The impact of the coronavirus lockdown and school closures on vulnerable pupils has become a top priority for MSPs.
The Scottish Parliament's Education and Skills Committee has today written to key organisations for advice on how to support children and young people who are most in need of help.
The committee's letter focuses on four areas:
- Provision of free school meals
- Monitoring of vulnerable children
- The child-protection process
- Support for children with additional support needs (ASN)
In the letter, committee convener Clare Adamson asks whether there are "practical issues you have encountered that should be considered at a national level".
Coronavirus school closures: Support for vulnerable children
She adds that the committee "knows there has been a need to quickly adapt approaches to reflect social distancing and an increased need for support, and that the challenge of coordinating all of this support has been massive".
Key questions in the letter include:
• Do you have any information to share on the extent to which food is reaching the children who need it most?
• What level of provision exists for children and young people with complex additional support needs in school/childcare hubs?
• Are appropriate places at school/childcare hubs or in private nurseries available?
• What contact and support is being received by children and young people with additional support needs and their parents/carers where they are not attending school/childcare hubs?
• Are you aware in your work of an increased demand for support, such as an increase in child protection referrals?
• What kind of help from local authorities, schools or other service providers would kinship carers, foster carers and parents of vulnerable or looked-after children require to support their children and families in this period?
The full letter can be found here. Responses should be emailed to email@example.com
Joanna Barrett, policy and public affairs manager for the NSPCC Scotland charity, said: “We are profoundly aware that the current lockdown is increasing the risk of harm to some children, especially those with additional support needs and those living in families already struggling to cope.
"We also understand that in Scotland, as elsewhere in the UK, child-protection referrals have dropped and attendance of vulnerable children at school is extremely low.
"It is, therefore, crucial that in Scotland we urgently focus on these children and assess how we can work together to reach and support them before it is too late, and that no child remains invisible in these extremely challenging and unprecedented times."
She added that anyone with concerns about a child can contact the NSPCC helpline at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0808 800 5000.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) said: "We have concerns that just under 1 per cent of schoolchildren are at childcare hubs and, of those attending, 86 per cent are the children of key workers, while only 14 per cent are vulnerable children.
"These are very small numbers, reflecting the fact that only a tiny fraction of vulnerable children are taking up these places and should set alarm bells ringing.
"We are concerned that some of those with complex needs and disabilities may not be getting the specialist support they require. In addition, many of those who are vulnerable are children of families where there is known to be domestic violence, which we know is on the increase, substance abuse, parental sickness or disability, as well as poverty, which is closely associated with neglect."
The spokesperson added: "So often these children are quite invisible at home and not in the place which is best at keeping them safe – school."
"It is vital that action is quickly taken to assess the requirements of these vulnerable children and young people and adequate support is provided."