Memorandum submitted by Children England
1. Children England welcomes the decision
of the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) to undertake a short
inquiry on children's rights, following up the recent concluding
observations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children
on the UK as well as several JCHR reports.
2. As the leading membership organisation for
the children, young people and families voluntary sector, Children
England is in a unique position to represent charities that work
with children, young people and families. Our members include
the largest children's charities in the country through to small
local groups. Our mission is to create a fairer world for children,
young people and families by championing the voluntary organisations
which work on their behalf.
3. This short submission does not attempt to
cover each aspect of Children England's concern in relation to
children's rights. Rather it sets out some of the key themes that
we believe must be addressed, and we would urge the Committee
to consider embarking on a more detailed inquiry into children's
rights in the UK.
4. Almost 20 years on since the UN Convention
on the Rights of the Child, a great deal of progress has been
made in children's rights. The Every Child Matters agenda
has ensured that children's policy has been at the forefront of
government thinking, whilst more recently the ambitions and proposals
set out in the Children's Plan are commendable and have real potential.
5. However, there is still a real need not only
to ensure that the principles of children's rights are thoroughly
embedded throughout policymaking and practice, but also that there
is a clear and common understanding of what children's human rights
6. Much more needs to be done by Government
and bodies such as the Equalities and Human Rights Commission
and the Office of the Children's Commissioner to ensure that the
public has a good understanding of children's human rights. We
share the previously voiced concerns of the Children's Rights
Alliance for England, who have observed that 79% of its members
do not think that the public has a good understanding of children's
rights and that only 20% of its members agreed that Government
Ministers have a good understanding of children's rights.
7. We are especially concerned that children
are too often negatively portrayed in the media and in political
debate and that this weakens the concept of children's rights.
If we are serious about building a culture of children's human
rights then there needs to be a more sophisticated approach within
a human rights framework to how to support children who pose challenges,
such as those who break the law or who have behavioural problems.
8. The Committee should give serious consideration
to how it can promote the greater participation of children in
decision-making. As Children England's own work on issues such
as Placeshaping (as part of the Speaking Out Project in partnership
with the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services) has shown,
when children are involved in making decisions it is not only
empowering for those involved but can also lead to better-informed
policymaking which can promote the rights of other children.
9. We would welcome the JCHR giving sustained
consideration to how a greater shared understanding of children's
human rights can be built and how a human rights culture can be
10. We welcome the Committee's announcement
that issues of particular interest include children in detention,
asylum seeking children and child trafficking victims. We would
also urge the Committee to focus on other particularly vulnerable
groups, especially children in care and care leavers, children
with disabilities, homeless children and children in contact with
the youth justice system.
11. We are especially concerned that many of
the most vulnerable children are drawn into a youth justice system
which too often is unable to meet their needs. Whilst there is
an undoubted need to address problematic and criminal behaviour,
drawing children into a stigmatising criminal justice system isn't
always the answer. There needs to be greater investment in diversionary
schemes and solutions including adolescent mental health services,
family support, restorative justice and mediation. There also
needs to be greater investment in prevention if future generations
of vulnerable children are not to be drawn into the youth justice
12. Vulnerable children could benefit greatly
from access to an improved and standardised complaints system
along with appropriate support and advocacy.
13. In light of the particular vulnerabilities
of many children in care, the Committee may want to particularly
explore the case for unrestricted access to independent advocacy
being available to children in care on a statutory basis.
14. We welcome the Committee's focus on
how best to enshrine in law the Government's goal of eradicating
child poverty by 2020, in view of the right of every child to
an adequate standard of living under Article 27 of the UN Convention
on the Rights of the Child. It is vital, however, that the focus
on 2020 should not detract from the pressing need for Government
to invest the necessary resources to reach the interim target
of halving child poverty by 2010. Child poverty legislation must
also define child povertyand ensure that housing costs
are taken account of in any measurement.
15. We urge the Committee to engage with the
children, young people and families voluntary sector to ensure
that its knowledge, skills and experience of working with children
in and on the edges of poverty is taken fully account of in taking
forward work on children's economic rights. Tackling inequalities
and social exclusion, as well as child poverty, must be at the
heart of work to uphold children's rights.
16. It is essential that those who work
with children are equipped to protect and promote the rights of
the children they work with. This requires appropriate training
and ongoing professional development, as well as a policies and
procedures in place to ensure appropriate support and monitoring.
17. Children England is currently working with
the Children's Workforce Development Council to explore ways of
ensuring the children, young people and families voluntary sector
workforce continues to receive adequate support. We urge the Committee
to acknowledge the importance of ensuring training and support
for all those who work with children and families, and the need
for sustained government funding to take this forward.
18. We are concerned that a great deal of
expertise within the children, young people and families voluntary
sector risks being lost because of uncertainty around funding,
not least because of short-term contracts and late decisions about
contract renewals. Protecting children's human rights requires
first class, experienced staff and we can ill afford to risk losing
highly qualified staff from the sector because of uncertainty
about statutory sector funding for vital services.
19. Children England would like the Committee
to build on its current call for evidence and launch a more detailed
systematic inquiry into children's human rights. Twenty years
on from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
such an inquiry could not be timelier. We note the impact that
many of the Committee's previous inquiries have had and believe
that a detailed focus on an issue such as building a culture of
children's rights or protecting the rights of children in the
care of the state could make a real difference.
20. Children England would be keen to work with
the JCHR in any way that would be useful, including through facilitating
discussions through our membership or arranging for a selection
of voluntary organisations that work with children, young people
and familiesincluding smaller charities whose voices are
often not heardto give evidence to the committee.