Pandemic holds back toddlers’ development

One in eight two-year-olds in Wigan was behind on developing key life skills last year, worrying figures suggest.

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 2:07 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 2:10 pm

Children’s charities say the concerning number of toddlers across England who are falling behind will have grown further during the pandemic as it continues, and said urgent investment in the early years sector is needed to get them “school-ready”

Nursery nurses and health visitors examine thousands of children aged between two and two and a half years old across the country to check their mental and physical development, as part of the national Healthy Child Programme.

The assessment gives parents an insight into how well their child is progressing and is used to help plan and improve local services.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Experts say toddler development has been curbed by the lockdown

In the council year 2019-20, 88 per cent of children in Wigan met expected standards across the five areas of communication, problem solving, social interaction, using fine motor skills such as holding a pencil, and gross motor skills including kicking a ball.

That was higher than the average of 82.2 per cent across the North West, which was the sixth-highest proportion of England’s nine regions.

Across the country, 83.3 per cent of children met expectations in all five areas of development in 2019-20.

The charity Action for Children said it was “deeply worrying” to see so many toddlers falling behind.

“Sadly what is not reflected in these latest statistics is that the situation has become much worse over the last 12 months,” said its director of policy and campaigns Imran Hussain.

“We know how critical the first few years are to children as they develop at a whirlwind pace, unmatched at any other time in their lives.

“Yet over the last year our frontline staff have seen children of all ages regress in speech, behaviour, education and social skills.”

The Government must urgently invest in children’s centres and family hubs to give children the support they need to be school-ready, he added.

The proportion of children hitting development milestones varied widely across the country – just a third of children were at the expected levels across the board in the London borough of Brent, while nearly all (94.6 per cent) of those assessed in Bracknell Forest in the South East were doing well in all skills.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said the early years sector has been “severely underfunded” for years.

“This is especially detrimental in disadvantaged areas, where parents have limited funds to pay for additional hours or optional extras, and many children have additional needs,” he said.

Mr Leitch added that the Government should urgently review the early years pupil premium – extra childcare funding for parents receiving certain benefits and tax credits – so children who have missed out due to the pandemic can get extra support.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We want every child to have the best start in life.

“We have kept nurseries and childminders open during lockdown to ensure the continuation of the care and education of our youngest children, and we continue to fund settings as usual.”

The department has provided £9m for the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme to support children in Reception to catch up on lost learning, more than £4m for early years charities, and committed £14m to champion family hubs, the spokeswoman added.

Thank you for reading. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers. If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription. Thanks again.