Incorporation of UNCRC - Get it right for children, get it right for us all

Today the Scottish Parliament has an opportunity to move closer towards realising the ambition of Scotland being the ‘best place in the world for a child to grow up’. Children 1st Chief Executive Mary Glasgow welcomes the introduction of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) Incorporation Bill, which will incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law – she says that MSPs must seize this critical moment to ensure children’s rights are legally binding.

“The preamble of the UNCRC is very clear: every child has the right to be safe at home with their family and grow up surrounded by happiness, love and understanding. Upholding and progressing this right is the starting point for all we do at Children 1st. That’s why we support a child and their whole family, building on family strengths to keep children safe. That’s why, more than twenty years ago, we introduced Family Group Decision Making to Scotland, so that life- changing decisions aren’t made about a child without hearing their voices and views and those of their wider family. That’s why, we’re working so hard with partners, including the Scottish Government and courts, to transform every element of the justice system to make it trauma-free and child-centred.

Many of the children and families we work alongside, however, can tell us stories of how the systems and processes designed to protect them have denied them this fundamental human right. They tell us they don’t feel that their voices have been heard in decisions that affect them, that their right to live free from poverty, to receive an education or access adequate healthcare hasn’t been upheld. And we know that lots of the important laws and policies that decision- makers at Holyrood have produced don’t always translate into change for children. This is why, if passed before the end of the parliamentary term, we believe that the UNCRC Incorporation Bill will be one of the most significant steps the Parliament has taken to ensure that children’s rights are protected in Scots law and that they are at the centre of decisions made about their lives.

The Bill follows the report of The Independent Care Review - The Promise – a radical overhaul of the care system pledged by the Scottish Government after listening to the views of thousands of children and young people. At Children 1st we’ve pledged to play our part in delivering The Promise -  to do whatever it takes to make sure that children and families get the support they need at the earliest possible stage to stay together, wherever possible, and that most importantly their voices actively shape decisions about their future.
The current lack of help for families to prevent harm is shocking. Protecting children’s rights in Scots law will support parents as well as children. It will make the right to early family support, which gives families the help and strength they need to keep their children safe, legally binding. It will place a requirement to consider how children can make complaints if they believe their rights have been breached. And it will help us to consider children as active rights holders rather than being passive recipients when important decisions are made about their lives.

Of course, this Bill is not a magic fix for all the problems that children and their families tell us about. But international evidence from places like Norway, Belgium, Iceland, Sweden and Spain shows that giving the UNCRC formal status has resulted in a culture change that then directly impacts on the application of children’s rights principles in national law and policy.

For example, children and families we work alongside have told us they often feel let down by the justice system. We are beginning to see the impact of hard-fought for changes, such as the Children (Scotland) Bill and the Scottish Government’s support for our work alongside Victim Support Scotland, Children England and the University of Edinburgh to develop Scotland’s first Child’s House for Healing.

The Child’s House, which has been made possible thanks to an award of £1.5 million from players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, will be a safe and welcoming place for  children and young people to go to as an alternative to courts, social work offices and police stations. Children will be able to give evidence, receive medical care and support to recover from trauma and be involved in decisions about their protection in the building, which is designed to feel like a family home.  Across Europe this approach is recognised as the best way to realise children’s rights to trauma-free justice and support to recover from trauma and abuse – support which is so lacking in Scotland.

I believe that testing and developing the House for Healing while in Scotland we focus on implementing the calls to action set out in The Promise and incorporating the UNCRC will be a game- changer for Scotland’s children. The House of Healing will take a rights- based approach to listening and responding to children, upholding their right to have their voices heard, their best interests taken into account and their right to recovery. These rights will be legally binding and we will work together with our partners across health, social work and the police to ensure that we uphold children’s rights, recognising ourselves as rights holders.

After 30 years of campaigning as a member of Together (the Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights, we look forward to working with MSPs across the Parliament to ensure that incorporation is achieved in the most meaningful and effective way possible. I firmly believe that if we get our approaches and systems right for children we’ll get it right for us all. By creating the cultural and legislative bedrock which upholds and progresses children’s rights, incorporation will benefit us all.