CLC Joins Call for Children to be Heard in Covid Inquiry

14 August 2023

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The Children’s Law Centre has joined calls for children to be given a voice as part of an inquiry into Covid.

The letter was published by Save the Children, Just for Kids Law and the Children’s Rights Alliance England. It was signed by over 40 leading children’s experts.

The letter calls for four commitments from the Chairperson of the inquiry. This includes publicly committing to hear directly from children about their experiences during the pandemic. In particular, this should include disadvantaged children who suffered disproportionately.

Decorative image with pull quote from the letter. Reads, "Children are nearly a quarter of the population. This is not a nationwide listening exercise without them."

Full text of the letter reads:


To the Chair of the Inquiry,

We are writing as representatives of organisations which supported children, young people and families throughout the Covid-19 pandemic or advocated for their rights and academics specialising in this field. We believe that the Covid-19 inquiry must listen to the experiences of children and young people, so that through the Inquiry we are able to learn about how to prioritise children’s rights and wellbeing in future crises. We know that you are personally committed to this, as you have repeatedly stated in the Inquiry’s hearings so far.

The past few weeks have seen both the first public hearings in the Inquiry’s first Module and the launch of Every Story Matters (ESM). We are writing to express our increasing and ongoing concern about the absence of a clear and public strategy and approach for listening to children and young people, especially those who experience inequalities or discrimination. In order to address these concerns, we make some specific recommendations which draw on our collective experience in working with children and young people in ways which are empowering, safe, trauma-informed and can lead to lasting, positive change.

The recent advertising campaign for Every Story Matters (ESM), and the accompanying website emphasises that all stories are important, and al I stories should be told by those who wish to tell them.

But not children’s stories.

Just for Kids Law, the Children’s Rights Alliance for England and Save the Children have been repeatedly raising their concerns about the participation of children for the past nine months in their role as Core Participants in the Inquiry.

Despite this, and months of planning, ESM has been launched without a plan for how to involve children. Neither the website nor the advertising campaign makes any mention that this is an adult only activity. It is only when children attempt to fill in the webform that they will be met by this message:

“You must be aged 18 or over to use this form. The Inquiry is aware of the importance of understanding the experience of young people during the pandemic. The Inquiry is currently designing an effective way of engaging with children and young people and will provide updates on our website and social media.”

There is no direction or explanation of what a child reading this is then supposed to do with their experience. Children are nearly a quarter of the population. This is not a nationwide listening exercise without them.

Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer between 2010-2019, has given evidence to you during Module 1’s public hearings, about the damage she has personally witnessed to children as a result of lockdown and the closure of schools 1:

“We have damaged a generation and it is awful[. … }, watching these young people struggle; and I know in the pre-school they haven’t learned how to socialise and play properly, they haven’t learned how to read at school. We must have plans for those.”

In this Inquiry you will be considering those plans that Dame Sally referred to, and how we protect future generations of children from suffering a repeat of the damage that was inflicted on our children when the next pandemic happens. You will need to hear stories from children to fully understand that damage, socially, mentally and academically and to hear what they have lost. You will also need to hear about their positive experiences, the examples of effective interventions and what we can learn from what worked well for children. You have made a commitment to put inequalities at the heart of the Inquiry and children who also experience inequalities and discrimination in addition to being a child, may be the most difficult to reach, but are also the most important to hear from.

We write now to call on you to make four public commitments:

First, in line with your commitment that the Inquiry will focus on inequalities, that you make a commitment to hear from children, and in particular from those who have suffered the most, that is those who come from disadvantaged background or experience other inequalities or discrimination.

Second, that the exercise is carried out in a manner that is appropriate, child-focused and trauma- informed, taking into account best practice for children’s participation. To this end the exercise should be carried out by an expert partnership with academic participatory research expertise, together with a support partner able to offer trauma-informed care, together with local community organisations with roots and credibility in particular communities which experience inequalities and discrimination.

Third, that the Inquiry set out the clear purpose of this exercise with a commitment that the findings from this research will directly inform the scope of the children’s module. The Inquiry should publicly set out how children’s voices have influenced lines of inquiry once the research has been conducted.

Finally, there needs to a be a published update on the Inquiry’s website as to how and when the Inquiry will listen to children.

Quite simply all of those under 18 who wish to participate in the Covid-19 inquiry are entitled to know when and how their stories will be heard. We ask that you tell them.


