The Childline support service she founded in 1986 delivered nearly 55,000 counselling sessions about mental health between April and December. There was also a worrying 16 percent rise in average monthly contacts from children aged 11 and under compared with the months before the first lockdown. Dame Esther, 80, said: “Some of them may have lost family members or people close to them, grandparents, and that will be very distressing indeed.
“It’s important that we have focused on the impact of this horrible illness on older people, but I think we also need to be aware of the mental and emotional impact on children and young people.”
Childline, which is provided by the NSPCC, connects children with trained volunteer counsellors.
Many of its young callers struggled with family members becoming sick, school closures, axed exams, and feeling cut off from friends and family.
Dame Esther said: “To the most vulnerable children and young people in unsafe homes, schools can be the only safe haven in their lives. I’ve seen contacts from young people who have said ‘Life isn’t worth living’ or ‘I want to run away’.”
Three of Dame Esther’s grandchildren, Teddy, five, and twins Florence and Romilly, three, had continued attending school. But two others have had to adjust to staying home.
Dame Esther urged families: “Talk it through so that we share each other’s concerns and worries and we can comfort and reassure each other.
“Because when children bottle up their fears and anxiety it gets worse and worse.”
Childline is appealing for volunteers who can spare four hours one evening a week to become counsellors.
Liz Cole of children’s welfare group UsforThem said: “To avoid further damage to children’s health and wellbeing, we must address the root cause and seek to restore their structure, social networks and schooling.”