UCL Minds


Transcript: Episode 40

What can we do to help young people recover from the pandemic?


pandemic, children, young people, summer school, ucl, schools, people, women, child, communities, support, find, families, resilient, individuals, important, thinking, impact, work


Amelia Roberts, Vivienne Parry, Monica Lakhanpaul


Vivienne Parry  00:03

Hello and welcome to Coronavirus the whole story. My name is Vivienne Parry. I'm a writer, broadcaster UCLA alumna and the host of this award winning podcast all about the pandemic as understood by the UCL community and its research. This week marks the return to the classroom for our children. And I can confidently say that an awful lot of women out there are joyously celebrating the end of homeschooling, and hoping that At last, they're going to get their lives, their broadband, and F bridges back once again, this week also sees International Women's Day and we thought we should mark it by hearing from two fabulous women from UCL up and working with some of the communities most affected by the virus. My first guest today is Dr. Amelia Roberts. You may remember her from Episode 13, which brought together education researchers to talk about how best we can support children who struggled with schoolwork during lockdown. Amelia is an Associate Professor at the IOE and Deputy Director of the UCL Centre for Inclusive Education. And UCL's Vice Dean for Enterprise. Since she last guested on the podcast, she's been featured on Sky News and in The Independent, providing expert advice on key education decisions. I am also joined by Professor Monica Lakhanpaul, Professor of Integrated Community Child Health in the Population, Policy & Practice Department of UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health; and Pro Vice Provost for South Asia. Alongside her work as a community paediatrician, Monica researches population health and health inequality. She places a great emphasis on citizen science, making her research accessible to and inclusive of those it effects. During the pandemic she has helped to launch the Consortium on Practices for Wellbeing and Resilience in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Families and Communities - or Co-POWeR for short and glad there's a for short there, which is investigating the impact of the pandemic on children and young people's health from ethnic minorities. So Monica, let's start with you. Tell us a bit more about Co-POWeR and your role in it.



Thank you very much. And thank you for inviting me to today on International Women's Day. COPPA is a new consortium that we have just launched, as you said, and has been funded by UK ri for about 2.5 million pounds, we're really actually proud to be leading this consortium, it was brought together by majority of female, black Asian and minority ethnic professors actually, who got to know each other through the black forum of professors, we then realised that there was a need to actually investigate further what the impact of COVID has been, and will be on many black and Asian minority ethnic communities. And we wanted to try and understand the interplay, really, between all the different vulnerabilities that these individuals communities, families are actually exposed to. And how better to do that. But then actually, to talk to people, there's been a lot of data out there, we've seen lots of reports, looking at the incidence, the differences in risk factors, the difference in mortality rates. And that's all really important for them to know how to target interventions. But what we don't really hear about is, what's underlying that from the grassroots level? What are the stories? And how can we actually hear their stories from the voices of the communities themselves, because only the communities themselves know really how it's really challenged them over the last year, what maybe the solutions that are out there, when we building back better, as the government says, and how really how they navigated this through their different interactions with the law or through health services or through their social networks. So co power was really an idea that came together, where we thought that it's important to bring the different disciplines together. And actually, that's core to this consortium. We have individuals who are coming from backgrounds such as health myself, social work, law, creative arts, political sciences, international relations, and you can see that's very, very diverse and an integrated approach, which was really key. And the reason for this is because we realised that to untangle and unravel some of the factors that underlie these vulnerabilities for families and who are at risk of COVID-19. And to hear the untold stories and untold experiences that we need to hear. We needed to bring together academics in partnership really, and really hear from the different perspectives of what sort of discrimination people might have faced, how they've navigated to that discrimination, what the what the experiences have been through and not having any access to education or school, and what it's been like to lose family members at such a high rate that people how through this whole pandemic.


Vivienne Parry  04:57

So what's your role in this particular And also what are you finding so far? What's really struck here?


