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Associate feature: Ensuring the UNCRC benefits all our children 30 years on

Associate feature: Ensuring the UNCRC benefits all our children 30 years on

On 20 November 1989, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was adopted by the international community, setting out the rights that children everywhere should be entitled to. As we mark its 30th anniversary, it is clear that the adoption of the UNCRC was not the end of a journey, rather a key milestone, and one that we must build upon if we want every child to realise their rights.

In Scotland, it’s an exciting time for advancing children’s rights. The Scottish Government is committed to incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law by the end of this Parliamentary session; and early next year, the highly participatory Independent Care Review is expected to report on the future of care in Scotland. There’s a momentum and there is no doubt that further progress will be made.

The UNCRC is a key mechanism to ensure children are better able to realise their rights, and have better protection if their rights are violated. Embedding these rights in our laws and policies offers the chance for us to take responsibility and action to make sure all children can enjoy their rights, a vision shared with the Sustainable Development Goals to ‘Leave No Child Behind’.

2019 also marks 10 years since the publication of the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children to more specifically define the implementation of the UNCRC for children who are at risk of, or in need of, care and protection.

Yet, 30 years since the adoption of the UNCRC, obstacles to realising children’s rights, including poverty and inequalities, feature too often in children’s lives. Under the UNCRC, on paper, children in need of care and protection have a right to receive special protection and assistance from the state but the stark reality is that their rights can sometimes be the least likely to be fully realised.

Universally, the Guidelines ask us to reflect on whether alternative care is genuinely needed – known as the ‘necessity principle’ – focusing on preventing the situations that can lead to children being cared for by others rather than by their family, and a ‘suitability principle’ guiding us all on what is in the best interests of the child.

It’s not enough to pass legislation to protect children or even to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law: to implement these principles in practice requires much more, including investing in prevention to tackle the circumstances that can make life difficult for children and their families. Measures that can make a real difference, such as income and employment support to reduce child poverty, adequate housing, and access to early education, are all essential, as is the effective implementation of Scotland’s Getting It Right For Every Child approach. While ambitious changes are underway here, these may not be enough in the face of many powerful adverse forces.

It is in children’s daily experiences that rights are made real. For children in care, public services must ensure consistently loving, safe, and stable care is provided by adults outside their own family – a challenge that calls for a relational rather than technical approach to care.    

This can best be achieved through the provision of care that takes into account the individual needs, preferences, and wishes of each child, and through co-operation to ensure appropriate long-term support can be given. Truly embracing this ‘the suitability principle’ would mean healing, restorative care for children as they grow up, and effective support for the range of relevant workforces.

As we stand on the foundation of conventions and principles, what is clear is that change in both systems and in practice will be needed to ensure all children experience the kind of care to which they have a right. When it comes to implementing lasting change that will make a difference to the rights of children – the heart of the UNCRC - we will need to do things differently to get different outcomes, and turn commitments into action for all our children.

Professor Jennifer Davidson, Executive Director, CELCIS and Executive Director, Inspiring Children’s Futures at the University of Strathclyde

CELCIS – the Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection is a leading improvement and innovation centre.

This piece was sponsored by CELCIS. For more info:

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