1. Children's Rights in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic
1.1 COVID-19 Response
LOIPR request: 3(b) and 7(c) protection of children's rights during COVID-19 pandemic and mitigating the effects of COVID-19 on children.
During 2020 and 2021, the global COVID-19 pandemic, the single greatest public health crisis in living memory, impacted on the lives of children and young people across Scotland and the delivery of the vital services on which they, and their families, rely.
The Scottish Ministers have taken, and continue to take, steps to ensure that the human rights of children and young people, particularly those who are most vulnerable, are at the heart of the Scottish Government's response to the COVID-19 crisis and recovery process. Our response continues to be underpinned by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child's 11 recommended areas for governments to focus on when considering the rights of children in relation to the pandemic. In addition to the reporting to the Scottish Parliament undertaken in relation to COVID-19 emergency legislation, the Scottish Government also reported regularly during 2020 on the actions taken relevant to the 11 recommended areas. These reports can be accessed via the Scottish Government's website. An update was also included in the Progressing the Human Rights of Children in Scotland: A Report 2018 - 2021, which was published in November 2021.
The Scottish Government is estimated to have invested around £2.5 billion to support low income households in 2020-21, of which nearly £1 billion is estimated to have benefitted children. Some specific examples of actions taken to support the needs of children and young people during the pandemic have included:
- Investing over £140 million to tackle food insecurity in 2020-21, with over £56 million targeted at continuing alternate Free School Meal provision during periods of school closure, and during school holiday periods for children and young people eligible on the basis of low income. Local authorities reported that, as of the end of the summer holidays in August 2020, up to 175,000 children and young people were receiving this support.
- Delivering two rounds of COVID Hardship Payments, reaching around 145,000 children and young people in low-income households with payments of £100 each round. These payments were made in December 2020 and March 2021 respectively.
- Investment of £25 million to support digital inclusion among school-aged children and young people, through the provision of connectivity, devices, or both. All councils across Scotland have been securing and distributing devices to meet local needs and over 70,000 children and young people have benefitted to date. An additional £45 million was distributed to councils in early 2021 to enable them to procure additional devices or connectivity, to recruit additional staff, or to deliver wider family support measures.
- Allocation of £48 million to the Scottish Government's Connecting Scotland project and working with the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) and other partners to identify and support digitally excluded households through the provision of devices, connectivity and skills. This enabled us to reach 60,000 households by the end of 2021.
The subsequent chapters of this report include specific examples of steps taken to support particular groups of children and young people and their families during the pandemic including looked after children, young carers, and minority ethnic children, including young Gypsy/ Travellers.
The Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA) supported our response to the pandemic and continues to inform the ongoing recovery process. In 2020, a full CRWIA was prepared and published in respect of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020. In addition, CRWIAs informed Scotland's response to the COVID emergency including legislation on the closure and opening of schools; national qualifications and exams; restrictions on children and young people; the temporary closure of child contact centres; shielding; health protection; international travel; support for carers and vaccines. A list of CRWIAs prepared by the Scottish Government, including in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, is available on the website.
1.2 Children and Families Collective Leadership Group
The Scottish Government has continued to work with partners to ensure robust ongoing processes for monitoring the impact of the pandemic on children, young people, and their families, particularly those most at risk. In May 2020, we established a COVID-19 Children and Families Collective Leadership Group (the CLG). Co-chaired by the Scottish Government and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE), the CLG includes members from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), Police Scotland, the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA), Children's Hearings Scotland (CHS), as well as representatives from Health, Education, Social Work, the third sector and other key organisations. The CLG continues to meet monthly.
A regular data collection provides intelligence to the CLG, including key data on what is happening across children's services partnerships to support children and young people on the child protection register, those looked after and on the edge of care. A second data set covering a range of aspects of adult protection has also been established to help provide a broader picture on related issues such as domestic abuse, substance misuse and specific vulnerable populations. A child health update is also produced by Scottish Government analysts on the wider impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health and wellbeing of children and young people across Scotland.
Informed by the data, from February to April 2021, the CLG led and co-ordinated its action plan as a response to the immediate needs of children, young people, and families. The action plan aligned with medium and longer term objectives to support children's and family services and the Coronavirus Strategic Framework (2021). The action plan focused on ten priorities, including access to services, child protection, domestic abuse, care leavers, drugs and alcohol, respite care and workforce resilience. An example of the co-ordinated approach taken by the CLG through the action plan was complementary public awareness campaigns to keep children safer online run by the Scottish Government, Child Protection Committees Scotland, and Police Scotland.
The work of the CLG has also had a focus on broader cross-cutting issues of mental health and mental wellbeing; child poverty; holistic whole family support and Keeping the Promise. This has been underpinned by engagement with, and feedback from, children, young people, and families. As the emphasis now shifts from crisis response to intermediate and longer-term recovery, the focus of the CLG is on providing longer-term support for COVID-19 recovery and renewal.
1.3 Participation and COVID-19
The Scottish Government took steps throughout the crisis to hear the views, concerns and lived experiences of children and young people in relation to COVID and to empower them to participate in the decisions around the Scottish Government's response that affected them. We also continued to make sure that we listened to 'representative' voices of children and young people, in particular ensuring that the voices of the seldom heard, vulnerable and younger children and families were heard, by working in collaboration with a range of stakeholders who had existing and trusting relationships with various groups of children and young people.
