Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

When the world went online. New ACEs potential from the pandemic and digitally disadvantaged Children & Young People

  Mel Wilson (2018 cohort)   www.melaniewilson.uk

Vulnerability in Children & Young People; The effects of the pandemic online & offline.

Online Life

Following the first UK lockdown in March 2020, many childrem young people and their adults were forced online for multiple activities. Whilst CYP and adults both tended to have an online presence in the modern worldprior to this, this presence for many was suddenly increased enormasly. This is became unavoidable with everyday functions taking place online rather than in the real world. School work went online, Homework continued to be set online. Social interaction was mostly online. Research for school topics are online and communication is online in the form of messaging such as instagram, whatsapp. Snapchat etc. Games moved from the playground and street to online, in a world that is inundated by news of the dangers the world poses, often inaccurately.



This was possible, for the first time in history, for many. But it left some without access to social and educational access for weeks and months at a time, due to lack of devices, lack of connectivity and lack of a space in which to connect with the world outside the isolated home.

My research explored the effects of these moves on Children and Young People and it relation to CYP's vulnrability, particularly looking at the potential for digital or pandemice induced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).




People can be more of less vulnerable depending on the numbers of ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) they have encountered. The current literature mainly revolves around statistics relating to crime and prison, injury and death, education and other “real world” factors.

With increasing use of online interaction in young people's lives, it is proposed that the factors that increase vulnerability are potentially magnified online. This is suggested by two main causal factors. The first is that from an Evolutionary Psychology prospective we, as a species, still react to others as if we were physically present with them in the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptiveness (EEA). This means we can miss online signs of danger seen in physical encounters which ensured our ancestors survival.

Those with vulnerabilities and ACEs were more likely to be subjected to more ACEs and had a less comfortable existance physically and were shown to be more restricted digitally.  

Mental Health Access

This research interviewed qualified counsellors, therapists and mental health experts who have been directly “meeting” with children and young people (CYP) before and during the Covid 19 pandemic. For the purpose of this research “meeting” involves face to face, telephone, chat and video support for mental health purposes.

Qualitatively topical narrative approaches were used to explore the ways this online interaction was experienced by the practitioners and their perceptions of how their clients adjusted and responded to the differences in such interactions.

Online Interaction

Social & Extracurricula Contact

I gathered information from 2000 CYP  in Primary and Secondary Schools regarding their access to the digital world for schoolwork. This included their device access, internet access and help from others to access work.

A second questionaire gathered information about their social interactions with extended family, friends, clubs, sports groups and religious groups.

This enabled me to look at the differences between CYP's experiences over the pandemic period.

In a further study I  interviewed adults who had extended social and/or educational contact and who have been directly “meeting” with children and young people (CYP) before and during the Covid 19 pandemic. For the purpose of this research “meeting” involves face to face, telephone, chat and video support for social and/or educational purposes.

During this time many adults had to rapidly change their meeting methodology with CYP and adapt to very new circumstances with little or no training or equipment.

The purpose of the interviews study was to gain insight qualitatively into the ways this was achieved, the experiences of the adults and their perceptions of how the CYP adjusted and responded to the differences.


Effects on Children and Young People Online

Selected References

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ACTO Conference June 2021 "What can we learn, from the pandemic, about closing the digital divide for Children and Young People needing mental health interventions."

3 Min presentation May 2021 " Vulnerability, Lockdown & the Pandemic; The effects on Children & Young People"

LTS Conference April 2021 Less can be more- Telling your story through Zoom; observations on power dynamics in story-telling with Children and Young people during therapeutic interventions through the pandemic."

June 2021 “Family Mental Health in the Wake of the Pandemic” Lay audience. Online for Level 1&2 English Functional Skills students funded by a number of different projects including YES Youth Employment Scheme, Covid 19 and Brighter Futures (1 hour 20 mins)

September 2021 “Access Equality” presentation for the HDI book online

February 2022 Training session on working with groups of children online & interview analysis for Horizon CDT Students, University of Nottingham

Blog posts on Media coverage and activities of the Intervention

Ellerby, Z., McCulloch, J., Wilson, M., & Wagner, C. (2020).   In Critical Information Infrastructures Security: 14th International Conference, CRITIS 2019, Linköping, Sweden, September 23–25, 2019, Revised Selected Papers 14 (pp. 31-42). Springer International Publishing. Exploring how Component Factors and their Uncertainty Affect Judgements of Risk in Cyber-Security In Critical Information Infrastructures Security: 14th International Conference, CRITIS 2019, Linköping, Sweden, September 23–25, 2019, Revised Selected Papers 14 (pp. 31-42). Springer International Publishing.

Wilson, M (2023) " Digital Access Inequality among Vulnerable Children and Young People: Did the pandemic cause a snowball effect?” in Hayes, S., Jopling, M., Connor, S., & Johnson, M. (Eds.) (2023). Human Data Interaction, Disadvantage and Skills in the Community: Enabling Cross-Sector Environments for Postdigital Inclusion. Cham: Springer. (Forthcoming)

Wilson M & Perez Vallejos, E (2021) The Role of Neuroscience in the Effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences in Relation to Risk Taking, with Specific Reference to Risk Assessment During a Pandemic, a Review of the Literature

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (RCUK Grant No. EP/L015463/1) and Northamptonshire Police.