CHILDREN, police, schools, social services and NHS experts are set to give evidence to a hearing into the impact of Covid-19 on youngsters’ lives in a North-East town.

Darlington Borough Council’s children’s and young people’s scrutiny committee will examine the effects of the pandemic on issues ranging from food poverty to education, while also seeking out positive outcomes and activities.

It is hoped the inquiry will help the authority and other bodies providing services aimed at children to prioritise actions and develop policies.

It follows researchers at Durham University launching a study of the pandemic’s effects on people aged between 14 and 30 in the region, amid concerns that the views and experiences of young people have largely been missing from the main coverage of the coronavirus crisis.

The Darlington inquiry was announced ahead of the NSPCC warning rising stress levels have taken a toll on the mental and emotional health of young people since the first lockdown was imposed in March.

The charity said its counsellors had heard from children who were feeling isolated, anxious and insecure after being cut off from their usual social support networks, leading some children to develop eating disorders, while others’ disorders had worsened.

It has also found 16 per cent more young people had sought help on sexual and gender identity issues since before the first lockdown.

Councillor Cyndi Hughes, chair of the scrutiny committee, said she was particularly concerned over the impact on children in the borough as its multi-agency children’s trust, which has traditionally overseen work to improve youngsters’ wellbeing, had been eroded in recent years.

She said: “We really need to join together as a community to solve these issues. We knew that pre-Covid some 39 per cent of children in Darlington were living in poverty.”

Cllr Hughes said evidence from children would play a key role in shaping the inquiry’s conclusions.

Cllr Paul Crudass, the previous council’s children and young people portfolio holder, said it was important the inquiry also learnt from children who had coped well or had successfully adapted their lives during the pandemic to create models which could be followed.