Global Disability Summit:
Leave no child behind

Commit to Change Global Disability Summit poster

There is a real buzz this week as hundreds of governments, activists and civil society gather for the United Nations Global Disability Summit. Hope and Homes for Children’s Global Advocacy Advisor, Nolan Quigley, explains the significance of the event. 

Four years ago, the first Global Disability Summit was held in person in London, co-hosted by the UK and Kenya. This time, in a changed world, Norway and Ghana will welcome participants to a  virtual event with an ambitious agenda. Its purpose? To draw attention and secure commitments related to the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the promise world leaders made in the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals to ‘leave no one behind.’ A common thread running through the agenda is that adults and children with disabilities have been among the most impacted by COVID-19 and that they should not be left behind as countries continue to tackle the economic, social and health impacts of the pandemic.

At Hope and Homes for Children, we know that around the world, children with disabilities are disproportionally placed in institutions. Even in countries that have reduced the number of children in institutions, children with disabilities often remain institutionalised, or they get left behind in the care reform process that sees other children return to family care.   Children with disabilities are separated from their families due a range of factors, often due to discrimination, social exclusion and the lack of available support.  Once institutionalised, they are at higher risk of violence, neglect and poor health than their peers.

International events like these matter.  They provide an opportunity to bring attention to the needs and rights of a particular group and the measures that we know will help them, in our case children with disabilities in institutions or at risk of being institutionalised.  They offer a forum for governments to signal their intent to act and demonstrate leadership. Perhaps most importantly, they offer an opportunity for people with disabilities themselves and others in civil society to hold governments to account for the promises they have made in the past.

At the 2018 Global Disability Summit, the UK government adopted a ground-breaking policy position on children and young people in institutions, which noted the harm of institutionalisation and stated the government’s commitment to ensuring that all children “realise their right to family care and that no child is left behind”. It committed the UK government to tackling the underlying drivers of institutionalisation and working towards the long-term process of deinstitutionalisation.

This declaration, which was unique among OECD countries as it applied to all UK government departments, established the UK as a champion of global care reform. Its principles were later incorporated into the DfID (Department for International Development) strategy on disability inclusion, and UK Aid Direct enacted a regulation against funding orphanages. UK Aid has also set a promising example through its own direct work, by funding programmes to combat institutionalisation, strengthen families and social services and reform child protection systems in several countries. In addition, in October 2019, the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) changed its travel advice for citizens to recognise the harm that can be caused by orphanage volunteering, following in the footsteps of governments such as Australia and the Netherlands.

However the early momentum in implementing this commitment appears to have slowed.  Since the 2020 merger of DfID and FCO into the new FCDO (Foreign,  Commonwealth and Development Office) it is no longer clear how the UK government is implementing this commitment or where responsibility for it lies.

As countries gather again for the 2022 Global Disability Summit, we call on the UK government to reaffirm this commitment and a plan for its implementation.  The FCDO should take a lead role in championing and operationalising it through technical guidance and awareness raising, and by continuing to fund vital care reform and child protection systems-strengthening programmes in partner countries. Responsibility for implementing this commitment should be explicitly assigned to a Minister in FCDO, and public steps should be taken by government and Parliament to review the implementation of the statement since 2018 and re-evaluate it in light of the new realities unearthed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

For our part, at the 2018 Global Disability Summit, Hope and Homes for Children worked with our corporate partners to bring together a Taskforce of committed private sector leaders. This Taskforce facilitated a commitment to a private sector pact that expressed the Taskforce’s support for the UK government’s commitment. The signatories, who included Clifford Chance, A&O and UBS Optimus Foundation, remain committed to the Taskforce and continue to support initiatives to tackle the institutionalisation of all children around the world.

Nolan Quigley is Global Advocacy Advisor at Hope and Homes for Children