A groundbreaking report titled ‘In Our Shoes’ was unveiled today, shedding light on the collaborative efforts of health partners, families, and organisations in Leeds to address the profound impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the health and wellbeing of children and young people.

The report, authored by Leeds City Council’s Director of Public Health, Victoria Eaton, delves into the far-reaching consequences of the pandemic and its restrictive measures, including national lockdowns, on the physical and mental health of children, young people, and their families in the city.

To gain valuable insights, the report’s research team engaged directly with children and families across Leeds, revealing the magnitude of challenges brought about by the pandemic. A particular focus was placed on mental health, child development, and educational disruptions. Additionally, the report highlights the ongoing efforts of health partners, families, and organisations within the city to confront these challenges head-on.

The ‘In Our Shoes’ report has garnered national acclaim from the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH), especially for the accompanying short film bearing the same name. This powerful film presents the pandemic’s impact through the eyes of Leeds’ children, young people, and their families, featuring poignant firsthand accounts, including those of the Brave Words Youth Theatre in Beeston. The film can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DoLbh2lwfE.

To compile the comprehensive report, research efforts encompassed an online survey targeting professionals working with children and young people in Leeds, as well as focus groups with children conducted throughout the city. Furthermore, children and young people were encouraged to express how the pandemic affected them creatively. All these invaluable contributions were analysed in conjunction with existing research literature to shape the report’s key themes.

Among the prominent themes emerging from the research are the crucial areas of children’s and parents’ mental health, children’s physical health, the impact of poverty and housing conditions, children’s safety, play, and screen use, child development, communication, and language, educational attainment, access to services, childhood infections, and positive impacts.

Key findings of the report include:

Decline in children’s mental health between 2020 and 2022.
Adverse effects on parental mental health.
Disruptions in routines negatively impacting children’s health.
Unequal and unjust impact, disproportionately affecting less affluent families.
Increased vulnerability for some children due to confined lockdown environments.
Impaired development for young children due to limited social interactions.
Varied degrees of learning loss, influenced by diverse home conditions.
Challenges faced by families in accessing essential services, with ongoing consequences.
Need for action to combat childhood infections, including falling immunisation rates for serious illnesses like measles since the pandemic.
Positive changes, such as increased family bonding and flexible support arrangements.
The report highlights successful projects that have provided effective support, including the #SpeakUpLeeds campaign, aimed at encouraging black boys to discuss their experiences and mental health. Another notable initiative is the MindMate website, fostering open conversations around mental health by sharing personal stories and self-help options.

The report also commends projects like DAZL (Dance Action Zone Leeds), which engages over 6,500 young people in dance activities to improve physical and mental health, and the Active Leeds program, which has offered more than 3,000 free swimming lessons.

The HENRY 5-12 Healthy Families Growing Up Programme, recognised nationally, continues to engage Leeds families in promoting healthy lifestyles. Moreover, the Baby Steps perinatal program strengthens parent-infant relationships, while the Family Plus Service supports families grappling with addiction.

A key takeaway from the report emphasises the significance of coordinated cross-agency collaboration to maximise resources and enhance health and wellbeing for children, young people, and their families.

To pave the way for the future, the report lays out a series of recommendations based on ten crucial themes:

Placing the voices of children and young people at the core of all efforts in this domain.
Ensuring comprehensive safety and support mechanisms against all forms of harm.
Focusing on safeguarding and improving children’s mental health.
Continuing the development of family hubs to support mental health and wellbeing.
Further enhancing efforts to protect and improve the physical health of children and young people.
Empowering children to play a central role in Leeds’ commitment to becoming a Marmot City, addressing inequality.
Ensuring all children receive the best start in life, closing communication development gaps in deprived areas.
Continuing the work to ensure equitable educational catch-up.
Ensuring accessible health care services for all.
Emphasising the importance of increasing childhood immunisation coverage rates.

Director of public health at Leeds City Council Victoria Eaton, said; “The Covid-19 pandemic was a deeply unsettling time for everyone in Leeds and the wider world, and its true impact is not likely to be fully known for many years. This report shows the immediate impact it had and continues to have on the health of our children and young people.

“I am grateful to everyone who has worked to produce this report, and especially the children and their families who gave up their time to tell us their stories. Their insights are invaluable as we look to learn the lessons and work together across all agencies in Leeds in the coming years to ensure all children in our city have the best possible start in life.”

Councillor Salma Arif, executive member for adult social care, public health and active lifestyles said; “The strength of this important report is a testament to the bravery and honesty of all the young people and their families who took part and told us how the pandemic impacted them and continues to cause challenges. The supporting film reinforces why keeping the voices of our communities at the heart of everything we do in Leeds is vital. The findings and recommendations from this report will guide us in the coming years to focus on what makes most difference to children and young people building healthy lives for the future.”

Nicola Close, Chief Executive of the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH), has also praised the report, saying; “The Director of Public Health’s (DPH) Annual Report is an opportunity to shine a light on the wide variety of vital work that public health teams do locally. Every year, at our annual general meeting, we share examples of particularly engaging reports amongst all directors of public health as a way to celebrate the success of our members and share good practice.

“This year, we had great pleasure in recommending the Leeds report, which gave a powerful snapshot of the inequity of outcomes for children and young people in the city.

“One thing that really stood out was the section on positive impacts of the pandemic. This isn’t something you hear much about but serves as a timely reminder that there is good to be found in every situation, and by exploring what that good is, we can learn valuable lessons for the future.”

The ‘In Our Shoes’ report was produced in line with the statutory requirement for directors of public health to write an annual report on the health of the local population. It will be discussed by Leeds City Council’s executive board at its meeting next week (Wednesday 26 July) at Civic Hall.

To see the annual report visit https://www.leeds.gov.uk/public-health/director-of-public-health-annual-report.