One of the most vulnerable groups affected by the pandemic lockdown measures are children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and the families of these children. 

Since lockdowns were imposed in March 2020 many of the support systems upon which parents of children with SEND relied were severely restricted or cancelled altogether.  As carers were furloughed and families either lost their jobs or had to leave their jobs to care for their vulnerable children, their world became more challenging as they struggled to create a structured learning environment at home to replace the organised curriculum of their schools.  

As a result, children’s behavioural problems worsened and, in some cases, they emotionally and educationally regressed without the familiar routines and faces they were used to.

As the year moved on and financial restraints kicked in, further burdens were imposed on parents already feeling abandoned by society, as respite and rehabilitation services ceased.  Single parents bear the full brunt of the responsibility of being full-time carers and rely on mental health support in order to cope with the full-time challenges of their children’s special needs.  

Exhausted and despairing, many feel they will never recover, financially or emotionally, and neither will their children who, many experts predict, may take many years to regain emotional stability and lose any progress they were making prior to the pandemic restrictions.

Young people with SEND have complex needs which require careful management.  A support team of specialist carers, teaching assistants and medical help is usually on hand to help whenever the SEND child shows signs of anxiety or challenging behaviours.  A calm routine is usually necessary to help the child feel secure and regular social contact with familiar students and teachers is essential for their physical and emotional development.  

When this system is suddenly removed, any social or educational progress they had made is at risk of being severely damaged and the longer the isolation from normal routine activities, the more destructive the outcome for both parent and child.

Ofsted have reported that there was not enough support for this very vulnerable group even prior to the pandemic.  In the past decade there has been a 51.6% increase in the number of children requiring places in special schools.  

In fact, there are now 390,109 children with Education, Health and Care plans in place and if the financial needs are not met post-pandemic, the situation could become critical with a future generation of underachievers requiring more assistance with mental and physical medical needs, and undoubtedly more financial aid will be vital with the bulk of the pressure placed on a generation of parents presenting with stress-related conditions.

During the pandemic, parents of children with special needs felt a strong sense of despair that there was no end in sight, and many still feel demoralised and isolated from normal life.  In a civilised society this important group should not feel forgotten or marginalised.  All support systems need to be urgently reinstated and improved to avoid a catastrophic social implosion within the coming decade.