Key points

  • All children and young people have the same rights, but those with disabilities or additional support needs have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
  • Disabled and seriously ill children’s right to life may be compromised. We’ve written to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health calling on them to change guidelines to be in children’s best interests.
  • Provision of education for children and young people in this group is inconsistent and uptake in school hubs is extremely low.

Human rights are for everyone

Children and young people with disabilities or additional support needs (ASNs) have the same rights as their peers, but these have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. School closures and exam cancellations may have had a particularly negative impact on this group.

An arrow circling and including people of different genders and ethnicities, one of whom is in a wheelchair.

UNCRC Article 2

All children have these rights no matter what their differences are

An implant for people who are hard of hearing, a person with a guide dog, a person with a cane and a person in a wheelchair.

UNCRC Article 23

If I am disabled, I have the right to special care and education

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, and one of these was the impact on children with disabilities or additional support needs. It found that lockdown had impacted on children in this group having their basic needs met and rights fulfilled.


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.

Disabled and seriously ill children’s right to life may be compromised

The Impact Assessment highlighted concerns that disabled or seriously ill children might not be receiving treatment that saves their life or sustains it. That’s a violation of their human rights— all children’s right to life should be upheld to the maximum extent resources allow.

Because of this, we’ve written to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer in a best interests context to call for a change in guidelines.

Services for disabled children and young people are harder to access

While schools and early years are closed, therapies which are accessed through them may also not be available. As well as this, disabled and seriously ill children have had a reduced availability of mental health services across the UK.

And currently disabled children’s health needs aren’t being assessed, although they’re likely to have increased during the pandemic.

Children with disabilities and ASNs aren’t accessing school hubs

Local authorities were advised by Scottish Government to ensure that hub schools were available for vulnerable children, but their definition of which children count as vulnerable wasn’t adequate.

As a result local authorities interpreted government advice in different ways, so support isn’t consistent across Scotland.

Around 97,000 children and young people – 10% of under 18s in Scotland – are thought to be vulnerable according to the Scottish Government’s definition, but very low numbers seem to be attending school hubs: a report found that nine local authorities had no vulnerable children attending at all.

Many children with ASNs lack Co-ordinated Support Plans

Many children lack Co-ordinated Support Plans which they’re entitled to, which makes it hard to assess their needs and the risks they might face when working out what’s in their best interests. This may make it hard to know when it’s in their best interests to return to school.

Learning at home presents several challenges

Children with ASN and disabilities are, by definition, entitled to additional support for learning and reasonable adjustments. These include individualised teaching and therapeutic support.

But reports suggest most learning materials provided by schools during lockdown aren’t tailored to the individual needs of children in this group.

As well as this, children with ASN or disabilities are likely to live in socially disadvantaged households, so are less likely to have internet access and the ability to use digital materials.

School closures impact more rights than just education

It’s not just the right to education that’s impacted by school closures. Some children with disabilities and with complex Additional Support Needs may need supervision or feeding to make sure they consume their food, and while this is provided in schools adults may be unable to give this level of support.

As well as this, younger disabled children would usually receive therapy at their early learning or childcare centre, but this may be no longer possible due to physical distancing.