Children's playground taped off during Covid. White text overlaid reads 'COVID-19 Briefing Papers'

Covid-19 Briefing Papers

Members of the European Children’s Rights Unit have produced a series of briefings outlining the impact of COVID-19 on different aspects of children’s lives and rights. They highlight the profound and distinct effects and potential legacy of this pandemic for children and explore how legal protections and processes available to children can be strengthened.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 was passed by Parliament on 25 March 2020 to afford the Government and public authorities a range of emergency powers to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic, whilst other legislation has been amended in response to the crisis. Such measures, whilst accepted as a short-term necessity to control the spread of COVID-19, risk seriously undermining children’s basic rights to education, access to justice, protection from harm and their physical and mental health, not just now but for many years to come.


The Impact of COVID-19 on Children


The European Children’s Rights Unit briefings cover the following topics:

  1. Protecting Children Online During Covid-19 – Katrina Miles
  2. The Impact of Covid-19 on Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities – Seamus Byrne
  3. The Impact of COVID-19 on Educational Inequality and the Attainment Gap – Matilda Clough
  4. The Impact of Covid-19 on Children’s and Families’ Access to Justice – Kerry Barry and Deborah Lawson
  5. The Coronavirus Act 2020 and Child Detention under the Mental Health Act (MHA) 1983 – Nazia Yaqub
  6. The Impact of Covid-19 on asylum seeking children – Helen Stalford
  7. Children’s Freedom of Assembly During COVID-19 – Aoife Daly and Rachel Heah
  8. COVID-19 and Safeguarding Children's Rights in Research – Leona Vaughn
  9. COVID-19 and International Child Abduction: Children’s Stories – Allison Wolfreys
  10. Briefing Paper 10 - The Impact of COVID-19 on Young Trans People – Hannah Hirst

Taken together, these briefings highlight some overarching concerns about the impact of Covid-19 on children’s rights in the UK.


Protecting Children Online during COVID-19 - Katrina Miles

Briefing Paper #1


The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed even more of our daily lives online. In some areas of the world, daily internet usage has risen by 50 per cent.

For children and young people, online gaming, social media and video chatting has replaced face-to-face communication and become a substitute for the playground. These virtual platforms offer many positives during this period of isolation, but they also put children and young people at greater risk of numerous online harms.


The Impact of COVID-19 on Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities – Seamus Byrne

Briefing Paper #2 


Briefing paper 2 cover

The impact of Covid-19 on children’s education rights has been profound. However, children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have been doubly impacted by this pandemic. In addition to the closure of schools on the 20th March 2020, children and young people with SEND stand apart as a distinct group who have had their education rights formally altered and diluted as a result of a significant relaxation of the legal duties which Local Authorities (LA’s) owe towards children with SEND in England.


The Impact of COVID-19 on Educational Inequality and the Attainment Gap: Protecting Disadvantaged Children – Matilda Clough

Briefing Paper #3


Briefing paper 3 cover

On 23 March 2020, all schools across the United Kingdom closed to all but key workers’ children and the most vulnerable. This has led to an unprecedented shift to online teaching, with both GCSEs and A-Levels being cancelled for 2020. Although since June there was a gradual return to schools, online teaching was largely maintained until the end of the summer term and may continue at the beginning of the new academic year in September.

With the increase in online work, extra protection needs to be put in place for disadvantaged children and those that may become vulnerable due to the impact of COVID-19.


The Impact of Covid-19 on Children’s and Families’ Access to Justice – Kerry Barry and Deborah Lawson

Briefing Paper #4 


Briefing paper 4 cover

The hastened move towards remote hearings in the Family Court via telephone, email or online platforms in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and consequential social distancing measures will inevitably impact on the children at the centre of those cases. The majority of family cases involve disputes between parents (private law) or between parents and local authorities (public law) over the future living arrangements of children. From October to December 2019 7,693 children were involved in new Public law applications and 20,996 children in new Private law application events . Approximately two-thirds of private law cases concern child welfare issues, with the remaining children still considered at risk of heightened vulnerability.



