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Shifting the narrative from ‘recovery’ to ‘discovery’ - supporting babies’ and young children’s development during and after the Covid pandemic

26 April 2022 | by Guest

With regular headlines expressing concern about the damaging impact of the pandemic on children and babies’ development, Abigail Wright, Educational Psychologist specialising in the early years and DECP committee member, urges a move towards a more measured approach, and a focus on what we can do to support our children and babies.

‘Reduced opportunities’ or a need for different opportunities?

Just over a fortnight ago, Ofsted published the second set of reports in a series exploring the pandemic’s continued impact on education providers.

Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman stated that she is:

“...particularly worried about younger children’s development, which, if left unaddressed, could potentially cause problems for primary schools down the line”. 

The report stated that the pandemic has continued to affect young children and described ‘delays’ across many key areas of children’s development, for example in ‘speech and language skills’, ‘personal social emotional development’, ‘physical development’ and ‘independence and self-care skills’.

These ‘delays’ were all attributed to what described as ‘reduced’ opportunities during the pandemic, such as ‘reduced opportunities for social interaction’. 

Early support should not be delayed

It is excellent to see calls for a strong focus on babies and young children’s wellbeing and development.

This focus is especially pertinent as there are growing concerns that babies’ and young children’s needs are often forgotten in support and policy; something which the Parent Infant Foundation have campaigning heavily for.

However, I continue to be concerned about the possible feelings of helplessness/hopelessness that such media headlines can cause for families, which could be of detriment to their wellbeing and development in itself.

Specifically, these headlines can give the impression to many families that the pandemic is a single thing that will directly have had a negative impact on their young children’s development.

However, the pandemic would not have/will not significant negatively affect all young children, and it will not affect everyone in the same way.

Firstly, the existence of the Covid pandemic itself does not mean that a child’s development will be negatively affected; rather there are circumstances that could be exacerbated by the pandemic, which could affect a child’s development.

Each child will have had an individual experience. Context is extremely important here, and context can be complicated - with lots of different factors and variables to take into account.  

The need for easily accessible support

We know from research carried out by the Parent Infant Foundation during the pandemic, that those that were already experiencing challenges were likely to experience more difficulties.

The accumulation of such challenges and adversity are extremely important to reflect on when thinking about pandemic and its impact on children.

We have to address growing inequalities and how for those who are already experiencing difficulties, these then multiply during times of crisis, trauma or difficulty.

However, we must also not lose sight of all those things that are most important during the early years that could have/continue to be protected/supported, despite what is going on in the world, such as interactions and play with primary caregivers.

We need to focus on collaborative ‘discovery’, rather than ‘recovery’

To grow and move forward together as a society, but support each other as individuals, I would like to suggest that we: 

  • Continue to shift the narrative around early child development from ‘recovery’ – to ‘discovery’. We must do this collectively and collaboratively, embracing individual strengths and interests, taking child-centred and person centred approaches, so that we focus on enabling and growth, not suggesting that something/someone needs to be ‘fixed’. 
  • Now, more than ever, we need to promote and highlight a focus on the things that we can do, and are within our control to support babies and young children’s development – for example, interactions, relationships, attachment and play. We know that these are key for promoting development, and we can focus on these, even within the most challenging contexts. If we focus on supporting what we can do to enable this to happen, as opposed to thinking that it is not possible to prevent something from negatively affecting development, we can take hopeful steps to supporting our children’s future. 
  • We have to continue to recognise, promote and prioritise the idea that communities and society have a huge role to play in supporting children’s development, and empowering families supporting young children. They know their children best, and have the tools required, but they might need help building the box (support) that holds the tools inside. We do not exist in isolation of complex factors. Policy has to address how society and systems can support families, babies and children and ensure equality. All those involved in caregiving for babies and young children need the right support, to enable them to offer the right kind of support. Undoubtedly, the pandemic will have placed pressure on the support that families and childcare/education providers can give. We need a long-term commitment to investing in such support and community services.
  • We must all celebrate and support the strengths, and interests of all babies, children and young people families. We need to work on what works for individuals/families. Complex times cannot always be supported by simple responses. We need to support individuals in line with their current needs, focusing on what they can do (and what they might need support for), rather than what they cannot do. 

Supporting the early years is more important than ever, but we have to break away from an individual and narrow focus, and move towards a systemic approach that focuses on supporting families, babies, and young children holistically.

We must focus on what we can do and are within our control, and move away from this narrative of hopelessness we see in the media.

This is not just about pandemic recovery, it is about society supporting discovery. 


About the author

Abigail is an early years lead educational psychologist for a local authority in South Wales and a BPS Division of Educational and Child Psychology Committee Member.

She has written articles and blogs related to her special interests in the early years, play, caregiving and attachment, social communication and interaction, and autistic spectrum condition.

Abigail is also a mum to two young girls aged two and five years old. This blog represents the views of the individual author, not the DECP.

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