Covid amplifying children’s disadvantages across UK, say UK Children’s Commissioners

The four UK Children’s Commissioners are calling on the UK and devolved governments to address the systemic disadvantages facing children and young people in a joint report to the United Nations.   

Children’s Commissioners from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland have raised 30 areas of concern to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in their five-yearly “report card”.  

Bruce Adamson, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, said:

“The eyes of the world are once again upon us as we send this report to the UN, and Scotland is still failing on many of the issues raised when we last reported in 2016. In Scotland, we have made good progress on banning physical punishment, reviewing the care system, and bringing rights into law, but there are outstanding issues across a broad range of children’s rights.  

“We need to do much more to ensure that children’s rights and interests are prioritised in decision-making and budgeting. We must address the areas where law, policy and practice fall short of international minimum standards, such as the restraint of children and our approach to criminal justice. We must act more swiftly to address the impact of poverty and mental health, and take a rights-based approach to recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic.”  

Children and young people’s voices must be included in decision-making and the Commissioners have submitted a report of children’s experience to the UN.   

Jodi, 16, a young adviser to the Commissioner, said:

 “Our rights shouldn’t be ignored when decisions affecting us are being made. Decision-makers should ask us what we think – and listen to our answers.”    

The Children’s Commissioners’ report to the UN that almost a quarter of children in Scotland are living in poverty.  

Bruce Adamson said: 

“Poverty affects every aspect of a child’s life, including their rights to learn, to good mental and physical health, and it affects their future and development. It is the most significant issue affecting children in Scotland today and we need a sustained, human rights-based approach to tackling it.    

“Accepting child poverty in a country as rich as ours is a political choice. The government has a duty to use its maximum resources to raise children out of poverty. Every hungry child in Scotland is a failure by those in power who could have done more.”  

The report also found that disabled children have been disproportionately affected by austerity and the pandemic, and special educational needs and disability provision in mainstream schools is insufficient.    

The Commissioner warned that already stretched mental health services for children have been made even worse because of the pandemic. According to the report, provision of mental health services at community level is inconsistent and the number of children waiting more than 18 weeks for an initial appointment with CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) increased from 24.9% to 33.5% in 2019. Waiting times are likely to have further increased because of the pandemic.  

Bruce Adamson said:

“Before the pandemic, services were already stretched but it has become even harder for children and young people to access vital services. Children and young people have consistently been telling us that it’s impossible to be seen unless they are at crisis point. It’s unacceptable that children have to be in a mental health emergency before they receive treatment.”    

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