The Policy Background
The Scottish Government is committed to incorporating UNCRC into law as early as 2021.
"The ultimate goal of incorporating the UNCRC into domestic law is to improve outcomes for children and young people in Scotland. That goal will not be met simply by an increase in the amount of litigation relating to children's rights. It will happen through our public bodies working with and listening to children and young people and finding innovative and engaging ways to respect their rights".
This will create a radically different landscape in Scotland whereby we move from policy recommendations and best practice to one of legally binding obligations. We are already adhering to many of the principles outlined in UNCRC. Article 12 provides the foundation for CYP participation. It deals with both the right of CYP to express their views on all matters concerning them and to have those views given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity. This right applies to all children, without exception.
Scotland recognises the contribution that a child's perspective can have in influencing change. The 'Every child, every chance: tackling child poverty delivery plan 2018-2022' concluded that:
"in the case of child poverty, the best person to ask is a child. What we think should make an impact on Scotland!" (Member of the Children's Parliament, age 9)
Article 12 is already well established in Scotland through the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 and other Scottish Government policies including:
- The children and young people's mental health plan which upholds the rights of children to have a voice in decisions affecting their health
- The national improvement plan for education which puts CYP at the centre of policy development
- Curriculum for Excellence which promotes teaching that engages CYP and takes account of their views and experiences, particularly where decisions are to be made that may impact on life choices
Education, Health and Social services are striving to improve CYP participation and put policy into practice., Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) for example, are providing leadership and creativity in achieving change.
In January 2016, a working group was established to develop a realistic and effective plan. This plan is called, 'Ready to Act', a transformational plan for Children and young people, their parents, carers and families who require support from allied health professionals'. This is the first CYP's services plan in Scotland to focus on the support provided by AHPs. It is underpinned by the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, the principles of GIRFEC and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
The ambition of the plan is to: work collaboratively and in partnership with children and young people, parents, carers, families, stakeholders and communities to understand what is needed to improve well-being outcomes.
"The shared flexible ambitions of Ready to Act, with the child at the centre, have given space to co-create and innovate." (Pauline Berne, AHP CYP Lead)
A vital aspect of achieving change is the principle of involving CYP themselves in decisions that affect their lives: the aim is to ensure that practitioners listen to the unique perspective that CYP bring to the issues in their lives and use this to inform and implement best practice. The benefits of listening to and involving CYP are well documented in the literature. Thomas (2009) states:
"Allowing a child to exercise some control over what is happening to him or her will in itself have psychological benefits for the child's development". Thomas also advocates the need to provide a supportive structure because "a child's ability to engage with decision-making will increase with practice."
The rights in UNCRC apply to all CYP of all ages from birth to 18 years and therefore the concept of the evolving capacities of the child must be respected. It is the duty of adults to create environments which cater to a child's evolving ability to participate. Adults should learn from the child's insights, protect their rights and gradually give them more responsibility for decision making:
"The aim of development is to promote and enhance not only the well-being, but also the capacities of children…the Convention can be seen as a tool for promoting children's development, competence and emerging personal autonomy"
In recent years Scotland has become more aware of the influence of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on child development. In order to interrupt the intergenerational cycle of poverty and deprivation we need to become better at listening to CYP, parents and communities, empowering them to give their views and working alongside them as they find creative solutions. The model in Figure 1 below illustrates the different levels of influence that adults have in planning actions or interventions.
Figure 1 Description
This model comes from an organisation called Nurture Development and shows the different levels of influence that adults have in decision making. It illustrates four different options shown in four boxes. The two boxes at the top show the traditional role of consulting an expert who tells us what to do. The medical model is in the top left, showing things done TO a person and the charity model is in the top right showing things done FOR a person. The two boxes below move our thinking away from top-down services towards a more inclusive approach. The bottom left is the Social model which is based on active participation “nothing done for us without us” and the bottom right is an Asset-Based Community Development approach based on empowering individuals to make positive change “done by us and for us” this inclusive approach promotes active citizenship and community building.
It is increasingly clear that if we want to support CYP to share power and responsibility for decision-making we must start building capacity early. This means helping CYP to see that their voices can have influence and that influence extends to making informed decisions about their care, education and health.