YOUNG children in Scotland have been particularly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic with key development milestones being missed, a government committee has been told.

An increase in perinatal mental health concerns was also brought to the attention of the Coronavirus Sub-group on Education and Children’s Issues.

In an update on the impact of Covid-19 restrictions, the group was told that emerging data had shown increases in developmental concerns around communication, social, and emotional needs in very young children.

While more prominent among those in the most disadvantaged areas, these longer term harms reached across deprivation quintiles.

“Evidence is growing that the pandemic has had severe social, educational and wellbeing impacts on children and young people, including on their mental health,” the group stated. “There is also growing evidence of the impact on the very youngest children in terms of developmental delay, with potential long-term consequences.”

It was noted that some third sector services which support children, young people and families – particularly young children – have not restarted after lockdown. These include parent and baby groups, breastfeeding groups and services providing support in the home.

Concern was also expressed over the significant increase in five-year-olds who were reported to be overweight or obese.

The importance of in-person contact for health visitors and family nurse partnerships was highlighted, as virtual interactions are believed to make it more difficult to recognise risks, including child protection issues and signs of domestic abuse.

It was emphasised that mass temporary closures of school and early learning and childcare (ELC) settings, especially, should be a last resort.

“Keeping ELC settings open is particularly important to avoid the wider harms of developmental and speech delays, which are a key concern,” said the group.

It pointed out that there are financial challenges for the ELC sector in the event of closures, given that many providers are part of private, voluntary or independent (PVI) provision rather than being funded by a local authority.

It said that if additional financial support from the UK Government was unavailable, this could result in permanent closures for some settings due to a lack of funding, with resulting potential long-term impacts on early years education.

The sub-group agreed that even in the event of mass temporary school closures, the subsequent harms from parallel national closures for ELC settings would not be justified from a wider harms perspective.

The sub-group meets again this week.