Children with certain characteristics, identities and/or experiences face an increased risk of not having their rights fulfilled. This blog shows promising practice across Scotland of how different organisations have sought to challenge this. Explore examples from Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner, includem and the Scottish Commission for People with Learning Disabilities.
We hope you take inspiration from these examples, to better identify and implement a child-rights based approach to your work.
Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland – Investigating rights breaches in secure accommodation
In June 2021 the Commissioner’s office published a report ‘Statutory Duties In Secure Accommodation: Unlocking Children’s Rights’ based on its investigation into the procedural protections around decisions to place children in secure accommodation.
This investigation examined whether children may have been unlawfully deprived of their liberty as a result of failures by Chief Social Work Officers to comply with their statutory duties as set out in Regulations 4 and 5 of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (Implementation of Secure Accommodation Authorisation) (Scotland) Regulations 2013.
These duties, designed to respect, protect and fulfil children’s human rights, require that children who are being placed in secure care are consulted, have their views recorded, are notified about the decision, and provided with information about their right to appeal.
The Commissioner wrote to Scotland’s 32 Chief Social Work Officers requesting evidence of their compliance with their statutory duties. The Commissioner asked them to provide information about the number of children looked after in their authority who were placed in secure accommodation on the authorisation of a Children’s Hearing between 01 August 2018 and 31 July 2019. In the case of each child, the Commissioner asked for the date on which the authorisation was made, the length of time the child was accommodated in the secure setting, as well as anonymised copies of records and correspondence showing the child had been informed of their appeal rights within the required timeframe of 72 hours and importantly, that the child’s views had been actively sought and recorded.
Across 27 local authority areas, a total of 118 children were placed in secure accommodation and were detained for between 14 and 572 days. The Commissioner found little, and often no evidence of consultation with children during the critical 72 hour period following the Children’s Hearing authorisation. Even where there was evidence that consultation had taken place children’s views were not routinely recorded.
It was also relatively rare for the required notification of the decision to be sent to a child. This suggests that many children had not been notified of their appeal rights. Where correspondence was sent to a child, the information and reasons for sending it were not always clearly explained, nor was there any consideration given to how the child’s views informed the decision. This raises serious questions about the extent to which children are meaningfully involved in decision-making.
Examination of the evidence revealed significant gaps in many of these children’s records, with some incomplete or missing altogether. Not only does this impact their ability to understand their own history later in life, it also means that too often children cannot obtain the information necessary to enable them to challenge decisions to deprive them of their liberty.
The Commissioners report revealed a scrutiny gap in relation to compliance with legal duties at both local and national levels as well as compliance with children’s human rights – not least their right to express their views and have those views reflected in decisions affecting their lives. The report called on local authorities to ensure they are complying with existing laws as well as reviewing previous cases, and on the Scottish Government to ensure existing legislation is compatible with the UNCRC, making necessary amendments to strengthen legal protections for children’s human rights and ensure robust scrutiny and accountability mechanisms are in place.
As a follow-up to the investigation, the Commissioner’s Office will be visiting secure care centres to listen to children and young people discussing their experiences, as soon as COVID-19 restrictions allow.
Includem – Amplifying the views of marginalised children
Includem has used surveys, consultation activities, focus groups and informal gathering of feedback to ensure that the views of those who have been marginalised are amplified to influence policy makers and service designers. They have engaged children and young people on behalf of local authorities and the Scottish Government to shape the delivery and development of their services.
In 2021, Includem published research to understand the impact of multiagency plans, poverty and government cuts on families supported by the organisation and to hear from them what good family support should look like. This research was designed and conducted by peer evaluators who were formerly supported by includem and who are now in their 20s. The peer evaluators worked alongside two researchers to design a topic guide and semi-structured interviews. They then spoke to families, using their own experiences to facilitate a conversation around the families’ current experiences. Employing people with experience of being supported by includem as peer researchers has enabled trusting conversations with the children, young people and families they were interviewing.
Due to their experiences, the peer researchers “speak the same language” as the families. They could ask questions about children or families’ level of trust in services and what they want from services – questions that includem is less able to ask directly as it is the service provider and would create a power imbalance by asking such questions. The families includem support have been willing to be more open and honest about their situation because of the lived experience shared with the peer researchers.
Includem is keen to continue to develop the peer research and evaluation model to improve services and influence policy.
Scottish Commission for People with Learning Disabilities – Supporting children with additional support needs
Include For Good is about ensuring that people with learning disabilities are included in every aspect of Scottish life and challenge the status quo. The programme will consist of 11 people or ‘Rapporteurs’ with learning disabilities. Rapporteurs will work with the SCLD board, leaders and organisations across Scotland to help change attitudes and make Scotland a more equal place.
Include For Good has only just been established. However, Rapporteurs will investigate issues, speak to decision makers and report on the actions that need to happen to ensure the rights of people with learning disabilities are respected, protected and fulfilled at all times. Rapporteurs will also monitor actions taken or not taken by decision makers. Working with allies, Rapporteurs aim to achieve transformative change for people with learning disabilities. This will include working to prevent children and young people with ASNs rights from being breached.
This blog is part of Together’s 2022 State of Children’s Rights report blog series. You can find out more about our 2022 report here