The Irish Times view on children in the pandemic: easing the toll on the young

It’s vital that children’s policy does not slip down the agenda with attention focused elsewhere

One of the few bright spots of the Covid-19 emergency is that children, for reasons that scientists are still trying to figure out, are significantly less likely than adults to get seriously ill. A disease whose severity generally increases with age has, with some terrible exceptions, largely spared children from the worst. At the same time, however, young people have suffered considerable harm from the pandemic itself. School closures, lack of contact with friends and relatives and a loss of support services have all taken a heavy toll on the young. Their worlds have shrunk, their lives have been on pause. And the effects on their development could take years to work out.

The return of some children to schools on Monday was an important landmark. Their reopening was delayed for too long and there was a sense, as talks between Government and teachers’ unions trundled slowly on, that the interests of children themselves were too far down the agenda. Those who will pay the highest price – for the extended closures as well as for the broader social shutdown – will be children with special needs and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

But no child is entirely unaffected by the pandemic. As Children's Ombudsman Niall Muldoon has pointed out, a child with two working parents, access to a laptop and a workspace at home will manage to get by. It will be a different story for a child whose parents have lost their jobs and who is sharing a laptop with three siblings. Catching up on school work or re-establishing social connections are one thing. But the psychological effects could take longer to be fully understood. Muldoon observes that there is a "slowness and lethargy" in many children now, and a "low-level melancholy" born of having so little to do.

The needs of children must be put front and centre in the official Covid-19 response. But, more broadly, it’s vital that children’s policy does not slip down the agenda with attention focused elsewhere. In its annual report card on progress towards achieving Government commitments in 2020, the Children’s Rights Alliance last week identified a range of areas where momentum had stalled.


It noted slow progress in establishing Childcare Ireland, a new overarching body for early-years functions, as well as slippage in work aimed at children in poverty and with additional needs. A free school books pilot scheme began last September, but its scale is small and there was no provision made in Budget 2021 for its continuation. The list goes on.

When the pandemic is eventually brought under control, the State will face a huge task in helping children catch up and recover from the disruption of the past year. It must not make that task harder by falling behind on its own commitments.