Monica Lakhanpaul  05:03

So we're at the beginning of this consortium. I'm a professor of Child Health myself, my experiences working with marginalised communities. And that's really what I'm bringing to the table. I've worked as a practising paediatrician for many years with marginalised communities, many of them from black and minority ethnic communities. I, myself a South Asian origin, and seeing how the last year has actually played out in front of my own eyes. So I will be working with colleagues on the children's work package, particularly and with young people. And what we really want to do is reach out to the very marginalised youth who've been affected by this pandemic, and whose voices probably haven't been, as heard as much as many of the other people in the public domain at the moment. So we will actually be going and spending time and this is what I'll be doing with with my colleagues will be going and finding these young people, hearing their stories, getting them to tell our stories, and co creating solutions interventions with them, that we hope we can then take to policymakers, and put in front of these policymakers to work out what we should be doing in the future, to give the youth of today a better future for tomorrow,


Vivienne Parry  06:13

whether any particular stories that you were hearing, perhaps, during your regular work, that made you think that this approach would be one that would be really valuable.


Monica Lakhanpaul  06:23

Yes, we've been hearing lots of stories of young people talking about how they've had to spend their time taking all carers roles that they may not otherwise take spending more time in the house where they're having to look after elderly members, many, many of black and minority ethnic communities live in multi generational families. And that's very positive, because it's very positive that families look after each other and the elders have been cared for. But it does put a pressure sometimes on the young people when they're trying to take care of their education. And they're trying to take care of caring roles in the house. And we wanted to actually understand what that what that really felt like and what pressures were on these young people. We talk a lot about mental health and well being, but actually, how can we help the mental health and well being? And what is it that's been happening, we want to also ensure that what we do is we were talking about resilience. And we want to actually also consider some of the positive factors, it's very easy for us to think of all the negative impacts of COVID. But we want to also understand what has made young people resilient, what has actually made them survive the last year? And what are the skill sets they developed that they can take into their future? So a lot about the impact of COVID from what's negatively impacted them, but also what has made them resilient and can help them in the future?


Vivienne Parry  07:40

Yeah, we shouldn't forget that, that everybody has been very badly affected. But actually, some children have not, you know, not all of them will be kind of wrecks by the end of this. I mean, I think that that's a message of hope for people who are particularly for parents and mothers, especially who were worrying that the impact of the pandemic will be very long lasting for their children. And actually, the message is that some of them are very resilient. And that's, that's good news.


Monica Lakhanpaul  08:10

Yeah, I think it is. And I think what we have to do is to hear both sides of the stories, and I'm sure young people will be able to learn from each other. So those who have navigated as well and who have become resilient, may also be able to share some of the learnings and skills with their peers over the next year.


Vivienne Parry  08:27

Now, that sounds like an absolutely huge project. But I know that you're also running another project as well, which is specifically focusing on young children experiencing homelessness, which of course has grown enormously throughout the pandemic, what have you found out through this research?


Monica Lakhanpaul  08:45

So this is another piece of research that's been funded as a national project, and it's called the champions project where you'd like our names. So champions is an acronym really, for us where we're looking at children experiencing homelessness, and the invisible voices, because we think that children who experience homelessness don't actually get hurt very much and haven't been heard very much throughout this pandemic. This work came really from some work that my PhD student was doing with me, where we were actually looking pre COVID, actually, on what it was like to live in a temporary accommodation or experienced homelessness as a young child, and how do you navigate that as a young child? So when the pandemic came my PhD student and myself and my colleagues as well, who are her supervisors, thought to ourselves well, you know, this is something that we really need to take further if it was bad news before living in temporary accommodation. How has it really affected these young children now, what we're seeing is that children who are homeless have to offer move very frequently. They often have to change their accommodation quite rapidly, and they're sometimes in some very inappropriate accommodation with lots of loud noises, inappropriate people in the same household difficulty for mothers to social distance. We talk a lot about social distancing, very difficult to follow the guidelines. The government forgiving, and this has a knock on effect for children. Also, you can find that, you know, children haven't been able to access the services as well as they were before such as health visiting services. And so we're really very, very worried about what this long term impact is going to be on these children. Because under five ages, we know is a critical window of when we need to intervene to improve the future lives of children. And they've spent a whole year where they really some of them been sitting in bed sits or in one bed, having a room to move around moving from place to place, no real place, we could they can call home, which you know, has been so important for us over the last year home has been so important for us. So what we're finding is that pre COVID, the experiences of young children was very, very difficult. And during COVID, this has been impacted on fever more than it had been before. So I've given a lecture about children experiencing homelessness, and really the plight, that these children have an impact of homelessness on their lives. And this critical window of opportunity that we must tackle really cold calling together as a call for action. Because all in society, professionals, academics, policymakers, and all society members to really think about how we can support and help these young children into the future. And to enable them to have a better future for themselves.


