Perceptions of the Action Plan
Responses to the Scottish Government's consultation were constructive and there was consensus across all consultation responses that children's rights should be respected and enhanced. The way in which this should be done, however, varied.
Respondents felt that the Action Plan should include overarching strategic actions intended to secure transformational change; a summary of specific initiatives being taken forward across all Scottish Government portfolios to implement United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) principles; and new policy actions that were identified through this consultation process.
The consultation responses demonstrated that there was wide-spread agreement that the proposed four overarching strategic actions would help to take forward the principles of the UNCRC.
Responses also indicated that the Action Plan should harness existing good practice and not reinvent the wheel; to maximise efficiency and effectiveness moving forward. Whilst there are examples of key initiatives included in Annex A of the consultation document, respondents expressed a desire for further reassurances on the body of work that Scottish Government will consider when developing the strategic framework.
Whilst there was agreement on the proposed components of the Action Plan and on the general direction of incorporating the principles of the UNCRC into Scots law, as announced in the Programme for Government in September 2018, several organisations expressed a desire for the scope of the Action Plan to be extended. These recommendations focused on a desire to have more detail linking each strategic action to individual UNCRC principles; more detail on the specific actions that Ministers would progress and which government portfolios these would link to; budget allocation and ethical considerations. The proposed actions in the consultation document were seen by some to lack detail on how the actions would be measured and evaluated and thus some respondents requested clarification on the evaluation tools that would be used to monitor the development of the participation framework.
Inclusion of children and young people
The consultation document sets out methods which might support wider engagement with children and young people and the intention to mainstream the participation of children and young people at national and local levels. The consultation responses expressed concerns that some specific vulnerable groups of children and young people have not been referenced in proposals for inclusion in the Action Plan.
The strategic action of raising awareness of children's rights was viewed by respondents as possibly being strengthened by making a firm commitment to targeting specific groups of vulnerable children and young people. A wide-ranging list of vulnerable groups of children and young people are listed in the consultation responses. Both individuals and organisations requested reassurances in the Action Plan on how these vulnerable and seldom heard groups of children and young people will engage in the development of the strategic framework.
More accessible language in both the proposed Action Plan and in documents relating to the development of the participation framework was suggested by respondents, as a useful way forward to help engage children and young people. Involving children and young people in the development and implementation of the participation framework, and in outputs and outcomes, was important to respondents. It was further suggested that engagement opportunities could consider both face-to-face and digital approaches to ensure that all children and young people are appropriately supported to engage with the Plan and its aims.
Engaging key audiences in supporting children's inclusion
Scottish Government may consider including key audiences with the Action Plan, respondents reported, and included schools, parents/families, children's services and third sector organisations. These audiences were seen to have a pivotal role to play in the engagement of young people and in informing children and young people of their rights.
- Schools and nurseries were seen to have a responsibility to inform and educate children and young people about their rights. Play-based learning at primary school level featured regularly in responses, with this preferred by respondents over a more formal approach to primary years education.
- Families were noted as having a crucial role in educating young people on their rights, and information sharing campaigns or signposting guidance were recommended to support families in this role. Other ideas included parents receiving practical training and information to raise their awareness of the UNCRC principles, and for this to be shared with pregnant families and reinforced by midwives and health visitors to ensure that children are protected and supported from birth.
- Children's services could ensure that their expert views and ability to represent the voices of young people (a key aim of the Action Plan) are represented. Independent advocates help and support young people to better understand their rights and advise on actions that should be taken if their rights are violated. Respondents highlighted the importance of independent advocacy and advised that funding be allocated to support advocacy groups.
- A range of third sector organisations are a key resource for the Scottish Government in achieving the aims of the Action Plan. The consultation documentation features the aspirations of the Scottish Government to leverage the support of these groups to enable the engagement of children and young people. Respondents echoed this need, noting how these organisations could potentially help and support children and young people to express themselves openly and freely.
Leveraging policy and legislation for children's inclusion
Respondents called for actions to promote children's wellbeing to be reinforced with effective and considered legislation in other policy areas, like education, health and social care, and the legal and criminal justice system.
Respondents largely wanted to see robust implementation mechanisms created or utilised, to safeguard children to ensure effective feedback, measurement and enforcement. Yet, views differed on what 'robust mechanism' entails. Some seemed unaware of the current measures, such as the Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment. This raised an important point about awareness-raising and the benefits of wider promotion of existing policy and legislation.
Respondent recommendations for leveraging policy and legislation for children's inclusion included:
i. Calls for stronger legislation, especially enshrining the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law.
ii. Using existing legislation and state powers in 'novel' ways to strengthen accountability and enforcement of children's rights in Scotland, in both formal and informal ways.
iii. Strengthening or simply promoting legislation designed to measure children's rights and wellbeing, including but not limited to the Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment.
Consultation responses were generally engaged, solutions-focused and constructive in response to the proposed content and format of the Action Plan. Overall, there was support for the Action Plan and advocation of children's rights in Scotland. While the strategic actions are broadly accepted by respondents, the respondents shared their views on what more the Scottish Government could do to maximise the successful embedding of children's rights into policy and practice, including:
- Embedding the UNCRC principles into policy, practice and legislation: while there is overwhelming support for the integration of the UNCRC principles, the Action Plan could include more detail on how the strategic actions could be linked to each Article of the UNCRC
- Build on existing good practice: the government and key stakeholders could identify and harness relevant literature and good practice that have successfully demonstrated how to engage young people and develop actionable frameworks.
- Engage children and young people, including the most vulnerable groups: the Action Plan requires more detail on the groups of vulnerable children that will be considered and involved in the development of the participation framework, further details could also illustrate how these seldom heard groups will be engaged in the implementation of the Action Plan
- Collaborative working with key organisations: the government could look to further empower and collaborate with third-sector organisations and children's services to target, access and engage all groups of children and young people
- Permeate and reach all policy areas: the promotion of children's wellbeing could be reinforced with effective and considered legislation in other policy areas, including education, health and social care, and the legal and criminal justice system.
- User-friendly and accessible outputs: preference for deliverables to be framed in user-friendly and non-technical language, in formats that appeal and can reach a broad audience of children and young people
- Raise awareness of children's rights by influencing existing channels: suggested that government and key stakeholders could identify existing channels, such as parents and schools, to ensure that the voices of children and young people are heard
- Evaluation and enforcement of the Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA): CRWIAs are well-known, but there is a desire for the assessments to be used more frequently, be made more accessible and provided with clearer guidance