Children’s Rights in Practice

In the last month, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children has held one meeting:

Monday 24 April 2006 – Children’s Rights in Practice

With presentations from Lotis Bautista and Nisha Wilkinson (representatives of Young NCB), Christine Smart (Children’s Rights Director, CAFCASS), and Dr Roger Morgan (Children’s Rights Director, CSCI), this meeting was an opportunity to discuss how the Children’s Rights principles enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Act 1998, are being embedded in practice.

Lotis Bautista and Nisha Wilkinson, St Marylebone School and representatives of Young NCB, told the group how they felt children’s rights principles were being implemented, based on their own personal experiences.  For example, Nisha said that their school was adhering to Article 12 (children have a right to give their opinion, and to be listened to and taken seriously by adults), through the school council, which gives pupils their own voice, and ensures that their views are heard and acted upon.  Through the council the pupils were able to feed into ideas for developing the school, and they now have a new gym, theatre and art rooms thanks to council pressure.  

In another example, Lotis said that Article 42, which says that children have the right to know their rights, and that adults should also know about these rights and help children learn about them, was not being properly implemented.  She and Nisha did not know of the Convention before they began preparation for the meeting.  She stressed that more needs to be done to publicise children’s rights and ensure that children and young people are aware of them. 

Other Articles of the Convention addressed by Lotis and Nisha were: Article 2, (the Convention applies to everyone, whatever their race, religion, abilities etc.); Article 14 (right to choose their own religion and beliefs); Article 17 (right to get information that is important to their well being); and Article 29 (children’s education should help them use and develop their talents and abilities, help them learn to live peacefully, protect the environment and respect other people).  

Christine Smart, Children’s Rights Director, Cafcass, gave an overview of her aims as Director of Children’s Rights at Cafcass, and examples of work already done to involve young people in the development of systems and processes within the organisation. 

Cafcass aims to champion children throughout Cafcass and externally, working with other organisations; to ensure that all its polices and practice models are child-centred; to manage and improve Cafcass’s reputation as a child-centred organisation; and to involve children in all areas and at all levels of Cafcass’s work.  Young people will influence every aspect of processes, from strategy to training of staff.  For example, in the last twelve months, a pilot in the North West involved young people in the recruitment of twenty Family Courts Advisors.   Christine said that participation alone is not enough.  The focus of children’s rights work in this area should be the impact on outcomes. 

Over the last 12 months, Cafcass has consulted young people with experience of family proceedings on:

  • What advice they would give to professionals working with children and young people who are going through family proceedings.
  • What advice they would give to separating parents.
  • What qualities/attitudes professionals should have.
  • How they have experienced the care planning system, how it could be improved, and how they would advise other young people on care planning.

Christine concluded by outlining Cafcass’s Charter for Change:

  • Facilitate our Young People to tell us what’s important to them
  • Find out & get to know how they feel about the situation.
  • Involve them in their Care plan.
  • Do not contribute to their emotional homelessness.
  • Let them disagree.
  • Offer them choices and empower them with information.
  • Help them make a complaint.
  • Support them in planning for tough times.
  • Prepare them in keeping safe, not just for now but also for the future 

Roger Morgan, Children’s Rights Director, Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI), consults children and publishes their views, advises on children’s rights within and outside CSCI, and follows up individual cases.  These duties are carried out for children and young people living away from home or supported by Councils’ Social Services.   Roger provided an overview of the sources of children’s rights, namely: UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Human Rights Act 1998, key provisions in legislation (in particular the Children Act 1989), and Regulations and National Minimum Standards. 

Roger told the group that at a children’s rights conference in Legoland with 700 children, the children agreed with the Government’s 5 outcomes for children, but also identified some additional outcomes: family, friends, having enough food and drink, fun, love and respect.

Roger then outlined the consultation duties in the Children Act 1989 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  He emphasised: the duty to do something about the views and feelings expressed by children; the importance of a child’s degree of understanding and ability; and the inclusion of “feelings” in the Children’s Act 1989.  Roger also stressed that it is an offence for those running children’s homes or fostering services not to consult children in those services on the quality of the home or service, and the development of the home or service.

The factors that make a good consultation were addressed, and Roger emphasised the importance of reporting back to those consulted, whether positive or negative.  He then listed top messages from children and young people including: “Treat us as an individual who happens to be young – not as part of a mass called ‘children’” and “Listen to the quiet children too”.  This was followed by examples where regulations had been changed in direct response to consultation with young people.

Roger concluded by informing the group that children and young people will be taking part in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Review Process, where the UK’s progress in meeting the Convention will be assessed.  The next children’s rights conference will be devoted to picking up messages from children on how they think the UK is doing, and these views will go to the Government and to the UN, and they will be published. 

The following meetings have been arranged for May:

  • Monday 8 May – Children’s Workforce.  With presentations by Baroness Morris of Yardley (Chair, Children’s Workforce Development Council) and Paul Ennals (Chair, Children’s Workforce Network).
  • Tuesday 9 May – Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, with a presentation by Maria Eagle MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at DfES and Lead Minister on the Bill.
  • Wednesday 17 May – Education and Inspections Bill.  With a presentation by Rt Hon Jacqui Smith MP, Minister for Schools.

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