(1) A Good Start and (2) the UNCRC

The APPGC Officers have now confirmed their programme for the 2008/9 Parliamentary Year. The two themes that the Group has chosen for the year are the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and Children’s Wellbeing. There will be two meetings on the UNCRC, one focusing on the UN Committee’s concluding observations on the UK’s implementation of the CRC, and the second taking a more international perspective. The series of meetings on Wellbeing will each be centred around a particular theme, for example, social care, education and families. As usual, there we will also hold meetings on Bills that will affect children. The All Party Parliamentary Group for Children has held two meetings since Parliament returned from summer recess:

* Wednesday 17 November 2008: A Good Start in Life, with Sarah Brown, the Prime Minister’s wife, speaking about her work as President of the charity ‘PiggyBankKids’ and Patron of the White Ribbon Alliance

* Monday 8 December 2008: The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC): Concluding Observations, with Baroness Morgan of Drefelin (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, DCSF) and the four UK Children’s Commissioners

A Good Start in Life with Sarah Brown

The Prime Minister’s wife, Sarah Brown, gave a speech about her work as President of the children’s charity ‘PiggyBankKids’, which funds projects with vulnerable and seriously ill children and young people, many of which focus on the early years. Projects the charity has supported include: medical research on ante-natal and maternity care, the ‘Vulnerable in Pregnancy’ programme for young mothers who have drugs and mental health problems; and Play Away Buses mobile provision that offers a place for the children to play while the parents can access advice and information.

Turning to her work in the international arena, Sarah talked about her role as a patron of the White Ribbon Project, which aims to reduce deaths during pregnancy and childbirth internationally by 75% by 2015 (one of the UN Millennium Development Goals). She said that, in the past, there has not been the political will to address this issue, but that this is changing. She added that addressing maternal mortality will help to address other development goals because a living mother makes so much difference to a child during the early years and into adulthood.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC): Concluding Observations

This meeting brought together the four Children’s Commissioners for the UK, and the DCSF Minister, Baroness Morgan of Drefelin, to discuss the concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Right’s of Child on the UK’s progress against the CRC. Kathleen Marshall (Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People) began by setting out the process by which Government, the Children’s Commissioners, non-governmental organisations and children and young people reported to the Committee. Each Children’s Commissioner then highlighted the key issues for their jurisdiction.

Kathleen welcomed encouraging signs from the Scottish Executive, including consideration of raising the age of criminal responsibility and a commitment to remove under-18s from adult prisons (following the UK Government lifting its reservation to the CRC relating to the separation of children and adults in detention). She said that the level of awareness of the CRC among Scottish children (44 per cent) is a good start.

Keith Towler (Children’s Commissioner for Wales) said that the Welsh Assembly Government had committed to doing what it can to deliver the Committee’s recommendations, and that NGOs are working together to consider how the recommendations can be translated into the Welsh context. He highlighted the importance of communicating the CRC and the concluding observations, with only 8 per cent of Welsh children being aware of the Treaty. He also highlighted issues in the youth justice system, which he was pleased the Committee had included in its report.

Patricia Lewsley (Northern Ireland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People) said that she had been working to communicate the importance of the concluding observations to the Northern Irish Government’s Ministerial sub-group on children. The sub-group has now identified six priorities arising from the Committee’s report, including: post-conflict issues, police technologies (including tasers); equal treatment; and youth justice. Patricia’s office is focusing on: ensuring the second action plan for the implementation of the 10-year strategy for children and young people includes a focus on the concluding observations; and addressing recommendations regarding physical punishment and the promotion of positive parenting.

Sir Al Aynsley-Green (Children’s Commissioner for England) highlighted recommendations from the UN Committee relating to: incorporating the CRC into UK law; strengthening the independent monitoring role of his office; providing children with accessible complaints processes; raising awareness of the CRC; non-discrimination, in particular public attitudes to young people reflected in the media; disability; asylum-seeking children and young people; and the youth justice system. He called for a UK-wide action plan for implementing the Committee’s recommendations.

Baroness Morgan, the DCSF Minister with responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the CRC, highlighted progress made, including: the draft Play Strategy; a duty on school governing bodies to take into account the views of pupils; an examination of the schools appeals process for children (working with 11 Million); and legislation to reinforce government’s child poverty commitments. However, she acknowledged that there is still more work to be done together. She said that the concluding observations provide a useful framework with which to work, and that this will be reflected in the format of the Government’s forthcoming document marking one year on from the publication of the Children’s Plan.

Forthcoming meetings of the APPGC are:

* The Children’s Workforce: Inspectors – Monday 19 January 2009, 4-5pm. Representatives from Ofsted and Anne Owers, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, will be speaking on the issues and challenges affecting the inspectors of various children’s services. This is the last meeting from the 2007-2008 Children’s Workforce theme.

* UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: an International Perspective – Monday 2 February 2009, 5-6pm. Speakers to be confirmed.

Please contact Sally Cole, Clerk to the APPGC on 020 7843 1907 or by email to [email protected]:

* To be added to the email mailing list to receive minutes and invitations to meetings
* For copies of minutes from any of the meetings
* For any further information about the Group

This column is kindly provided for the Webmag by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB). The All Party Parliamentary Group for Children has been clerked by the NCB for over 20 years. The NCB is a charitable organisation that acts as an umbrella body for organisations working with children and young people in England & Northern Ireland. Through working in partnership, sharing knowledge, resources and services it has created a powerful, authoritative and influential voice to improve the lives of children and young people. For more details see www.ncb.org.uk.

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