Covid-19 Action Fund winners: children and young people

The Covid-19 Action Fund provides grants for Churchill Fellows to run projects combatting the effects of Covid-19 in all areas of society. Hundreds of pandemic projects nationwide are being run or assisted by Churchill Fellows, using the international expertise they gained during their Fellowships overseas. Here are the Action Fund recipients working on issues relating to children and young people.

December 2020 awards

Helen Minnis: developing a home-schooling model for lockdown


During the first lockdown, UK parents were impacted by the need to provide home schooling, while trying to work within or outside the home. Research has shown that families found these competing challenges extremely stressful, particularly those in which parents or children had pre-pandemic neurodevelopmental or mental health problems. Whilst schools are now mostly open, some are having to close due to outbreaks of Covid-19 amongst students and staff, and further lockdown may occur.

Helen Minnis is Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Glasgow. She has been working with colleagues, schools, disease modellers and families to develop a Scottish Model for Safe Education, which provides a safe home-schooling alternative in Scotland should further lockdown and school closures become necessary.

She will use her grant to conduct further research with schools and families across the UK to investigate whether this model could be replicated to other regions. The model uses Closed Childcare Clusters (CCCs) where 2-5 families share home schooling and socialise only together, reducing social isolation and maximising parental economic activity. School hubs for the most vulnerable would remain open. Helen will develop the model for urban, rural and ethnically diverse contexts, providing tailored guidance for schools to decide which families would team up to form CCCs and which might require additional support. She will produce a manual outlining the disease modelling and co-production process between schools and families, which any school across the UK can use and replicate in preparation for future lockdowns. Helen hopes the model, which has received interest from the Scottish government and media, will provide a safe education option for families during future crises or lockdowns, and that it will encourage teacher-parent co-production to maximise each child's potential. Helen's Churchill Fellowship to Romania and the USA in 2009 explored radical childcare innovation. 

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Sacha Brakenbury: Protecting children from domestic abuse


Cases of domestic abuse have risen during the pandemic. The Joint Commissioning Strategy for Domestic Abuse 2015-2020, for Essex, Thurrock and Southend, reported that 14,000 children in the Greater Essex area experienced severe domestic abuse before they reach 16. During the first lockdown and school closures, the Child First Trust charity in North-East Essex reported a 19% increase in requests for access to Family support and counselling for children and young people.

Sacha Brakenbury from Colchester in Essex is the founder of six education charities including the original Ipswich Town Community and Education Trust, all focusing on supporting disadvantaged and vulnerable families. She works closely with local schools which, on reopening in September, reported increased evidence of children's trauma.

Sacha will use her grant to develop a long-term, school-based pilot programme in NE Essex and Mid Tendring, supporting around 13,000 families, particularly those at risk of domestic abuse. This will involve collaborative research with more than 30 schools on local incidences of domestic abuse, and development of a page on each school's website to invite self-referrals to core services in a safe way. As such, those experiencing trauma and abuse can still be heard, even during lockdowns, and schools, as trusted institutions in a position to observe and recognise cases, can be used as a bridge for vulnerable families to access support from specialist services. Sacha hopes the pilot can be rolled out to other regions across the UK. Her Churchill Fellowship to Canada and the USA in 2000 explored approaches to health promotion for young people. 

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Yvonne Osafo: Supporting new parents from disadvantaged backgrounds


The Covid-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on new parents who, due to lockdown and social distancing restrictions, have had less access to professional support than normal. Experts predict an exponential increase in the needs of parents and infants that will arise from the pandemic, requiring highly trained practitioners. This will particularly be the case for parents who have undergone multiple adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), single-parent families, care leavers, victims of domestic abuse, alcohol, drugs or sexual abuse, those with poor mental health (such as post partum psychosis) or who are struggling to bond with their babies.

Yvonne Osafo from Mitcham in London is a psychotherapist specialising in infant-parent psychotherapy (IPP), which encourages good early relationships between parents and their children to offer them the best possible start in life.