  • Dan Paskins, Director of UK Impact, Save the Children Fund
  • Louise King, Director, Children’s Rights Alliance for England, part of Just for Kids Law
  • Saqib Deshmukh, Interim Chief Executive, Alliance for Youth Justice
  • Emma Rigby, CEO, Association for Young People’s Health
  • Joseph Howes, CEO, Buttle UK
  • John Galloway, Member, The Campaign for State Education (CASE)
  • Professor Cath Larkins, Co-Director, The Centre for Children and Young People’s Participation, University of Central Lancashire
  • Professor Tony Bertram, Director, Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC)
  • Professor Chris Pascal, Director, Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC)
  • Amy Whitelock Gibbs, Chair, The Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition
  • Kathy Evans, Chief Executive, Children England
  • Dr Judith Turbyne, Chief Executive, Children in Scotland
  • Paddy Kelly, Director, Children’s Law Centre
  • Stephen Kingdom, Campaign Manager, Disabled Children’s Partnership
  • Melian Mansfield, Chair, Early Childhood Forum
  • Patricia Durr, CEO, ECPAT UK
  • Sarah Thomas, CEO, The Fostering Network
  • Sereena Keymatlian, Director, Haringey Play Association
  • Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive, The Howard League for Penal Reform
  • Ali Fiddy, CEO, IPSEA (Independent Provider of Special Education Advice)
  • Katie Fennell, National Coordinator, KIND UK
  • Fiona Sutherland, Director, London Play
  • Silvia Hurtado, Director, The Markfield Project
  • Anna Skehan, Supervising Solicitor and Legal Practice Lead, MiCLU (Migrant and Refugee Children’s Legal Unit) Islington Law Centre
  • Dr Nick Owen, MBE, CEO, The Mighty Creatives
  • Anna Feuchtwang , Chief Executive, National Children’s Bureau (NCB)
  • Phil Kerry, CEO, New Horizons Youth Centre
  • Zahra Bei, Co-Founder, No More Exclusions
  • Sir Peter Wanless, CEO, NSPCC
  • Rita Waters, Group Chief Executive (England and Wales), NYAS (National Youth Advocacy Service)
  • Moira Sinclair, Chief Executive, Paul Hamlyn Foundation
  • Ingrid Skeels and Alice Ferguson, Co-Directors, Playing Out
  • Julie Randles, CEO, Power2
  • Bill Badham, Co-Director, Practical Participation
  • Sherry Peck, CEO, Safer London
  • Dr Caron Carter, Senior Lecturer in Childhood & Early Childhood Education & Postgraduate Research Tutor in Education, Sheffield Hallam University
  • Professor Alison Clark, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Thomas Coram Research Unit, UCL Yvonne MacNamara, CEO, The Traveller Movement
  • Claire O’Meara, Director of Advocacy, The UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK)
  • Helen Lomax, Professor of Childhood, University of Huddersfield
  • Arabella Skinner, Director, Us for Them
  • Professor Jacqueline Barnes, Chair, What About The Children?
  • Tricia Johnson, Committee Member
  • Edwina Mitchell, Independent Researcher
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Equality Commission To Investigate High Street Voucher Scheme

19 December 2021

The Equality Commission has decided to authorise an investigation into the High Street Voucher Scheme. The investigation follows a complaint from a young person, under 18, who alleged that the Department for the Economy failed to comply with its approved equality scheme when making the decision to exclude under 18s. The young person has been assisted in their complaint by the Children’s Law Centre.

Claire Kemp, Policy Officer at the Children’s Law Centre said: “Decision makers have a duty to ensure the decisions they make do not adversely impact or discriminate against sections of the population. This includes children and young people. To ensure they avoid making decisions that discriminate they have to carry out an equality screening exercise at the earliest opportunity. In this case it was clear the Department for the Economy failed to do that.

“We’re happy to assist this young person in their complaint and are pleased the Equality Commission has authorised an investigation. The Department was in the position to publicly announce the High Street Voucher Scheme in February 2021 but evidently failed to carry out an equality screening exercise until the young person complained. In fact, the screening document provided to the young person was completed, signed off and published on the same day as the response to their complaint on 10th September 2021. This was not the earliest opportunity as is required, it was an afterthought.

“Children and young people under the age of 18 play a vital role in our society. They contribute to the economy, play a crucial role in many parts of the high street economy and played a key role in navigating our way through some of the darkest months of the pandemic. Rather than treat them as an afterthought, we should be looking at ways to include them in the recovery.

“What chance do children and young people have against discrimination if Executive departments fail to uphold even their own equality duties?”

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Young People Lodge Formal Equality Complaints About The High Street Voucher Scheme

14 September 2021

A number of young people, aged under 18, have submitted formal complaints to the Department for the Economy for failing to comply with its equality scheme in relation to its decision to exclude young persons under 18s from the High Street Voucher Scheme.

The young people have been assisted in their complaints by the Children’s Law Centre (CLC). Both CLC and the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) had previously submitted complaints that the Department for the Economy had not equality tested the policy at all before making policy decisions to exclude under 18s.