The Coronavirus Act 2020 and Child Detention Under the Mental Health Act 1983 – Nazia Yaqub

Briefing Paper #5


Briefing paper 5 cover

The Mental Health Act (‘MHA’) 1983 provides for the treatment of people with a mental disorder, a term which is broadly defined and includes eating disorders, anxiety disorder, depression and schizophrenia. There is no lower age limit applicable to the MHA and so it applies to children in the same way as adults, authorising their forced detention and treatment. Sec. 2 MHA allows the child to be detained for 28 days and Sec. 3 permits detention for a period of six months.


The Impact of COVID-19 on Asylum Seeking Children – Helen Stalford

Briefing Paper #6


Briefing paper 6 cover

Pandemics affect all people, but they disproportionately devastate those who are already vulnerable, legally and socio-economically, such as asylum-seeking children.

Recent asylum data reveals that, by the end of 2019, there were 35,566 asylum applications made in the UK, a significant proportion of which involved families with dependant children and 10% (3,651) of which were by unaccompanied children.


Children’s Freedom of Association During COVID-19 – Aoife Daly and Rachel Heah

Briefing Paper #7


Briefing paper 7 cover

The rules relating to restrictions on movement in the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 have impacted on all sectors of society. The Covid-19 related lock-down has been particularly hard however on many children and young people, who have been forced to stay inside and miss crucial development activities such as education and sport. It is very important that the children’s rights implications of this are considered.


COVID-19 and Safeguarding Children's Rights in Research – Leona Vaughn

Briefing Paper #8


Briefing paper 8 cover

COVID-19 has changed all of our lives in so many ways. For researchers doing qualitative research in particular, many are or have been looking at ways to innovate with different methods. Both to collect data and insights for existing research projects and to formulate new projects to gather evidence on children’s experience of lockdown and beyond.

It is important, however, that safeguarding children’s rights, and the broader ethical and legal responsibilities for safeguarding children, are not overridden or side-lined in the rush to ensure that information and data continues to be acquired about children’s experiences. Especially during this extraordinary time of their life.


COVID-19 and International Child Abduction: Children’s Stories –Allison Wolfreys

Briefing Paper #9


Briefing paper 9 cover

This paper considers two recent High Court cases conducted remotely during the COVID-19 lockdown that concern international parental child abduction which is governed by the Hague Convention on Child Abduction 1980 (The Convention). The cases shed some light on the currency of the rights of children to participate in decisions around whether they should be returned to where they were living prior to the abduction.

The Convention’s purpose (stated in Article 1) is to secure the prompt return of a child if they have been wrongfully removed or retained by a parent.


The Impact of COVID-19 on Young Trans People - Hannah Hirst

Briefing Paper #10


Briefing paper 10 cover

On the eve of this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia a group of international human rights experts called on States and other stakeholders to urgently take into account the impact of COVID-19 on LGBTQ individuals when creating, assessing, and implementing measures to combat the pandemic. Although the number of gender non-conforming youth is difficult to quantify, 2,728 young people were referred to the Gender Identity Development Service in England between 2019-2020. This equates to around 52 referrals per week. The closure of English gender identity clinics specialising in the treatment of children and adolescents, as well as GP surgeries, pharmacies and schools in April 2020 has, and will continue to have, a profound and long-lasting effect on young individuals and the implementation of their rights.


Damned if you do; Damned if you don’t: School Attendance and Covid-19 - Nicola Barker and Helen Stalford

Briefing Paper #11


Briefing Paper 11 cover

One of the most significant effects of Covid-19 has been on children’s education. After two extended periods of national lockdown and several ongoing localised lockdowns it is natural to assume that any move to facilitate children’s return to school should be welcomed, essential even. Indeed, current Government policy is that school attendance is mandatory. But an eagerness to minimise any further disruption to children’s learning has triggered what many believe – including many parents – to be a reckless move that exposes children and their families to a heightened and disproportionate risk of Covid-19 infection.

Following a judicial review threat from the Good Law Project, the Department for Education have revised their guidance to schools. It now notes that rather than imposing a blanket obligation on parents to send their children back to school, schools must consider each request for leave on its own merits and cannot decide on a blanket basis to refuse to authorise absences.

This briefing explains precisely what the legal requirements are, for parents, schools, and local authorities, when making such decisions concerning children.

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