[Summary: New Practical Participation co-director Jennie Fleming reflects on the challenges and recent success in progress children’s rights in the UK]
The State of Children’s Rights in England makes disturbing and distressing reading once again on the fulfilment of children’s rights as set out in Convention on the Rights of the Child. The report is The Children’s Rights Alliance’s annual review of the Government’s action in response to the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child’s legally binding Concluding Observations for strengthening children’s rights in the UK.
There was significant progress made in relation to only 30 of the Concluding Observations. For 42 of them there was no significant change and 46 of them showed significant deterioration since the last report. Examples of deterioration are that only one in nine State-run Youth Offending Institutions are delivering their minimum requirement of 15 hours of education per week for each young person in their care. Children from poor households still experience greater levels of mental health problems, disabled children have very restricted opportunities for play, black and ethnic minority children are more likely to be incarcerated than white children.
Successes have been hard won. Those successes that there have been are frequently linked to strong and sustained advocacy and campaigning by, with and for children and young people, especially those marginalised children and young people such as looked after children, disabled children and young carers and those in contact with the justice system.
Example of successes in areas I am working on personally with Practical Participation relate to children and young people in conflict with the law and with young carers. I join Practical Participation after having been Director of the Centre for Social Action at De Montfort University for many years. I have considerable experience in participatory research, especially the involvement of young people, community members and service users in research in a range of social, community and organisational contexts.
An important area of progress is that children and young people in conflict with the law are always dealt with in the juvenile justice system and never tried as adults in adult courts; in a landmark case the High Court ruled that it is unlawful to treat 17 year olds as adults whilst in police detention. This means they should automatically receive the support of their parents or an appropriate adult to help them through the legal process. The High Court found that the Howard League had argued “trenchantly” that the role of a parent or appropriate adult is critical because it provides a gateway to a child’s access to justice.
Another area of progress has been with young carers. Latest census figures show that 166,000 children, aged 5-17, are caring for their siblings, parents or others. This shocking number is likely to underestimate the true picture, as many young carers remain hidden from official statistics and the agencies set up to identify and support them. A recent positive change is the amendment in the Children and Families Bill which is the latest in a long line of incremental gains with and for young carers and their families. It provides for whole family working and holistic assessments for young carers and the families. This means when a child is identified as a young carer, the needs of everyone in the family will be considered. This will trigger both children’s and adults support services into action – assessing why a child is caring, what needs to change and what would help the family to prevent children from taking on this responsibility in the first place. This is important because young carers have slipped through the gap between children’s and adult’s support services for too long and will help ensure that young people are protected from excessive or inappropriate caring responsibilities.
I am delighted to join Practical Participation and to be working with Tim and Bill and many organisations working with communities, children and young people to ensure that their rights are met and that they receive the support they need on their terms.