On 6 January 2021, Lady Smith, chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI), reluctantly postponed hearings to examine the abuse of children in boarding schools because of new COVID-19 restrictions. These “phase 6” hearings, concerning seven boarding schools, had been scheduled to start in the second half of January 2021. This phase of evidence will be rescheduled “as soon as possible.”
To date, SCAI has published three sets of case study findings on evidence heard between November 2017 and February 2019 in phases 2 and 3 but has not yet made any recommendations.
In a YouTube video released on 26 March 2020, Lady Smith, chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI), emphasised that the ‘vital work of SCAI continues’ with all staff working remotely with access to ‘excellent IT and infrastructure’. SCAI’s phone lines are presently operating Monday to Friday 10am-4pm to ‘support applicants and witnesses’. Investigative and preparatory work for announced case studies continues. Work also continues in reviewing and analysing evidence heard during previous case study hearings. Further case study findings will be published ‘as soon as possible’. To date, SCAI has published three sets of findings but has not yet made any recommendations.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the Coronavirus Act 2020 and prevention of abuse
Amongst the less-known effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is the impact on child protection. Risk factors include the lockdown itself, which forces families to cohabit on a permanent basis, as well as overcrowding, loss of income and high levels of stress and anxiety. These increase the risk of abusive behaviour against children by adults, or other children, living in the same household. Protective factors, such as contact with supportive adults outside of the house, or contact with friends is also reduced. There is also concern about increased exposure to online harm, including grooming, creation and dissemination of child sexual abuse videos or other content.