The first lockdown from March – June was a very confusing time, with almost no government, local authority or police guidance around children playing or being outside – guidance that we and others strongly called for.
Our inbox and network told us that parents felt very anxious and confused about what was allowed. Some vulnerable residents were also extremely worried by children playing outside, even just in their family group. Many parents simply kept children indoors during lockdown, afraid of being judged or fined and wanting to do the ‘right thing’. As a result, many children experienced months of largely being indoors and not seeing any friends at all. Many also had over five months not in school.
The full negative impact of all this and other challenges on children’s mental and physical health, especially for those who had no access to any private outdoor space – is now emerging for the UK, as it did for Spain. The Children’s Commissioner has written this report on childhood in the time of Covid-19.
There were also opportunities during the spring lockdown. Traffic levels were reduced to pre-1960 levels, enabling more children to cycle, walk or play safely with siblings in the street where there was confidence for them to do so. People loved the cleaner air and greater sense of community.
As traffic – the major barrier to children’s freedom and safe outdoor play – increased, we called for residential streets to be opened up more for people and campaigned for streets to be made safer for everyone, both now and in the future.
This paper from the Children’s Commissioner outlines the key actions needed in order to ensure children’s needs are put first when planning for further lockdowns.
In response to the impact of the previous lockdown, many experts, academics and organisations including us called for the need to prioritise children’s safe, outside play, both day to day or though organised opportunities such as sport or play streets whenever possible.