Children’s rights in the family environment and alternative care. UNCRC Review Countdown Series – 4 days to go…

As we approach the UK’s review by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on 18-19th May, Together is publishing a series of daily blogs to examine issues we want to see raised. Today we’re looking at issues around children’s family environment and experiences of care.

What does the UNCRC say?

The UNCRC recognizes that every child has the right to a family environment that provides for their physical, emotional and social development. This includes the right to live with their parents, unless this is not in their best interests (Article 9). In cases where a child cannot live with their parents, the UNCRC says that a child must be provided with ‘alternative care’ that is appropriate to their needs (Article 20). The UNCRC also says that governments must provide financial and other support to parents/carers to help them raise their children (Articles 26-27).

In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child made a range of recommendations to the UK and devolved governments about children’s rights in the family environment and alternative care. These included strengthening childcare provision and support for parents/carers; supporting Care Experienced children to remain in contact with their siblings and parents; improving placement stability; involving children in decisions about their care; and upholding the rights of children who have a parent in prison.

Together’s 2023 State of Children’s Rights Report offered an update on progress towards these recommendations.


It reflected on the expansion of funded Early Learning and Childcare. While this commitment was widely welcomed by Together members, they highlighted that challenges remain around availability, quality, consistency, accessibility and staff morale.

In the lead up to the review Gillian from Early Years Scotland noted:

“EYS hopes that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child UK Review recognises the importance of the earliest years of our children’s lives, in particular the vital role played by the provision of high-quality early learning and childcare, provided by a qualified, highly-skilled and valued workforce.”

Together members want to see the UN Committee make a recommendation around ensuring that high-quality and rights-focused childcare is available to families with children of all ages, focusing particularly on provision for those with low income, in rural areas, parents with atypical work patterns and children with additional support needs.

Care Experienced children

Together’s 2023 report reflected on the findings of the Independent Care Review and the subsequent establishment of The Promise Scotland to drive forward the review’s conclusion by 2030. Recent changes have included legislating to keep children together with their siblings where it is safe to do so, supporting contact where siblings cannot live together, and supporting siblings’ participation in Children’s Hearings. However, our members note challenges around effective implementation – including training, access to support, availability of child-friendly information and resources. Many Care Experienced children continue to face multiple placement moves and the disruptive effect this has on their relationships, education and access to services. Care Experienced young people also face abrupt transitions from care settings to adult life, without adequate preparation or support. Legislation on care leavers’ rights to advice, assistance and support – including their right to ‘Continuing Care’ – are not consistently implemented between, or even within, local authorities.

Speaking ahead of the review, Louise Hunter from Who Cares? Scotland said:

“We welcome Scotland’s commitment to Keep the Promise, however children in care need to feel change happening at a quicker rate. Human rights are a floor, not a ceiling to aspire to, however, every day across the country our independent advocates are supporting Care Experienced children and young people who are not having their rights upheld. The right to family life, to education, for views to be taken seriously, as well as the other UNCRC rights for Care Experienced children. Scotland has ambitious commitments but a well-evidenced implementation gap. We hope the Review makes recommendations for states to take action as an immediate priority for children in alternative care so that every child in Scotland has what they need to grow up safe, healthy and loved as soon as possible.”

Children with a family member in prison

Research published at the end of last year highlighted the economic impact on families affected by parental imprisonment, including loss of income and additional (often prohibitive) costs of prison visits. These findings added to the existing evidence on the impact of parental imprisonment on children – including psychological distress, stigma and invasions of privacy.

Prof Nancy Loucks, Chief Executive of Families Outside, commented: 

“The rights of children with a family member in prison are breached at every stage of the justice process through stigma and discrimination; risk to housing, health, care, and education; loss of financial security; and a lack of voice about decisions that affect them. An estimated 20 – 27,000 children experience a parent’s imprisonment in Scotland each year, but with no systematic data collection around this, the actual figure could be much higher. Children affected by imprisonment are not seen, not heard, and not guilty and continue to have their rights disregarded. One of the named priorities in Scotland’s National Human Rights Action Plan (2023-2030) is the right to private and family life of the children and families of people who are accused or imprisoned. Children need support to make this a reality.”

Young carers

There were no recommendations specific to young carers following the 2016 review despite considerable evidence of the impact that caring for a relative can have on children’s rights. As a hidden population, young carers are particularly in need of a recommendation from the UN Committee to draw attention to their needs.

Children in armed forces families

Another group of children who were not specifically recognized in the UN Committee’s last recommendations were children who have a parent or sibling in the armed forces. Again, this group is a hidden population – the lack of data is a barrier to developing policies and services that meet children’s needs.

Carly Elliot from Forces Children Scotland commented: “We know anecdotally that many children from armed forces and veteran families thrive, while others experience challenges e.g. associated with moving frequently and parental separation during deployments. Improved data collection which includes the voice of this community would help us better understand their experiences and uphold their rights in Scotland.”

We hope to see the UN Committee pick up on these issues next week. Make sure you follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn to keep up-to-date with the review.

Stay tuned for our next article on disability, basic health and welfare coming out at 08:00am tomorrow!

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