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Children observed social distancing while waiting to be let back to the classroom after a two-month break at Jokiniemi school in Vantaa, Finland, on 14 May 2020. (Emmi Korhonen – Lehtikuva)

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THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS has created difficulties especially for children from low-income families in Finland, finds a survey conducted by Save the Children Finland.

The politically and religiously independent non-governmental organisation reported yesterday that more than quarter of 13–17-year-olds feel that their mental well-being has been quite or very poor during the economic and social crisis triggered by the virus.

The situation is difficult especially for children from low-income families, with 43 per cent of them describing their mental well-being as quite or very poor. Such children also estimated that they have struggled with remote learning and their family needs more support more often than their peers from higher-income families.

“Now we have concrete evidence that children especially from low-income families feel plenty of anxiety, alarm and distress [during the crisis],” highlighted Aino Sarkia, a child poverty specialist at Save the Children Finland.

The state of emergency has affected child well-being also by kindling concern about how their family will manage mentally and financially.

While a fifth of respondents viewed that the financial standing of their family has eroded due to the crisis, over a fifth (22%) expressed their concern about the livelihood of their family. Such concerns were expressed by over a half (57%) of children from low-income families.

Well over a third (37%) of respondents stated that they are worried about the ability of their provider to manage in the circumstances and over a quarter (26%) that the mood of their providers is affecting the entire family. Almost two-thirds (62%) of children from low-income families said they are worried about their providers.

“The matters of adults cause concerns in children, and those concerns are warranted,” said Riitta Kauppinen, the head of advocacy and civic activity at Save the Children.

“The prolonged state of emergency places a burden especially on low-income families whose income has been disrupted abruptly or whose parents fall into the risk groups. The government must guarantee sufficient income and social security to families with children especially now,” she underlined.

Finnish children also told they have found it hard to maintain their social relationships during the crisis. Over a half (55%) of them said they feel lonelier than usual.

A quarter of children estimated that their family or one of its members would require help or support in the daily life to cope with the state of emergency. The share jumped to 47 per cent among children from low-income families.

Over one in ten (13%) of those who needed help also said they had failed to get help.

“The numbers are bleak,” said Sarkia. “Reaching families in need of help has become immensely important, and we hope the government and municipal decision makers make sure student health care and social services are available and easily accessible also digitally.”

The survey found that the two-month suspension of in-person instruction had an impact on the majority of children, but – again – especially on children from low-income families.

Three-quarters of all respondents gauged that their school performance has been affected negatively by the lack of in-person teaching. Eight per cent of them, meanwhile, viewed that the reason for their poor performance is the situation at home, such as substance abuse, mental health issues or mental or physical violence.

Such reasons were cited by up to 15 per cent of children from low-income families.

Over one-tenth of children also reported both that they do not have the tools required for remote learning and that they had not had a nourishing or warm meal during the period of remote learning.

Kauppinen pointed out that these children will likely be left without a warm meal also during the summer holiday and in the event of further school closures or school-wide quarantines in the autumn.

A total of 3,129 13–17-year-old children responded to the survey between 6 and 24 April. The survey is organised regularly to explore children’s views on a varying topical themes.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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