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COVID-19 and Children With Disabilities

During the COVID-19 pandemic, children with disabilities are a group that may experience specific heightened barriers to accessing information, care and support and be at higher risk of protection concerns.

Globally, children with disabilities are:

● Highly vulnerable to stigma, discrimination and segregation.

● Less likely to attend school, access medical services or have their voices heard in society.

● At higher risk of all forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence.

● At increased risk during the COVID-19 pandemic because of the challenges they already face in their daily lives.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, children with disabilities are a group that may experience specific heightened barriers to accessing information, care and support and be at higher risk of protection concerns.

The table below is adapted from Save the Children’s “Tip Sheet for Disability Inclusion during COVID-19: Child Protection”. The table outlines specific protection risks for children with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as examples of reasons for the increased risk.

Protection Risks for Children with Disabilities during COVID-19
Protection Risk Underlying Reasons for Increased Risk Levels
Children with disabilities can be more exposed and susceptible to the impact of COVID-19. 1) May need support washing hands (e.g. reaching water sources, hygiene supplies and soap). 2) Need tailored awareness raising and public health information. 3) May be at greater risk of exposure to the virus due to their care needs that prevent them from being able to social distance or isolate. 4) May have underlying health risks that increase the possibility of contracting the virus or of suffering more greatly if they do catch the virus. 5) COVID-19 can reduce access to required medications and medical services.
Protection Risk Underlying Reasons for Increased Risk Levels
Loss of support system and routines may result in regression and psychological harm. 1) Closure of schools, rehabilitation services, residential and day centres and safe spaces, play groups and group activities may disrupt services that are essential to the health and well-being of children with disabilities. 2) Lack of transport and infrastructure may prevent access to those services that are remaining open. 3) Social distancing requirements may limit family and community support systems.
Protection Risk Underlying Reasons for Increased Risk Levels
Increased risk of abandonment, abuse, neglect and violence during COVID-19. 1) Negative attitudes towards children with disabilities may reduce their care and protection when resources are stretched. 2) Changes in primary caregiver (e.g. due to illness) can result in abuse, neglect, exploitation and/or emotional and psychological distress. 3) Children in alternative care settings are at greater risk of abandonment. 4) There is a higher risk of being placed in residential care, especially if separated from primary caregiver due to isolation measures. 5) Reduced levels of staffing and care in residential care settings can result in neglect or abuse. 6) Closure of residential schools can return children to families without adequate support. 7) There is an increased risk of being left at home unsupervised.

Your Task

Reflect on the specific situation of children with disabilities in your own context. In your programming and work, what key risks and challenges have you observed for children with disabilities and/or other marginalized groups of children (i.e. children with chronic illnesses, indigenous children, etc.) during the COVID-19 pandemic? How do these differ for children of different ages and genders?

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Protecting Children during COVID-19 and other Infectious Disease Outbreaks

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