Jean’s bid to protect children’s rights

Cartoon of a child leaning against a stack of huge books. On the books is the message "You have the right to an education." Image by Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young PeopleJean has proposed an inquiry into how the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) could be enshrined in Scots law. She’ll be arguing for the amendment to the Children and Young People Bill in its final debate at Holyrood tomorrow.

If backed by MSPs, Jean’s amendment will require the government to set up a body to investigate whether the UNCRC should become part of Scots law, as is already the case with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The UNCRC demands that decisions about children always put their best interests first. It enshrines a number of specific rights, including the right to an education, the right to a family, and the right to be protected from violence.

Jean said:

“We’re currently engaged in a debate about the kind of country we want to be, and what kind of future we want for all our citizens. I think we should aspire to be the kind of country that always puts our children – our future – first.

“Enshrining children’s rights in Scots law would be a powerful protection for our kids, and a bold signal of our ambition to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up in.

“We have the opportunity here to be a leading nation, not only in the UK but also in the world. By starting on the journey towards a truly child-centred society, I have no doubt we’ll give other countries the inspiration to travel with us.”

The United Kingdom ratified the Convention in 1991, as have 192 other countries. Somalia, South Sudan and the United States are the only UN members not to have done so.

Unlike the ECHR, the UNCRC does not give individual children any way to take action if their rights are breached. Bringing the UNCRC into Scots law would enable Scottish children to go to court here to defend their rights.

The Welsh Assembly has moved towards legal recognition of the UNCRC, and from 1 March the devolved Welsh government will be bound by the Convention. The Scottish Parliament, with its greater powers, has the opportunity to be the first part of the UK to incorporate the Convention into law in full.

Bringing the UNCRC into Scots law is supported by UNICEF, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, the NSPCC, Children 1st, Barnado’s, YouthLink Scotland, the Scottish Youth Parliament, Families Outside and Together.

Jean has also backed the Bill’s provision of a ‘Named Person’ service, which will ensure every child in Scotland has someone they and their parents can turn to who can help them navigate the various public services and support available. The scheme has been in place in the Highland council area since 2010, and the new law will roll it our nationwide.

Jean said:

“It’s a shame that the Named Person Service has been so misrepresented by media seeking to cook up a scare story.

“Parents are tired of being passed from pillar to post, never talking to the same person twice, and having to tell their story over and over again; they want joined-up services.

“The named person scheme means that every child and their parents have one person they can always call to help them navigate services, find advice, or be listened to.

“Some people have suggested that named person service means appointing a social worker for every child. That’s not true. In the Highlands, we already have the named person scheme and the people appointed are the local midwife and health visitor until the child goes to school, and then it’s the headteacher or deputy head.

“Named Person has been in place in the Highlands since 2010. I was a Highland councillor until 2012, and have been a Highlands and Islands MSP since 2011, and I’ve never received a single complaint about a named person interfering where they weren’t wanted.

“The Named Person Service will help families get the support they want and deserve, and create a safety net for every child.”

Rolling out the named person scheme across Scotland is supported by Barnado’s, Children 1st, Parenting Across Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland, the NSPCC, Aberlour, the Scottish Youth Parliament, Action for Children, Quarriers, Royal College of Nursing and the Scottish Childminding Association.

Jean’s amendment to the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill:

116 Before section 1, insert—

<Duty on Scottish Ministers to establish a body to consider whether the UNCRC should be given legislative effect

  • (1) Within one year of this Act receiving Royal Assent, the Scottish Ministers must by order establish a body to consider whether the UNCRC should be given legislative effect.
  • (2) Where a body established under subsection (1) has completed its consideration it must—
    • (a) make a written report of its conclusions,
    • (b) lay the report before the Scottish Parliament,
    • (c) publish the report.
  • (3) As soon as practicable after the report has been laid before the Parliament, the Scottish Ministers must make a statement—
    • (a) responding to the report,
    • (b) indicating, on the basis of that report, whether they intend to give legislative effect to the UNCRC.
  • (4) The Scottish Ministers must—
    • (a) lay a copy of the statement under subsection (3) before the Parliament,
    • (b) publish the statement in such a manner as they consider appropriate.
  • (5) An order under subsection (1) may make provision about—
    • (a) the status, constitution and proceedings of the body,
    • (b) the period within which the body must report to the Parliament,
    • (c) the matters which must be covered in the report,
    • (d) the publication of the report.>

Blog: Why I’m Supporting the Named Person Scheme

There’s been a lot of controversy in recent weeks over the provisions in the Government’s Children and Young People Bill to introduced a Named Person Scheme. I have my own amendment lodged on a separate issue, and will write a bit more about that later on this week- however, for now, I think it’s more important to address some of the claims made about the Scheme. Although it may, on the face of it, seem an unnecessary or worrisome step, I am afraid that its intent and effect has been misinterpreted by the media.

Highland Council have implemented such a scheme since 2010, and have said that the scheme emerged from parents’ desire for a clear point of contact for services to support their child’s wellbeing or development. This is therefore a roll-out of a tried and tested system, and although there will probably be some bumps along the way (as there is with any new system) it is not the step into the dark that some are claiming. As an elected representative for the area during the trial’s lifetime- a Highland Councillor until 2012 and an MSP for the area since 2011- I’ve yet to receive any casework or correspondence from parents who feel that the authorities have over-reached or that liberties have been taken.

The Minister taking the Bill through Parliament, Aileen Campbell, has written an excellent letter to all MSPs tackling some of the more troubling misconceptions. As she states:

“the proposals are not about:

• treating every child with the same procedures with which we treat vulnerable children.
• recommending that a social worker be appointed for every child
• giving named persons the authority to enter every house
• establishing a national database. “

It also helps to reduce the burden on social workers; Barnado’s Scotland, for example, have said that where named person schemes are already in place there has been a reduction in caseloads for social workers, allowing them to prioritise helping those most in need of support. I have also been reassured by the support across the children’s sector for the scheme. As well as Barnado’s, rolling out the named person scheme across Scotland is supported by Children 1st, Parenting Across Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland, the NSPCC, Aberlour, the Scottish Youth Parliament, Action for Children, Quarriers, Royal College of Nursing and the Scottish Childminding Association- a show of real support from those who have expertise in the relevant issues. I am a believer in listening to the experts when it comes to policy making, and while this must be combined with proper scrutiny, I am absolutely reassured by the briefings and conversations I have had with representatives from the sector that this will be a positive change.

The named person scheme will create a safety net that no child should slip through, by reducing confusion over what professionals have what responsibilities and allowing action to be taken more quickly. We all want the best for our children, and I believe that this provision- among the others in the Bill – will help to make Scotland an even better place for our children.