialisation, create excitement, and build confidence. Our Big Art Competition that started last week is designed to use art to help children express their emotions through art. We know children with stronger social and emotional skills often progress more rapidly with their academic skills. Now more than ever Outside School Hours Care is playing a critical role in the transition out of the pandemic, providing a sense of normalcy as much as possible.”