Yvonne will use her grant to launch a year-long infant-family clinic pilot project providing 10 low-income and high-risk families with free infant-parent psychotherapy. The pilot will involve developing organisational structures and operations, providing specialist IPP supervision to clinicians, recruiting and training staff, establishing links with potential referrers to develop a network around the service of perinatal mental health teams, community paediatricians, health visitors and GPs, and establishing an online presence and visual identity. At the end of the pilot year, Yvonne hopes to be able to establish an Infant-Family Institute and Clinic, working with infants up to 2 years of age, and train a specialist IPP professional workforce. Yvonne's Churchill Fellowship to Czechia, Norway, Sweden and the USA in 2016 explored best practice in infant parent psychotherapy and was supported by the Wave Trust. 

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June 2020 awards

Geneva Ellis: educating children in care


Only 17% of children in care get 5 A*-C grades at GCSE, compared to 60% of all children. This drops to 4% if they live in children's homes. Additionally, care leavers are less likely to go to university, with 12% entering higher education by the age of 23 compared to 42% of the general population. With the effect of the pandemic on children's education, school closures and the introduction of remote working, children in care and care leavers are severely affected and these statistics are only likely to get worse.

Geneva Ellis from Putney, London, is the Director of St Christopher's, a charity that provides homes and support for children in care. She will use her grant to provide educational support for looked after children and care leavers, across 12 homes for children and homes for care leavers across London and the West Midlands.

This will include providing students with laptops and wifi access so they can continue their schoolwork; equipping charity staff and carers with the knowledge and resource to support the young people in continued education, particularly those who were due to sit GCSEs and A-Levels this summer; and providing each young person with any additional educational support they may need. Geneva Ellis' Churchill Fellowship in 2012 explored international models of children's homes in Germany, Norway and Sweden. It was supported by The Rank Foundation. 

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Matt Little: training disadvantaged young people in Cornwall


Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have been hit particularly hard by the current crisis. With schools closed, access to education has proved difficult for young people who don't have access to computers or remote learning equipment. Additionally, school leavers and graduates due shortly to join the labour market are the age group most exposed to a likely unemployment surge after lockdown.

Matt Little from Bristol is the co-founder of the Real Ideas Organisation, a social enterprise based in the south-west of England that supports people, communities and organisations to develop the skills they need in an ever-changing world.

Matt will use his grant to launch a new scheme for disadvantaged young people in Cornwall, aged 16-24, to help engage them in social action within their community. Inspired by the Churchill Fellowship model, he will offer 10 young people "mini Fellowships" providing them with the opportunity to problem-solve and develop ideas and projects in response to the current crisis and needs of their community. Whilst benefitting Cornwall, one of the poorest regions in the UK,  this scheme will also allow the young people to develop their own enterprising potential at a time of uncertainty and lack of opportunity. Matt's Churchill Fellowship to Canada and the USA explored best practice in helping young people become more social enterprising. 

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Temi Mwale: advocacy for young people with experience of the criminal justice system during Covid-19


Young people who have experience of violence and the criminal justice system are being disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 crisis.

Temi Mwale from Barnet, London, is the Director of 4Front Project, a member-led youth organisation which supports  and empowers members with experience of violence and the criminal justice system to create change in their own lives, communities and society. Their 109 members, 91% of whom are BAME, have been: victims of violence (79%); affected by a friend's death (100%); permanently excluded from school (54%); reliant on two or more drugs (34%); stopped and searched (61%); detained in custody as a child (53%); incarcerated or remanded in prison (14%); labelled gang members (37%). The effects of Covid-19 (including school closures, increased police powers, bereavement, and anxiety amongst the prison population) have exacerbated the many disadvantages and problems these young people already face.

Temi will use her grant to increase her organisation's support for these young people and to raise awareness of how they are disproportionately affected by the current crisis. Enhanced support will include: increased access to legal services, ensuring they are aware of their rights, leadership training, increased advocacy for members in police stations and courts and local authority meetings, and increased support for those who are incarcerated. She will promote the work of the organisation to grow its membership across London, Manchester and prison communities, in order to help more people. Additionally, she will develop their online presence and resources, amplifying the voices of their members in order to influence public opinion and policy.  Temi's Churchill Fellowship to Brazil and the USA investigated intiatives aimed at reducing youth violence. 

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Find out more about the Covid-19 Action Fund winners

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