Children’s Rights in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic
During 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted on the lives of children and young people across Scotland and on the delivery of the vital services on which they, and their families, rely.
The Scottish Ministers have emphasised that they see now as a time when children’s rights and wellbeing matter more than ever and have taken steps to ensure that the human rights of children and young people, particularly those who are most vulnerable, are at the heart of the government’s approach to the COVID-19 crisis.
Our response is 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 a statement published on 8 April 2020, the UN Committee asked States to respect the rights of the child in taking measures to tackle the public health threat posed by the pandemic, particularly in relation to 11 areas. The Scottish Government has committed to report regularly on the actions it is taking relevant to the 11 areas. To date, it has produced four reports which can be accessed via the Scottish Government’s website.
Our approach to Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessments (CRWIA) is supporting and informing our response to the pandemic. The CRWIA ensures that all areas of the Scottish Government consider the possible direct and indirect impacts of proposed policies and legislation on the rights and wellbeing of children and young people, particularly the most vulnerable. A full CRWIA was prepared and published in respect of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 and the Scottish Government was commended for doing so. CRWIAs were also undertaken in respect of the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Act 2020, the Education (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Regulations 2020, on the closure and reopening of schools, and the impact of restrictions on social gatherings on children and young people as part of the response to COVID-19 in Scotland. The Scottish Government’s Children’s Rights Unit refocused its work during the pandemic to support colleagues across the Scottish Government in undertaking these impact assessments.
The Scottish Government has also taken steps throughout the crisis to hear the views, concerns and lived experiences of children and young people in relation to COVID-19 and to empower them to participate in the decisions around the response that affect them. Further information on this is provided in the Participation section of this Report.
The Scottish Ministers have aimed to develop a holistic approach to the needs of children and young people who are at risk during the pandemic. Three evidence and intelligence reports were published in April, May and July 2020 which provided an overview of the research evidence about the impact of COVID-19 on children and families available at the time and reported on service responses based on intelligence gathered from local partnerships and third sector organisations. In addition, we continue to monitor and develop the evidence base on the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people. This has included monthly evidence summaries which have fed into the data intelligence reports and informed policy decisions around our COVID-19 response, as well as supporting a range of new research activities to address evidence gaps. Some specific examples of actions taken to support the needs of vulnerable children and young people during the pandemic include:
- Providing local authorities and schools with flexibility to redirect Attainment Scotland Funding to help mitigate the impacts of school closures for the most disadvantaged families and to make adjustments to existing plans to be delivered as schools returned.
- Making over £120m available to tackle food insecurity caused by the pandemic, including supporting the provision of Free School Meals over all of the school holiday periods until Easter 2021.
- Providing £25m to support digital inclusion among school-aged children and young people, through the provision of connectivity, devices or both. All councils have been allocated funds and are in the process of securing and distributing devices to meet local needs.
- Allocating £43m to the Scottish Government’s “Connecting Scotland” project, working with industry and other partners to identify and support digitally excluded households, through devices, connectivity and skills, allowing us to reach up to 50,000 households by the end of 2021.
- Working closely with young carers and our third sectors partners to ensure that the support on offer is responsive to young carers’ needs as these change through the pandemic.
- Publication of additional supplementary child protection guidance during the pandemic, including in relation to children affected by domestic abuse.
- Enhanced funding to the Childline service to adapt and respond to rising demand during the pandemic.
We are continuing to work with partners to ensure robust ongoing processes for monitoring the impact of the pandemic on children and young people, particularly those most at risk. In May 2020, the Scottish Government established a COVID-19 Children and Families Collective Leadership Group. The Leadership Group, which includes members from the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE), 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, receives regular intelligence updates and identifies actions to address current and emerging issues. The Leadership Group has a focus on children, young people and families experiencing vulnerabilities and those who are on the edges of becoming vulnerable. In June 2020, the Scottish Government established an Advisory Group to support the work of the Leadership Group and to ensure that those who are considered most vulnerable during the pandemic are able to share their lived experiences and participate in solution-based discussions. Further information on the work of the Advisory Group is provided in the Participation section of this Report.
In May 2020, the Scottish Ministers published the COVID-19: Framework for Decision-making - Scotland’s Route Map Through and Out of the Crisis. The Route Map set out a phased approach to easing lockdown restrictions while suppressing the virus. On 23 October 2020, the Scottish Government published the Coronavirus (COVID-19): Scotland’s Strategic Framework. This document set out a five-level framework for suppressing coronavirus outbreaks across Scotland. Consideration of human rights, including children’s rights, will continue to inform the process of recovery and renewal as we respond to and emerge from the global pandemic.
A Scotland where children are recognised as citizens in their own right and where their human rights are embedded in all aspects of society is the Vision we aspire to; a Scotland where policy, law and decision making take account of children’s rights and where all children have a voice and are empowered to be human rights defenders.
Improving Outcomes for Children and Young People Strategic Forum
To provide a leadership space to discuss ideas and issues, to make children’s rights real in Scotland and oversee the action plan.
Progressing the Human Rights of Children in Scotland: An Action Plan 2018-2 021
We will incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law.
- We will consult widely including with children, young people and families, local authorities and other public bodies across Scotland, as well as third sector partners on the right model of incorporation.
- We will also consider where it may be possible for Scots law to go further than the UNCRC requires, where that is demonstrably beneficial for children and young people.
- In the meantime, we will continue to consider ways in which rights under the UNCRC can be given better or further effect across individual policy areas.
We will evaluate the Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA) process and further support and promote its use. Actions:
- We will update the templates, guidance and training materials for the CRWIA process and make these publicly available on the Scottish Government website.
- We will encourage the use of the CRWIA materials by public authorities and children & young people’s organisations.
- We will develop an impact evaluation process for the CRWIA.
We will develop and deliver through co-production, an ambitious programme to raise awareness and understanding of children's rights across all sectors of society in Scotland.
- We will map existing rights-based awareness resources, programmes and training packages
- We will recruit a group of young leaders to organise and co-facilitate 6 unConference Events and local discussion groups in different locations across Scotland. Participants will be invited to attend from across different areas of society. Particular attention will be paid to engaging with those that are seldom heard.
- Where gaps or weaknesses have been identified we will, through co-production, develop resources and training programmes to strengthen rights awareness and understanding across all areas of society.
- We will work alongside Education Scotland to strengthen awareness and understanding of children’s rights through a range of activities which supports the development of a rights-based culture and ethos in schools and early learning and childcare centres.
Strategic Approach to Participation
We will develop a strategic approach to children and young people’s participation, as part of the Year of Young People (YoYP) legacy. Our aim is to mainstream the participation of children and young people in decision making across Scottish society.
- We will work in partnership with our stakeholders, and importantly with children and young people, to develop our strategic approach.
- We will make sure that we listen to ‘representative’ voices of children and young people, in particular ensuring that the voices of the seldom heard, vulnerable and younger children are routinely heard.
- We will consider resourcing and how participation is made sustainable.
- We will consider access, including digital technology, to support wider engagement.
- We will publish an evidence base of existing research, good practice and policy areas that have consulted with children and young people.
How will we know we are making progress?
We will provide an update on progress in taking forward these strategic actions each year.
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