Key points

  • Decreased community interaction during lockdown may lead to safeguarding breaking down. Safeguarding can depend on children and young people interacting with a lot of different people, any one of whom may notice something wrong.
  • Young people in care may not have their right to family contact met in practice.
  • Assessments and placements for care experienced children have been affected by the pandemic in positive and negative ways.
symbolic illustration of Article 19 of the UNCRC.

UNCRC Article 19

I have the right to be protected from being hurt or badly treated

Article 19 of the UNCRC makes it clear that children and young people have the right to be protected from violence, just like everybody else.

A symbolic illustration of Article 20 of the UNCRC.

UNCRC Article 20

I have the right to special protection and help if I can’t live with my own family

Article 20 of the UNCRC says that children and young people have the right to special protection and help if they can’t live with their family.

An Impact Assessment for the coronavirus pandemic

We supported the Observatory of Children’s Human Rights Scotland to create an Alternative Children’s Rights Impact Assessment, looking at the laws and policies passed in Scotland in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Impact Assessment looked at how these had affected children and young people in nine different areas, including young people at risk and in care. It found some concerning indications that safeguarding processes might be breaking down.

A:

Adults in power often make decisions that affect people― such as laws and policies. When they do this, they don’t always think about the impact these decisions will have on children and young people.

A Children’s Rights Impact Assessment, or CRIA,is a way to include children and young people in a decision. It looks at the ways the decision might affect the rights of children and young people― both positively and negatively.

By doing this, it means people know what the effect of the decision on children and young people is likely to be.

What needs to change as a result of this Impact Assessment?

Our office has made several recommendations around what Scottish Government and others need to change as a result of what this Impact Assessment has found. They’re changes which will help keep human rights promises to children and young people as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic, and which will safeguard their human rights in any future crisis.

Rights when at risk

Children and young people at risk should be protected to remain safe from harm, and the expectation is that Scotland’s child protection system should continue to function to do this in a pandemic.

However, lockdown greatly reduced the number of interactions within communities, and when this happens protections can start to break down.

If you go to nursery, school or community groups – if you interact with your wider neighbourhood – then there are lots of people who can report a safeguarding concern.

But in lockdown, the child protection system depends on children and young people or their parents or carers reaching out to help – either to helplines or services – or on neighbours raising concerns and police noticing the child protection implications of callouts or interactions.

There’s a concern that possible pathways to getting support have been disrupted, and that referrals into child protection processes are lower than expected.

That means there are potentially both immediate and longer-term problems if unreported issues get much worse.

What are some concerns for children and young people in care?

They may be at more risk of catching the virus

The Impact Assessment found there were concerns that children and young people living in care may have been at greater risk of catching coronavirus, as many different adult carers would come into contact with them. There were also concerns those living in kinship or foster care would have an increased risk of catching the virus.

Their contact rights may not be met in practice

There are concerns care experienced children’s right to relationships with parents and siblings and their families may not have been met in practice.

Assessments and placements have been affected

Assessments and placements for care experienced children have been affected by the pandemic in positive and negative ways.

For example, older young people may have stayed longer with their carers. This may have led to crowded conditions, but it also may have provided more stability. In some cases children have not been helped to express their views in important decisions being made about where they live and the people they have contact with.