Vivienne Parry  11:23

These children are doubly invisible, aren't they? Because their plight doesn't often get heard. But once you have no address, which is a key element in making you visible to authorities, once you have no address, you really disappear beneath the waves.


Monica Lakhanpaul  11:41

Yeah, exactly. And I think that's one critical point here is that when we look at the data, you can see that there's national data about children living in households, but you can't actually see any data about children under five. And if you can't see where these children are, how do you target services, you can't ask local authorities to actually find out where to put their where to put their money, really in a crude way, if you don't know where the children are living, and we need to make the children more visible, we need to make sure that we find out where these children are living, we can track these children as they move, because to be very honest, you know, there could be one borrow one day, and there could be another, another borrow another day, they have to start the whole process, again of finding a GP or a health visitor or a dentist. And we find it hard enough to do that. And surely there must be a simpler system we can find to help these children get the services that they need,


Vivienne Parry  12:36

are really, really important. Thank you for that. Monica. Let me turn to Amelia now, because a large part of your work has focused on creating programmes to help improve teaching in schools programmes like making autism research accessible to teachers have you had to adapt this work during the pandemic for another section of the population that can be invisible?


Amelia Roberts  13:00

Yes, indeed. So a large part of our work is what we call knowledge exchange. And what we do is we take a literature review, and we make it accessible to schools by giving them an audit. So they can use the existing knowledge base, to scrutinise what's happening in their schools, and then plan an action project and action research project around their own findings. So we're all about reflective practice and supporting schools and teachers to improve their provision for children, particularly children with special educational needs.


Vivienne Parry  13:36

You've had an incredibly busy year, because as education has risen, continually up the priority level, we've been looking for expert advice wherever we can find it. And you've been very public about young people and how best to support them, for example, about thinking, summer schools, exams and so on. How have you found that experience? And what are your main takeaways from it?


Amelia Roberts  14:04

It's been a real privilege to be asked to contribute to the public debate. And one of the messages that I find myself really repeating is that we shouldn't be looking at a one size fits all approach, we need to be looking at a nuanced response to young people. So if for example, we think about the impact of lockdown for a child in a very stressful household, then the impact of lockdown is going to be very traumatic, and that impact could be long lasting. So in that circumstance, I might be talking about some colleagues work such as Carrie Wong's work on the stress caused by lockdown, but there are other children perhaps a child who has autism or having maths anxiety, and their experience of lockdown may actually be a more positive one, in which case we need to think for them about how the transition back into school might work. So one of my roles and we've done a lot of this In terms of our back on track project, one of my roles has been to collate resources for schools and families so that we can really support that transition, the transition into homeschooling, and the transition out of homeschooling. So if I just give you a couple of examples, our colleagues in the Centre for Research in autism education, worked on a wonderful resource to support well being and mental health in children with autism. And it's called no your normal. And it's a free to access resource. And what it does is it enables families and schools to talk to children with autism, and build up a profile of what's normal for them. And one of the examples is a young woman who gets a bag of crisps and lays the crisps out in size order, and then eats them from Little crisp up to big crisps. And that's normal for her. So by documenting what's your normal, the child and the family and school can notice when there's a difference between what's normal and what's not normal, and therefore flag up anxiety or depression, or other well being issue. So one of my roles has been to collate these resources, and make them accessible to schools and families and young people, so that they've got much more support available to them to navigate and negotiate this really


Vivienne Parry  16:22

difficult time. How interesting that what's normal for you is something that's so often forgotten. And yet we try and fit everybody into the same boxes. Now, I've been guilty of stirring the pot at UCL. And when I was able to interview the new promised, I asked him if there might be anything that the UCL community could do to help children get back on track during the summer. And is that something that you'd feel strongly about? Amelia?


