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Two small children walking away, over a wooden bridge.

An update from our CEO Simon Antrobus

As a result of the current crisis, children and young people across the UK are living through extraordinary times, the world they knew will have changed beyond recognition.

The anchors, the routines, their connection with friends and regular involvement in the activities they love has been put on hold with no clear view on a return to the way it was before.

For those children and young people whose lives were tough before the crisis, they have been even more adversely impacted.

For a good number of these children and young people, the very connections and support that kept them safe, created space to breathe, provided someone to talk to, or simply gave them the confidence to do things they wouldn’t have imagined possible has been compromised and the impact of this may well follow them into their adult life. That’s why the work of the charities and projects BBC Children in Need funds is so important – now more than ever.

I am totally convinced that every child and young person has something positive and wonderful to offer our society and I’m delighted that through the projects and charities we fund, thanks to your generosity, BBC Children in Need plays a key part in enabling this to happen.

To understand how best to respond to the crisis we asked the charities we support and the children and young people themselves to tell us about the impact of COVID-19.

As part of this, I joined colleagues in BBC Children in Need on a Zoom call to hear from young people directly how COVID-19 is affecting their lives. Jake talked about how the lockdown had heightened his anxiety and made it difficult to access the support he needed to maintain his mental health. Luke talked about his role as a young carer and how supporting his mum through her illness had become an even bigger responsibility. He welcomed the online support he was getting from a local young carers group but it felt lonely and isolated not being able to get a break from helping his mum. And then there was Faiza who had been given a great opportunity to go to university, the first in her family. All now in the balance because the help she had with her studies and the preparation for such a big step was now much more difficult in lockdown.

What came through was not only the challenges young people face as a result of COVID-19 but their keenness to do more than simply receive support. Jake, Reece and Shakira also wanted to play their part, to be leaders in their communities and to support other children and young people but lockdown means this is now much more difficult and frustrating too.

In addition we surveyed the charities we fund and asked them about the impact of the crisis and over 1,000 of them responded.

Their responses highlight not only the common implications or concerns for the children and young people they help and support but the vital role these community based organisations play.

The charities told us that for a number of children and young people there was a risk that all the great progress made through carefully and sensitively delivered support could be lost or worse, fall back. There was a strong sense that the crisis was negatively affecting the mental health and wellbeing both for children and their families, that increased isolation on already isolated groups was exacerbating existing risk factors and challenges leading to even more anxiety, a difficulty meeting basic needs and increased family pressures with specific issues for autistic and disabled children. In addition the survey identified almost universal concern for children’s outcomes following the social distancing period, in particular mental health and wellbeing.

At a time when face-to-face support is needed the most, the survey also tells us that the majority of projects have been given no option but to postpone this activity with just a few exceptions – for example, refuges, hospices and respite care for children. But equally, projects are adjusting in creative ways during difficult times, while keeping the children and young people’s specific needs in mind. There is also shift towards finding imaginative and creative ways to deliver traditional support to those who need it most via technology and online – for both individual and group contact. However, the survey identifies that digital exclusion is a key issue: many do not have access to a laptop or tablet, and this is particularly true for some of the most marginalised groups of children, young people & families.

The resilience, commitment and dedication of the charities comes through strongly but the report does identify that finances are increasingly under pressure, with an extremely problematic outlook for a number of vital charities. These charities and projects are the very foundation of almost every community and their future too is in jeopardy. Their long term viability is critical.

I often get letters and emails from the projects and charities we support here at BBC Children in Need. Just this week an email dropped into my inbox from a trustee of a community based children’s charity that provides therapeutic help and support to children and young people who are experiencing considerable emotional challenges in difficult family circumstances. It has a waiting list and does great work on minimal funding.

The email simply said….

‘I cannot tell you how much the award from Children in Need means to our charity.   To say it lifted our spirits in these dark and uncertain times is a complete understatement…….we are still receiving referrals and we know that when lockdown is over, there will be a huge demand. So the £97,000 + over 3 years is unbelievably well timed and so very welcome.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your support and advice.’

I know from all of the conversations I have with the brilliant charities we fund that this is not unique. Right now, all across the UK, dedicated volunteers and project workers continue to provide vital services to children and young people desperately in need of help and support, belief and encouragement. Their belief in the children and young people they support is needed right now more than ever.

But this doesn’t happen by accident.

I’m not overstating things when I say that the funds so generously donated via The Big Night In will be a lifeline for those children and young people who have been so dramatically and adversely affected by the virus. Income from The Big Night In means that BBC Children in Need can step in and fund frontline charities to support their vital work at a time when it is needed most.

This wonderful shared act of kindness between the great British public, our Corporate Partners, and the charities we support, all so brilliantly led by the BBC, really will change young lives.

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