Can Scotland be Brave – Incorporating UNCRC Article 12 in practice

This project investigated how well practitioners, understood and implemented the full obligations of Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (‘UNCRC’).

Post evaluation 

Each of the three sites were visited again to review how the Laura Lundy model had helped them to adapt their practice and discuss individual case stories. The next section reports on these findings.

During our feedback sessions and the post-training survey, practitioners were asked to comment on how useful they found the Laura Lundy model in their work. All of the respondents indicated that they found the model useful in helping them to understand what was required and commented.

"It is very useful to consider how to give children the platform to share their views. It then allows practitioners the chance to discuss these views with children and how their views can influence change in their own lives. It is evident this model allows for children to know their voice matters and will be used by the people who make decisions" (Teacher)

"This has shown me a way to achieve the Article for young people" 

(Health practitioner)

Finding a safe space

  • Providing a safe space can be challenging for different reasons. In a busy school environment or in some of the childcare services finding a physical space with few distractions is difficult. This is easier to achieve in a clinic.  The physical environment can act as a barrier to participation. 
  • Providing a confidential space dedicated to children's views can be challenging. Health practitioners talked about having a parent present in the room. At times, their non-verbal communication was distracting and leading. Some parents directly contradicted CYP views whilst other parents respectfully gave their child space to respond and were surprised by what they found out as a result of giving a space for expression.

"Parents were so pleased with what he expressed that they didn't know before." (Occupational Therapist)

  • Providing a thinking or reflective space is helped by having a structure such as a Talking Mat. 

We need to be aware that what seems like a safe space to adults might not feel that way to CYP. Although all three sites do have processes in place to actively seek the views of CYP, it is was recognized that this is often for a set purpose such as Pupil Councils, peer reps or inclusion groups. Lots of children find it difficult to initiate a conversation with an adult to give their views or raise concerns. Although building strong relationships is a foundation in childcare services, practitioners also recognised that it is necessary to set aside time for 1-to-1 conversation. We know from other Talking Mat projects that when we take time to discover the small concerns this can prevent problems from escalating.

Some practitioners voiced concerns about opening some topics:

"I was a bit nervous about what one of the kids would say in terms of what could you say? What could this lead to?" (Teacher)

She was reassured that the school has a holistic approach to education and no topics are out of bounds. Indeed, there is real benefit in asking directly about issues. Reflecting on the needs of the pupils, the Deputy Head Teacher said that some lead chaotic lives and have low expectations:

"For some kids they see issues as a norm, and so they don't see a need to raise awareness – only when staff notice that they realise they could change the issue." (Deputy HT)

UNCRC states that it is up to adults to actively seek the views of children and young people.

Voice – capturing views in a meaningful way

"Giving the child the time and opportunity to be listened to allows the child to communicate his or her true feelings but also gives the listener a fuller picture of the needs, views and expectations of the child." (OT

Analysis of the Talking Mats stories found that most comments from practitioners related to gathering new information that was not previously known. Picking up on non-verbal communication was an important aspect of eliciting views.

Some practitioners found it difficult if CYP didn't elaborate on their responses and give them additional verbal information. Using visuals allows CYP to express a view without words by placing an image on a mat. Some of the other themes that emerged were:

  • Changing the pace of the interaction and giving time to review the Talking Mat helped CYP to form their views and encourage conversation. Having the options also helped to open up discussion.
  • The challenge of staying neutral and accepting of positive and negative views was expressed: 

"I found it hard not to talk too much, and ask lots of questions." (Teacher)

"I had to work hard not to talk, I don't like silence and feel silence is awkward" (Youth Development Officer)

  • Passing over control was another common theme. Many practitioners said this was the hardest part of the interview and yet recognised the importance of doing this. 

"It is a good way for the child to have control over what they want to speak about." (Youth Development Worker) 

Children do not need to give their view if they don't want to and should be asked what decisions they want to be involved in, rather than practitioners being in control of that decision.

  • Differences in age and stage of development as to how easy it was to establish actions. 

"I found it really hard with the wee ones regarding the next steps. I did not feel very confident myself picking out what the next action could be, especially if there is nothing significant that has come up." (Child Development Officer) 

Every interaction does not necessarily have a direct action but does help to establish a relationship and a culture of listening. 

Audience – who is listening?

All of the sites have established processes for sharing CYP views but not all of them informed the children as to whom their views were going to be shared with. The most common setting for sharing views was at multidisciplinary team meetings. CYP are not always told who will be attending the meetings.

In all three sites there was some concern about eliciting views from CYP that may conflict with those of their parents. 

One child was worried about the teacher sharing her mat with others. She said that she loved that someone listened to her but didn't want some of the information shared more widely.

Another teacher commented, "I had the opposite, the child wanted the mat to be shared."

In the school setting some children have low expectations of change and need to be actively encouraged to talk about their lives. The senior management staff in this project actively supported class teachers to be brave and open up conversations with their pupils by giving them protected time to do so. They also supported them in following up action points and actively encourage work with parents. This school is at the forefront of using the CYP's view to find creative solutions within the local community.

Many practitioners felt that having the physical evidence to present to another agency helped to add weight to the CYP's view. 

UNCRC states that the children have the right to have their views listened to.

Influence – so what?

"I think the main thing that stands out is the influence part. I feel children need to see that their voice is having an impact" (Health Practitioner) 

It is easier for the CYP's view to have an influence if it is something that can be done in the immediate context. Issues around education are typically tackled at school, whereas health issues are generally viewed as easier to address in the clinic. Within each context there was a lack of confidence that, if a practitioner passed on an issue to other agencies, something would change. In school, the deputy head commented:

"From my point of view, it was more about sharing with social work and police, and their threshold for support is different to our threshold – the threshold has changed over time considerably."

"Also passing information onto parents, I do not always have confidence that all parents have the capacity or would willingly listen and affect change – there is also not as much support for parents nowadays."

In the third sector childcare service there was a strong feeling that a referral from their service was not given as much weighting as one coming through school. Even if information was passed on- it is variable whether it is acted on. They consider their ability to influence change outwith their organisation as weak unless they have an established relationship with someone who has influence: -

"We are not always invited round the table despite the fact that children can spend 20% more of their time with us than in school over the course of the year" (Youth Services Manager)

In school and in childcare services it is easier to make a direct referral to health and often there is a good relationship with the health practitioners: -

"We can directly refer to health and they will pick it up and follow up." (Childcare Services Manager) 

Health practitioners also find a variable response from schools: -

 "Schools are not always able to implement (our recommendations) – CYP can slip under the radar."

In all sites there was a commitment to working with, and supporting, parents. Building good relationships was a good way to support the CYP. Sometimes support can be random rather than continuous. One practitioner commented:

"Our parents' perception is people come sweeping in when things are really bad and go when there is a little improvement."

It is interesting to note that in all 3 sites very little was done to report back to the CYP how their view influenced a decision. A Talking Mats conversation helps to provide feedback because it provides a visual record of the conversation. 



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