Amelia Roberts  16:54

Yes, indeed. so strongly, in fact that we managed to get some money from UCL from the higher education Innovation Fund, to run a back on track knowledge exchange programme. And one of the outputs of that is a free resource. It's a guidance document that can be downloaded. And it contains a wealth, a toolkit, if you like, a wealth of information and resources to support with getting back on track. And there are some key messages here. I think one of the messages is not to be so obsessed with covering the curriculum. So there was a report issued by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. And it had rather a headline grabbing message, which was that children will lose 40,000 pounds of lost earnings due to the lockdown the missed schooling. And the problem with that, as a headline is that that information that data was taken from a piece of research from the World Bank, which looked at lost schooling when it happened to an individual rather than the whole group. But worse than that, is the presumption that learning only happens within schools. So this idea that learning stops if you leave the school gate, and therefore, we have to rush to catch up the curriculum, at the expense of well being at the expense of giving young people the opportunity to reconnect with their teachers, and reconnect with formal schooling and reconnect with their friends. I think that would be a terrible mistake. So we shouldn't be thinking about how to cram in the curriculum, because they've lost this percentage, we should be thinking about what are the needs that are presented by individual children. And there was a really strong finding that came from the Institute of Education, National Literacy centre, led by Professor Gemma moss, and one of the key findings there is that we shouldn't rush to presume what intervention somebody needs, we should look at really good mixed ability, classroom teaching. So bring children back, give them time to settle in, do really great whole class teaching that's well differentiated, and then see who needs what, and don't make presumptions, but allow children to come back into formal schooling in a more relaxed way that's more supportive of them and school.


Vivienne Parry  19:23

Yes, I couldn't agree with you more. And it also seems to me that children will need to get used to being back at school because it's quite scary, going from being at home all the time to going into an environment where there are lots of other people and some children will leap into it, you know, like a duck to water and others will be really quite wary in that situation. And they just need time to adjust to that situation, not simply to return to their lessons. Now, both of you are making a real impact on the lives of young people through your work. And you've both chosen particularly vulnerable populations. I wonder why you originally focused your work on these particular populations, what what you felt the great need was when you both went into it, let's return to Monica.


Monica Lakhanpaul  20:20

You know, one of my day jobs is as a paediatrician, working with children every day, and working in the community, you can really see the firsthand impact on the health and well being on children who are exposed to many different vulnerabilities. And so when you know, in my work, I started thinking very much from an academic perspective, we spend a lot of time on finding out how to give medications or the end was dealing with the consequences really, of what has actually happened in early life. And what I really got to feel was, that's very, very important. But from my own practice, and engaging with some very vulnerable families, from my different roles that I've taken on over the years, and also from some of my exposures in some of my global work as well, in India, I felt really, from my deep in my heart that it was important for me to try and do what I could, particularly from the vulnerable families perspective, who don't often get a voice don't often get heard, and often cannot advocate for themselves. And so the key was really for me to try and do my bit really in and through academia, and through child health, to really think about how we could support individuals who are really vulnerable and who this pandemic, but even prior to this pandemic, are actually having some devastating impacts through the engagement with their environment that they live in, or through the challenges of school or through the challenges of poverty, and how through academia and the research that we do, we could actually translate that into some policy and some real changes for individuals, children and these vulnerable families. And Amelia, what


Vivienne Parry  21:54

was your driving force?


Amelia Roberts  21:57

I think for me, I'm really passionate about lost opportunities. And it seems to me that we can make such a huge difference to individuals by using very minor tweaks. So I almost came at it from a very personal perspective, when I was working as a teaching assistant, while I was doing my PhD, and I was working alongside children who found it difficult to access the curriculum. But because I was sitting on a little blue chair, the same height as all the other children, I could see that actually all children didn't access learning very well, when it was the teacher who was talking, or if they were suddenly asked to do a piece of writing, without having a chance to reflect on it and think about it and talk to their peers about it. So I have almost come at it from the almost the exact opposite angle, which looks at the whole school and the whole classroom approach. Because I believe really passionately that really great teaching practice. And if it's everybody, so if I think about one of my other research projects, which is supporting well being, emotional resilience and learning, that sounds like the focus is on an individual with anxiety or well being issues. But actually, the project is focused on whole school approaches, such as do your policies match up. And an example of that would be if there's a child who is persistently in detention, instead of thinking about what do we need to do to make that child's behaviour better? The question is more, is your behaviour policy working? Is there something else that needs to happen? Is there more support that need to be available? But going deeper, are lessened interesting? Is the person engaged? Are they given activities that they are excited by and feel that they are learning and feel that they are a success? Because otherwise, if they're going into a lesson, and feeling like they can't access an activity, and feeling as if they're not bright, then you're going to see that manifesting in behaviour. So why do I care passionately about the individual? When we think about schools, it's about policies. It's about staff support, it's about staff training. It's about connectedness with families, and all of these things, I think, make the most profound difference.


