Measures taken to limit the spread of COVID-19 may disrupt the lives of ACT children and young people and impact their well-being, development and protection, especially for those involved in the ACT care and protection or youth justice systems. Children and young people may require additional support and assistance during COVID-19, particularly if they are experiencing distress, anxiety or additional stress.
Access to technologies needed to support social connection as well as remote learning and education have been limited for some children and young people in care during the pandemic response, as have contact visits with family members, caseworkers, and Official Visitors. Despite the pandemic, the Commission remains committed to advocating for greater transparency and external review of decisions that affect the day-to-day lives of children and young people in care.
The right to education has been limited for all children in the ACT to some extent during the pandemic. Most schools closed or limited attendance to children of essential workers, though have since reopened with students and teachers with chronic and compromised immune systems (eg respiratory illnesses) being permitted to work or study from home. School closures, transition to online learning and a staggered return to schooling may also be a source of anxiety or instability for children and young people, especially those with disability or who require reasonable adjustments.
It is essential during this period that education remains available, affordable, acceptable and adaptable as well as culturally appropriate. Responses must also reflect on the indispensable role of schooling as an environment in which children and young people develop their identity, beliefs and relationships as well as a much-needed safe space for those experiencing violence or abuse at home.
Further, remote online learning increases the susceptibility of children and young people to online grooming and to cyber-bullying. The rise in online predators has been noticeably evident, and significant investment in monitoring and shutting down national networks is being made by the Australian Federal Police. It is important to ensure that children and young people are aware of these risks and that messaging about risks such as these, and about the pandemic more broadly (including restrictions) is easily understood by, and accessible to, children and young people.
The Children and Young People Commissioner has a Young Thinker Forum that provides an opportunity for children and young people to communicate their views about issues that are important to them. If you are a young person under the age of 25 years old and would like to have a say and share your story about COVID-19 and your experience, the Children and Young People Commissioner is keen to hear what you have to say and will use what you tell her to inform her work as well as advocating for what might need to change in other services and systems.
If you are a child or young person and need some help to get your needs met or have your rights upheld, please contact the Public Advocate and Children and Young People Commissioner.
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Statement on COVID-19 and ESC rights (which include education)