Eating disorders, depression, obesity: Government experts reveal the devastating consequences of the pandemic for children
Less exercise and education, more obesity and more mental health problems: The report of an interministerial Working group of the Ministry of Family and Health summarizes the consequences of the corona pandemic for children and young people.
And now? The task of the working group was also to collect ideas on what can be done. The Federal Cabinet discussed the report on Wednesday, Family Minister Lisa Paus (Greens) and Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) present the central results in a joint press conference.
25 experts, two ministries
The working group consisted of 25 experts in the field of child health and care. Among them were Jörg Dötsch, President of the German Society for Child and Adolescent Medicine, Susanne Kuger from the German Youth Institute and Christiane Gotte as Chair of the Federal Parents’ Council. For its expertise, the group relies on various studies that have already been published on the topic of children and corona.
Many children and young people needed better support services even before the pandemic.
The experts in their report.
The conclusion of the working group: The past few years have “shown that many children and young people needed better support services even before the pandemic and that even before the outbreak of Covid-19, the social systems were in some cases hardly able to react promptly to the psychosocial impairments of young people.”
And so the report shows where to start if society were to prioritize the well-being of adolescents more. First, it shows how the working group assesses the situation of children and young people, second, what the ministries believe has already happened in five fields of action, and third, what the experts recommend for these fields of action.
1 This is how the experts see the situation
All public life came to a “virtual standstill”, what families “enormous stress” meant. The report recalls the early days of the pandemic and that the burdens were unequally distributed: “For socially disadvantaged families in cramped apartments and with scarce resources or with previously difficult family relationships the difficulties and existential needs much larger. Families with children with impairments and disabilities were also sometimes extremely challenged by the pandemic.”
The preamble to the report already says: “The pandemic has probably left its mark on no child or young person. But it was particularly hard on those whose upbringing was already shaped by stress.” Specifically, the following findings are then mentioned, for example:
- “Children and young people pointed out during school closures 75 percent more likely to have depression symptoms up than before the pandemic. In comparison, the frequency of such depression symptoms increased by only 27 percent in the period without school closures.”
- The proportion of girls between the ages of 15 and 17 with a diagnosed eating disorder was 54 percent higher in 2021 than in 2019.
- At depression and anxiety disorders reported increases in girls but decreases in boys.
- At obesity (obesity) the numbers have increased for both sexes.
- Many teenagers and young adults experienced “Partly significant breaks or delays” in their biography, for example because they did not start a planned year abroad or could not move out of their parents’ house as planned.
- “Partly significantly increased need for support in the areas of language, motor skills and social-emotional development” is for children before starting school established. Social disadvantage in the form of poor access to education, training and income is a risk factor.
2 The ministries refer to these measures
broken down according to five fields of action the Department of Family and Health presents in the report what is already being done or planned. Here are some relevant examples.
- Early Help: The “Early Help” network ensures that families with special support needs already receive tailor-made offers of help around pregnancy and birth and then receive further support. The target group: “Families in psychosocial stress situations, families with a high risk of poverty, with a history of migration or flight, parents with mental illnesses, as well as families with multiple and high levels of stress”. An increase in funding was agreed in the coalition agreement. Mobile offers and digital access are to be expanded.
- Childcare: The report refers to this Kita quality law, which is intended to ensure better early childhood education through tailor-made financial support from the federal government, and on the expansion of child day care, which is to continue. According to the coalition agreement, an overall strategy to secure the need for skilled workers in the field of child day care is planned.
- Schools: The family ministry calls the model program “Mental Health Coaches” for schools that are established “Number Against Grief” and other consulting services as well as federal investment programs to expand all-day operations.
- Healthcare: The report states that the German healthcare system is considered one of the best in the world, but recognizes the recent “supply bottlenecks” given the strong wave of illnesses this winter. The Ministry of Health refers to changes in remuneration and personnel planning as well as medicines to ensure the care of children and young people. There is a “round table on exercise and health” in the ministry, programs for addiction prevention at the Federal Center for Health Education, and the public health service has also been strengthened with additional funding.
- Youth and family support: The Ministry for Family Affairs refers to a program for parental support, digital help offers and the legal entitlement for families in crisis situations to everyday support, which was introduced in 2021.
3 That’s what the working group is asking for
Also the Recommendations of the working group are divided into five fields of action. According to the report, “the federal government, the states, the municipalities, the health care system and science can feel addressed: everyone is invited.”
- The early aids should, according to the working group, be a role model “in order to achieve closer cooperation in other fields of action and thus a bundling of forces for the benefit of children and young people”. A “long-term dynamization and increase in funds for early help” is also required.
- The experts state that it is “often a challenge” for parents “to Legal entitlement to a daycare place to be enforced practically for one’s own child from the first year of life. Well-informed and well-connected parents have an advantage here, and it can be measured that socially disadvantaged families are less likely to perceive or enforce their rights.” Kita specialists should be trained more than before in the area of health prevention.
- The report says dental group prophylaxis reached around 80 percent of the children before the pandemic, but in the 2020/21 school year only 23 percent in the daycare centers and 16 percent in the elementary schools. A return to the old level is required.
- Mental health are far too rarely discussed in day-care centers. This must change, above all through appropriate training and further education of specialists.
- Health and health literacy should in school lessons be addressed more strongly.
- It is required that therapeutic support for young people are available in sufficient quantities in crisis situations.
- low-threshold Advice and mediation offers in particularly disadvantaged regions should be expanded.
- Countries and public health services should be given greater attention to parents and young people Juvenile Health Examination advertise and intensify in invitation, reminder and feedback systems. This is a continuation of the established preventive medical check-ups for young children.
youth and family support
- The working group calls for a “broad-based initiative to bind professionals to the youth welfare system”.
- Longer-term job prospects are a decisive factor for this initiative.
Finally, the experts call for a permanent committee of experts for the mental and physical health of adolescents to be established for permanent monitoring. “It takes a whole village to raise a child,” a proverb is quoted.
Nowadays it takes “an entire country” and “a joint effort by the federal, state and local governments in close cooperation with the health care system and science,” says the working group.
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