Vivienne Parry  24:16

Now, Amelia, I know that this is could be a whole programme in itself, but having had your experience of the pandemic, what is it that we can best do to help young people recover beyond it?


Amelia Roberts  24:31

Ultimately, we need to listen to young people listen to their families and listen to the people supporting them in schools. So a quick tip is developing oracy allowing children to speak now whether that's speaking about their experiences, or building up vocabulary, the importance of voice cannot be underestimated. So we need to think about the spoken word. We need to think about allowing children To engage with their friends and have opportunities to have fun. And we need to understand that children are resilient, some children will be absolutely fine. Other children will need really sensitive support.


Vivienne Parry  25:15

Monica, how about you? How do you think we can best help young people recover from the pandemic?


Monica Lakhanpaul  25:21

I think we're, we need to now look forwards and see how we can take our young people into into their better futures. And I think what we really need to do is think of the young people as a resource where we can listen, you talked about listening, and often I think that's really true. I think we need to give them a voice. But when we give them a voice, we need to hear what they're actually telling us. What do they want to change? How do they feel we can drive the future forward? What are the things that we can do to make it better for us, rather than a top down approach, which may sometimes be taken? I think, you know, we have to work with young people. They're very clever young people are, they're very reflective, they reflect a great deal on their life. And I think we need to work with them to develop strategies policies, involve them in the decisions for their future. And then I think we really need some very targeted approaches, I think, you know, when we're thinking of funding through the policy makers, really think of targeted approach which will get to the children and make a difference. I In summary, you know, I think collaboration is important with young people who are creating solutions and interventions with them. Thinking about positive partnerships and positive messaging, there's been a lot of negative messaging against young people, I think we have to really turn that narrative around a bit, and then listening and giving them a voice.


Vivienne Parry  26:36

Now, International Women's Day feels like a particularly important day to celebrate because as we've heard on the podcast many times before, the pandemic is really exacerbating that existing gender disparity in society. A lot of women have found themselves taking the lead on home schooling, in addition to everything else, or prioritising their partner's work over their own, or their education is the example they're having to share space and other resources. And on top of that, we know through the excellent work of Daisy fancourt, and her survey, that this pandemic is taking its toll mentally on women. So I want to end this week's episode by asking you first, Amelia, what's been your experience the pandemic? Have you found it more difficult? And what more can we do to support women in academia during the pandemic?


Amelia Roberts  27:27

Gosh, that's a huge question, isn't it? Yes, I think actually, opportunities like this are really powerful. So it's such a privilege to be able to talk out and to share what we've been doing to make a difference. So I think it's really about showcasing academics work. And so many of my colleagues are doing such powerful, incredible things that the more we shout out about our colleagues, the more we share their work, the more we really showcase the brilliance of the people around us, I think that can be incredibly supportive. I mean, in terms of the pandemic, I've been incredibly lucky, I have a husband that makes a lot of coffee. So I've been the Grateful recipient. So, you know, I've been one of the remains a very


Vivienne Parry  28:15

fun gin and tonic,


Amelia Roberts  28:18

indeed, but I think it's about really supporting our colleagues, listening to people when they need support, being gentle when I mean, we all have our stumbles. So it's being supportive, and we have our stumbles. But I think even more importantly, shouting loudly about the achievement of the incredible women that we know.


Vivienne Parry  28:40

Indeed, and, and also doing that, I suspect, some practical things like, you know, when there are deadlines coming up, extend them, because for women to try and they're getting grant applications, as well, as homeschooling, and all the rest is just impossible. And it puts them at a huge academic disadvantage. I think, Monica, firstly, what's your experience, and I know that you're currently doing a placement at BBC, and you're a budding poet. So that's really showing the importance of communicating research and the work that needs to be done. So would you tell us, first of all, what your experience being a woman during the pandemic has been, and then perhaps play us out as it were by sharing one of your poems and telling us why you wrote it.


