THE coronavirus crisis risks creating a “lost generation” of vulnerable children and young people, it has been warned.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) raised “major concerns” that only around 1 per cent of youngsters classed as “vulnerable” are attending childcare hubs during lockdown.

It said: “It is becoming clear that the current lockdown measures are having a major impact on some of the most vulnerable children in our society.” 

The organisation also warned the number of vulnerable children will increase because of the additional pressures placed on families and communities by the Covid-19 outbreak.

It came as a new report said the youth work sector is facing a “perfect storm” of a mental health crisis coupled with further cuts to services.

Organisations are facing an income loss of at least £20.5 million this year, a survey of sector leaders by YouthLink Scotland found.

The SCSC said those living in poverty and deprivation and those with additional support needs “may not be getting the support and services they most desperately need due to lockdown”.

It warned: “Failure to act now will lead to a lost Covid generation, where issues are stored up for the future with an impact on the individual concerned and resultant cost to society as a whole.”

The SCSC is an alliance of leading providers of education, care and support to vulnerable children and young people.

In written evidence to Holyrood’s Education and Skills Committee, it raised concerns over how “vulnerable” children are defined.

Education Secretary John Swinney previously told MSPs he would not “set a definitive definition of what a vulnerable child is”, insisting schools and local authorities “are best placed to identify which children need care, protection and support the most during the period that lies ahead”. 

However, the SCSC noted a Scottish Government report published last month said there were 97,000 vulnerable young people – around 10% of under-17s.

This includes 16,900 who have been subject to a child protection investigation and might be deemed either in care or “on the edge of care”, 2,600 on the child protection register, 14,000 who are looked after by local authorities and 10,000 school-aged children with complex additional support needs. 

Statistics from the Scottish Government covering the period between April 20 and 24 show around 6,060 children and young people attended local authority hubs during the lockdown, of which 83% were the children of key workers and 17% were classed as vulnerable.

The SCSC said: “This means that of the 97,000 defined as ‘vulnerable’, a mere 1,030 are attending such hubs, just over 1% of those classed as vulnerable.

“The vast majority of vulnerable children are therefore being supported via telephone and online contact with school staff, which we know in some situations can be extremely challenging, or by other services including third sector initiatives.”

It said there is a lack of consistency across local authorities when it comes to the definition of “vulnerable”, and called for greater clarity.

The organisation said many vulnerable children belong to families struggling with domestic violence, substance abuse, poverty, sickness and disability. 

“In this context we have major concerns that only around 1% of school children are at childcare hubs,” it said.

“These are very small numbers, reflecting the fact that only a tiny fraction of vulnerable children are taking up these places.

“So often these children are quite invisible at home and not in the place which is best at keeping them in a safe and comfortable environment – school. 

“The relevant support can be provided at a childcare hub which in many situations is simply not available in a home-based setting.

“It is vital that action is quickly taken to assess the requirements of these vulnerable children and young people and adequate support is provided.”

The SCSC said more children will be at risk of harm and neglect during the coronavirus pandemic, while “increasingly high stress home environments will increase the likelihood that children will experience domestic abuse”.

It said austerity and cuts in services have “seriously impacted on the ability of local authorities, the third sector and other organisations to provide adequate support”. 

Mental health is also being impacted. The SCSC pointed to a survey of under-25s carried out by the charity YoungMinds.

This showed 83% felt the pandemic had made their conditions worse, while 26% said they were unable to access mental health support.

Meanwhile, there has been a “dramatic drop” in the number of young people being referred to child and adolescent mental health services.

The new survey by YouthLink Scotland found some 70% of the sector believes there will be significant cuts to youth work budgets and services after the Covid-19 outbreak.

This includes organisations such as Scouts Scotland, The Prince’s Trust, Girlguiding Scotland, LGBT Youth Scotland, The Boys’ Brigade Scotland and YMCA Scotland.

The survey found two in three youth work leaders believe lockdown will have a detrimental impact on young people’s mental health.

In a separate report called Lockdown Lowdown, produced in partnership with Young Scot and the Scottish Youth Parliament, almost two-fifths (39%) of young people said they felt concerned about their own mental well-being.