For example, between January and April 2021, qualitative research was commissioned by the CLG and conducted by nine third sector organisations with a range of children, young people, and parents in vulnerable or seldom heard groups, to explore their lived experiences throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. These groups included children and young people with additional support needs; with domestic abuse experiences; who were asylum seeking, who were from minority ethnic backgrounds; and in Gypsy/Traveller families. The Report from this research was published in July 2021 and its findings were shared widely, including to help inform the COVID Recovery Strategy: For a Fairer Future (2021), and the work of the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group. We also supported a range of new research activities to address evidence gaps, including funding the COVID-19 Early Years Resilience and Impact Survey (CEYRIS) of parents of 2-7 year olds, and questions on mental wellbeing in the Young People in Scotland survey of secondary school pupils.
In addition to this, we supported the Children's Parliament with their research "Children and the Coronavirus: How are you doing?". This was an online national wellbeing survey of children, aged between 8 and 14 years old, from across Scotland which ran four times between April and October 2020, and collected over 12,000 responses. The final report can be read on the Children's Parliament website. We also supported the Children's Parliament to undertake 15 qualitative interviews with children aged 3-7 years old and their families to understand the impact of COVID-19 on this age group. In a published series of 15 stories, parents and children reflect upon their experience of lockdown and the journey since then.
We also commissioned the Scottish Youth Parliament, Young Scot and YouthLink Scotland to deliver in partnership "LockdownLowdown", which was a series of three online surveys that explored young people's concerns in response to the pandemic. Phase 2 of this research also included a series of five focus groups with young people whose voices are seldom heard: young carers; young people with experience of the criminal justice system; Care Experienced young people, young people with additional support needs and young people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.
We also maintained an overview of the evidence base on the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people to inform policy decisions around our COVID-19 response. We published five evidence summaries of the emerging evidence in this area between June and December 2020.
Participation and Education Recovery
During the COVID-19 education recovery process, we strengthened the voice of children and young people by working with Young Scot and Children in Scotland to establish and support the Education Recovery Youth Panel, which helped to input into recovery issues between November 2020 and June 2021.
We are working in partnership with a range of children's rights experts, and children and young person's organisations to map out current engagement practice across education policy, and to co-design and develop a more meaningful, longer-term, strategic, rights-based approach to participation. We will continue our long-term, transformational education reform programme and a national discussion on education, commenced in September 2022, provides an opportunity for learners to shape the future based on their experiences.
"It gives me opportunities that a lot of my friends don't have. I get to say what we learn about, and it makes me feel more powerful and in control of what I'm learning."
On being an MCP, MCP, age 13, in conversation about education reform.
1.4 COVID-19 Recovery
Scottish Ministers are continuing to take forward a range of initiatives to assist the COVID recovery process, focusing on addressing the ongoing effects on children and young people.
- The £20 million "Get Into Summer" fund was provided to local authorities and national organisations in 2021 to support the wellbeing and mental health of children, young people and families most impacted by COVID-19. This initiative specifically targeted children and young people from low income households and those who fell within the Tackling Child Poverty Priority Groups. In 2022, further funding was invested in developing a more targeted summer offer as part of work to test change, strengthen local capacity and grow existing services (see section 8.9).
- We committed to investing £500 million over 2020-21 and 2021-22 to support education recovery. The majority of this funding supported a range of work to accelerate learning recovery and to promote children and young people's health and wellbeing, including the provision of additional teachers and staff for those who needed it most; devices and connectivity to lift children and young people out of digital exclusion as quickly as possible; and targeted youth work services.
- We committed to using the payment mechanism for COVID Hardship Payments and the delivery of alternate Free School Meal provision to deliver Scottish Child Payment Bridging Payments of £520 in 2021 and £650 in 2022, prior to delivery of this new social security benefit for children aged 6-15 years old. The Bridging Payments are made quarterly and were benefitting over 145,000 children and young people as of spring 2022. We also provided a £130 Low Income Pandemic Payment to every household who received Council Tax Reduction in April 2021, reaching around 530,000 households, many of them families with children.
- In October 2020, we published the Mental Health: Transition and Recovery Plan in response to the mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan contains a number of actions targeted at supporting children and young people and was supported in 2021-22 by the £120 million Mental Health Recovery and Renewal Fund. This included actions to improve specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, address waiting times, and improve other mental health supports and services for children and young people.
- Since 2018, we have invested over £5 million in a National Trauma Training Programme, led by NHS Education for Scotland (NES). The Programme aims to support the Scottish Government and COSLA's shared ambition for a trauma informed workforce and services, where the needs of children and adults who are affected by trauma are recognised, understood, and responded to in a way which recognises individual strengths, acknowledges rights and ensures timely access to effective care, support and interventions for those who need it. The Mental Health: Transition and Recovery Plan committed to expand the Programme for a further two years (to 2023) in recognition of the need for a long-term, trauma-informed response to COVID recovery. Mental health support is discussed in chapter 7.
- In October 2021, we published the COVID Recovery Strategy For A Fairer Future. The strategy aims to address the systematic inequalities made worse by COVID, improve people's wellbeing and remobilise public services. Improving the wellbeing of children and young people is one of the outcomes of the strategy, and the strategy reflects the commitment to invest £500 million of Whole Family Wellbeing Funding; increase investment in mental health support for children and young people; and support young people through the Young Person's Guarantee initiative.
1.5 COVID-19 Public Inquiry
In December 2021, Scottish Ministers established an independent Scottish COVID-19 Public Inquiry to provide scrutiny and answers to the issues of public concern and learn lessons about the handling of the pandemic. Further information is available on the Inquiry's website.
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