COVID-19 & children’s rights in Scotland

COVID-19 saw widescale disruptions to the social, cultural, political and economic fabric of everyday life for countless individuals the world over. New research from MacLachlan, McMellon and Inchley (2022) draw attention to the toll the pandemic has played on children’s rights, in the context of mental health.

There is a need to shift away from crisis management response tactics, towards mire sustained efforts, and that these efforts cast a sider net:

“[I]t is important to focus on the wider determinants of children’s mental health including their relationships and the environments and societies in which they live in order to prevent a future global mental health crisis.”

MacLachlan, McMellon, and Inchley (2022)

Getting proactive for children’s rights

Turning to Scotland, and its pandemic response through the Independent Children’s Rights Impact Assessment (published in June 2020), the authors show how approaches aimed at supporting children’s rights must adopt “a rights-based framework” that is attuned to the wider social issues connected to mental health, for a more holistic lens (MacLachlan, McMellon, and Inchley, 2022). Such a framework, the authors argue, may better support mental health, since public health recognised that social forces, such as those related to relationships and the environment play a contributing factor in mental health, alongside other factors (MacLachlan, McMellon, and Inchley, 2022).

Here’s the abstract:

Restrictions on social and economic activities imposed by governments around the world in response to COVID-19, including the closure of schools and childcare facilities, have had a detrimental impact on children’s mental health and wellbeing. Initial responses to support mental health during the pandemic have largely focussed on immediate support and crisis management. However, as governments plan for recovery from the pandemic it is important to focus on the wider determinants of children’s mental health including their relationships and the environments and societies in which they live in order to prevent a future global mental health crisis. This narrative review draws on the Independent Children’s Rights Impact Assessment on the response to COVID-19 in Scotland to evaluate how the measures implemented by the Scottish Government have impacted on children’s rights related to the wider determinants of mental health. The review reflects on the indivisibility of both children’s rights and the different aspects of children’s lives, particularly when considering issues such as mental health. Using the Scottish context as an exemplar, it highlights the value of a rights-based framework for providing a holistic view that can inform preventative approaches to support better mental health among children in the future.

Why it matters

  • The percentage of adolescents experiencing mental illness is estimated to be around 10-20%
  • Research suggests that 50% of mental illness in adults begins before 14 years old
  • Children can have positive and/or negative experiences with mental health, and there are long-term implications.
  • Research suggests that children who have negative experiences with their mental health are at an increased risk of lower educational attainment, face challenges with employment, experience difficulties with their social relationships, as well as challenges with physical health and even substance misuse.
  • The global pandemic has amplified issues, and there are concerns related to the impact social distancing measures (such as childcare school closures) will have on outcomes related to mental health.   
  • Children’s rights relate to survival, dignity, wellbeing, health, development, participation and non-discrimination, as well as play, leisure, and rest.

Source: MacLachlan, McMellon, and Inchley (2022)

Lensed through the United Nations, rights have been understood as relational and interdependent. And while the authors acknowledge that this frame can be problematic, they argue that the research on mental health amongst children in Scotland related to COVID-19 has shown that mental health and children’s rights must be considered in interrelated terms: they each connect to, and depend on, the other (MacLachlan, McMellon, and Inchley, 2022).

To learn more, check out the open access article in full, here.


MacLachlan, A., C. McMellon & J., and Inchley (2022) Public mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic: impacts on children’s rights, The International Journal of Human Rights, DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2022.2057958

MacLachlan, McMellon, and Inchley (2022) is licensed under the Creative Commons, through an open access Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.

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