Monica Lakhanpaul  29:29

I think the pandemic has been challenging for everybody, whether you're male or female, and I think we have to remember that. But actually, I think, as we know, for women, you're often fitting in everything. And it feels like sometimes there's no break in the day. I think probably many women will resonate with me with that. It seems like you'd get up in the morning. You go through the whole day, there's no break, and then it's morning again the next day, and you seem to have merged work into life into everything else you're trying to do. But there are some positives, and I think I want to also bring the positives, as with the challenges, and the positives are that actually I'm not happy. travel anywhere in the last year, which has been quite different than normal years. And it may have been a bit of a challenge for children to be at home. And I have older children, adolescents who should have been well older than adolescents who should have been at university. But actually, the last year has given me time with them, which actually, I wouldn't have had quality time with them being at home, they probably don't want to be at home with me. But actually, it's been quite nice for me to spend time with them. And that brings us which it brings with challenges. But I think it's important to remember the positives as well, it also makes one think about the privileges Some of us have. So I have a nice home, I have a nice garden, I have been very lucky through this pandemic, it's actually given me some thinking space, which I wouldn't have had in a very strange way, very, very busy. But given me some thinking space, and I'm very lucky, I have a very supportive family as well. And I think that's come through very strongly in this pandemic, where you have good networks, with friendships with family, it's made us more resilient and able to cope. And that's why I have lots of my work reflects around people who are actually much more vulnerable than I am, because I'm aware. The other thing is that whenever I think of moaning, and the times when I'm tired or exhausted or trying to juggle things, I just think of my mother and she was a refugee from India, and she had many more challenges than me. So every time I'm feeling a bit low, just back myself up and go, okay, it can't be as bad as what she had to get through. I'm still doing it with very nice environment and moving forward. But you mentioned the fact that, um, you know, two things. One is about, you know, what should we do in academia, for women, I think women were always challenged in their careers, we know that trying to getting grants out, getting papers out, compete with the networks that were existing, and trying to find your way through into those methods was always difficult. Unfortunately, the last year may have made that harder for women again, and I just hope that we're not moving a step back from where we got to. And so my request to all the leads that the hierarchy within the institutions is to proactively seek out women practically see what they have achieved. It may not always be the number of publications, but they've got huge number of other skill sets that they've actually brought with them through this pandemic, and utilise those and support the women into the future. So you mentioned a budding parent. Well, I mean, that's very nice way of putting it, what, what sort of happened is that, um, through the moments of when I'm not sleeping, and when I'm not working or doing anything else, these little moments come to me when I think translating science and what I would write in an article, to reach the community is very important, and to move people is very important to ensure that they work with us to bring about change. So I just read you a short poem here, and I'm really not an experienced poet. This really is a real novice, I never thought I'd be writing poetry at all. But anyway, here we go. The poem is called dreaming. And it's, it's about it, I wrote it after one of my field workers in India recently came back and told me how devastating it was to see these young children and hit by the pandemic. Very, very hungry, and without food, and that's what really came to me. So, here we go, dreaming, dreaming, dreaming of what I want to be. But then I look around me, and hunger is what I see. My friends have no clothes, see their tears and runny nose. No toys and their hands and the dirt between the toes. We are told we need to try more. That we really are not poor. Please see it through my eyes. They really are not lies. Thank you.


Amelia Roberts  33:31

I love that poem. I thought it was just beautiful.


Vivienne Parry  33:34

Thank you very much to Monica. And to you, Amelia. You've been listening to Coronavirus the whole story. This episode was presented by myself Vivienne Parry, produced by UCL with support from the UCL Health of the Public and UCL Grand Challenges and edited by the wonderful Cerys Bradley. I was joined today by Dr. Amelia Roberts and Professor Monica Laklhanpaul. If you'd like to hear more of these podcasts for UCL Minds, subscribe wherever you download your podcasts, or visit ucl.ac.uk forward slash Coronavirus. This podcast is brought to you by UCL Minds bringing together UCL knowledge, insights and expertise through events, digital content and activities open to everyone. Hope to be with you again soon. Bye for now.