Eleven weeks into lockdown, The Eikon Charity’s Chief Executive, Chris Hickford, explains how we’ve responded to the serious challenges that the Covid-19 crisis has created for us – and how we’re now gearing up to handle a substantial increase in demand as a result of the deterioration in the emotional wellbeing and mental health of many children and young people.

This is the most challenging period in Eikon’s history. Thanks to the commitment of individuals and grant making organisations supporting us – and the dedication of Eikon staff and volunteers, we’re still here, and able to support children and young people through this crisis.

We decided early on to divide our management of the crisis and its impact into three phases – response, recovery and reconstruction, so that we could plan effectively for each.

The Response Phase
Within one week of the start of lockdown, all our services were reconfigured to directly support children and young people remotely by phone and messaging apps and we were busy setting up a virtual youth club.

We also made our resilience resources available to schools digitally free of charge, and are helping them prioritise wellbeing now – and over the next academic year. Students are feeling less anxious about their return to school thanks to the support they’ve received during lockdown.

The Eikon team has shown real passion, dedication, creativity and care as they’ve pursued new ways to connect with children they support, focusing on those children and young people most at risk or in need of our help.

We remain very concerned though for a significant number of children and young people who are isolated in very difficult circumstances. This is reflected in a recent survey by mental health charity YoungMinds, in which 83% of children with mental health needs said that the pandemic had made their conditions worse.

Among those disproportionately affected by Covid-19 are BAME communities. Already fighting racism, discrimination and social and economic inequalities among other things, we are particularly concerned for the emotional wellbeing of children and young people in these families. Other groups at increased risk include LGBT+ young people, children in unsafe environments, and young carers.

We will continue to go the extra mile to reach and support as many children and young people as we can. But as we do so we’re mindful of the impact on our staff of the increase in workloads, complexity and emotional strain. Some Eikon staff are juggling this work with their own childcare challenges as schools have been closed. It has been a tough time for us.

Recovery Phase
There is now light at the end of the tunnel, with some lockdown restrictions easing, but it’s as we start to recover that the impact of the crisis is likely to start to show more fully. Some young people will be experiencing grief, anxiety, fear of failure and concern about their future prospects. Some will have parents separating as a result of the crisis.

Those hardest hit by lockdown and who have had depression or anxiety in the past, are more susceptible to deterioration in their emotional wellbeing and mental health. We are fully expecting a substantial increase in demand as a result.

In response to this we are in talks with a range of partners and are trying to raise an additional £600,000 to recruit new staff to support an additional 2,000 children and young people. We are leading this effort and working closely with the NHS, Surrey County Council (SCC) and our school and community partners to be ready by September.

Grant funding for our existing work has been very hard to secure, despite an outstanding effort by our part-time grant fundraiser. Most grant makers have prioritised physically vulnerable groups and immediate “practical” responses to the crisis, rather than children’s wellbeing and mental health.

The economic crisis has meant that individual donors are concerned about their jobs, savings and investments, and we’re discovering that there is uncertainty around their pledges. Our community fundraising has also suffered with the cancellation or postponement of several events.

We are deeply concerned about the combined impact of all of this on our ability to respond to the needs of a growing number of children who need us. We are working very hard to avoid redundancies, because we know that as we emerge for this crisis, Eikon’s staff will be inundated with requests for help from young people and their families.

We will continue to campaign for more focus on and funding for children and young people. If there is anything at all that you can do to help, please get in touch.

Reconstruction Phase
The longer-term picture will continue to be characterised by scarce resources and lack of finances, but also by new values and new ways of doing things. We believe that greater importance will be put on health and mental health as further evidence of need emerges.

We envisage that there will also be a new appreciation of families and friends, a greater desire for fairness and social justice and more concern for key workers and how they are looked after. We will continue to promote the benefits of volunteering, neighbourliness and community spirit.

I know you care deeply about children and young people facing difficulties and Eikon’s mission to be there for them. I hope this has been a helpful update and thank you once again for all you do to make this possible.

I continue to wish you and your loved ones well, and I look forward to hearing from you or even seeing you again soon.

Chris Hickford, Chief Executive

About the author

I simply want all young people to thrive and I work enthusiastically and collaboratively towards this objective. I remain hugely optimistic about what more can be done to help young people thrive. I live locally in New Haw with my wife Clare and two teenage children. I'm a man of faith, an Arsenal fan, an England rugby fan and enjoy most sports......largely from an armchair these days!

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