The complaints by young persons were made on the basis of two key failures by the Department for the Economy. Firstly, that it failed to publicly consult on the policy, including with those directly affected. Secondly, that it failed to carry out an Equality Impact Assessment on the policy before making a decision.

Claire Kemp, Policy Officer at the Children’s Law Centre said: “This is a significant development and is the direct result of a number of failures by the Department for the Economy to comply with its own Equality Scheme. Had the Department consulted, and equality assessed the policy at the earliest possible stage, as it is supposed to, the negative impact of excluding children would have been highlighted and consideration for a more inclusive policy could have taken place.

“Equality screening should be carried out at the beginning of the process for a reason. It is there to highlight any negative impact on protected groups and ensure mitigating measures are put in place to avoid discrimination.

“It is not in the gift of decision makers or public bodies to disregard such an important step, or indeed to carry out their duties after the fact. The Equality Commission has also been clear that COVID-19 is no excuse for failing to abide by statutory equality duties.

“In any case, the High Street Voucher Scheme has been in development for close to a year now and it was only after we lodged a complaint with the Department that they carried out an equality screening, completing it just days before the scheme is scheduled to go live. There has also been no consultation with young people or mitigation to negate the adverse impact on under 18s.

“This policy has not been rushed, yet fundamental steps to avoid discriminating against protected groups, including young people, have been ignored or delayed to the extent of rendering them meaningless. The Department for the Economy is clearly in breach of its Equality Scheme.”

Only following the complaints by CLC and CAJ has the Department for the Economy belatedly produced an equality screening document. This however only considers the exclusion of under 18s as a ‘minor’ impact and does not propose any remedial action or commit to a full Equality Impact Assessment.

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SEND Children Again Facing Worst Impact Of Covid School Exclusions

08 September 2021

The Children’s Law Centre has warned that children with special needs and disabilities are once again being forgotten in the pandemic response. The warning comes after reports of disabled children facing severe negative impacts as a result of exclusion from education settings due to direct contact tracing or testing positive for COVID-19.

Rachel Hogan, Special Education Needs and Disability Expert with the Children’s Law Centre said: “We have consistently raised concerns that vulnerable SEND children have been some of the hardest hit during COVID-19. We voiced our concerns early during the first lockdown and it was too long before action was taken. We are seeing it again and it must be addressed urgently.

“Children with challenging behaviour on the edge of care are being sent home from special school when being identified as being a direct contact. Those who test positive are at home with no access to education or respite for ten days. Vulnerable children are suffering, parents and carers are being injured and families are facing breakdown.

“We are seeing the impact it is having on our clients in our day to day work.”

Mrs Hogan continued: “We need to see an urgent and joined up response from both the departments of health and education to protect these children. We cannot see the same mistakes repeated from the past. There can be no delay or failure to act collectively.

“We have already witnessed the drastic impact on vulnerable children when decisions are made without fully considering the adverse impacts. We cannot be looking back in weeks or months wishing action was taken earlier. Disabled children are being hit hardest when they are excluded from educational settings. Decision makers must do all they can to ensure their needs continue to be met.”

Read More

Children Should Not Be Excluded From the High Street Voucher Scheme

25 August 2021

The Children’s Law Centre has raised concern at the exclusion of children from the high street voucher scheme. Writing to the Minister for the Economy, the Children’s Charity requested the rationale for the decision, including any equality screening or equality impact assessment carried out by the Department.

Speaking before the Committee for the Economy was due to discuss the scheme, Claire Kemp, said:

“The Children’s Law Centre are surprised at the exclusion of under 18s from the high street voucher scheme. Not only does this ignore the fact that children are major consumers on the high street, we are also concerned its introduction breaches the Department’s statutory equality duties. We have written to the Minister to request information on any equality screening and equality impact assessment carried out to assess the adverse impact the scheme could have on children.

“We cannot understand the rationale for the exclusion of under 18s, especially given the massive contribution many made in the response to COVID-19. Despite being some of the lowest paid members in our society, many young people worked throughout the pandemic as essential workers, playing their part in getting us all through it. To exclude them from participating in the recovery through the high street voucher scheme is incredibly unfair and potentially unlawful.

“The decision also ignores the reality of children’s lives. Some children live independently of adults and some are young carers. Why should they miss out on this opportunity simply because of their age?

“Children have suffered tremendously throughout the pandemic. Disruption at school, increased stress around exams and significant concerns around the impact COVID-19 has had on their mental health. Many children and families have also been further plunged in to poverty as a result of the pandemic. This was a chance to not only stimulate the economy but also help children living in poverty at the same time, but it will now be missed unless there is a major rethink.

“The Children’s Law Centre is clear, under 18s should not be excluded from the High Street Voucher Scheme.”

Read More