A report released today by Ask, Listen, Act project, a multi–disciplinary study undertaken by academics from the University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores University and Edge Hill University, confirmed many fears that children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns.
The report described how many suffered isolation and had their access to education, health services and social, emotional and mental health support disrupted or withdrawn.
The report found that even before the pandemic there were inequalities and limitations in the provision of services for children with special educational needs and disabilities.
Following the announcement of the first lockdown in March 2020, findings suggest the problem was exacerbated, with education, mental health, and social care services downgraded or, in some cases, withdrawn altogether.
At the Leus Family Foundation, this issue has been a priority for us for some time and was the motivation behind our support for the Runnymede Special Needs Youth Club, also known as Bright Lights. Bright Lights club is for children aged 5–13 years with special needs in Runnymede and surrounding areas.
The children have disabilities ranging from autism, Asperger’s, Downs and moderate to severe learning difficulties, with some of them requiring one-to-one care. Established in 1996, children with varying learning and physical disabilities can come to the Bright Lights every Thursday evening for two hours during term time.
The Leus Family Foundation has become a long term supporter of Bright Lights, providing funding for toys and equipment, as well as special outings. Our strategy is to assist organisations such as this youth club as they work fill the gaps that have been acutely missing during the pandemic.
Children and young people — and indeed their families — can sometimes find it more difficult to access facilities, services and amenities and so feel more isolated anyway, even before lockdown restrictions. Therefore it has been crucial for us to support those who are trying to bring learning, connection and fun to these youngsters and their families. The structure and stimulation of youth clubs is an important way to access that.
Our most recent initiative with Bright Lights was to privatise Jump Giants trampoline park, so that the members of the youth club and their families would have the venue to themselves. This allowed the fun of the trampolines to be accessed in a very safe way. The measure of the success of this outing was the joy on the children’s faces.
Perhaps all of us have lacked some carefree moments during the pandemic, but undoubtedly young people with special needs are even more acutely in need of some light-hearted fun, as well as the increased physical confidence that an activity such as trampolining can bring.
We are grateful that the Ask, Listen, Act report has highlighted the way that young people with special needs have suffered during the pandemic and hope that we and others can work to improve the opportunities and experiences that these children have, for they surely deserve it.