Photo: One Big Drum in the Scottish Parliament

I was delighted to meet with the members of One Big Drum in the Scottish Parliament as part of Trade Union Week. One Big Drum are a community music group based in East Sutherland that bring together children with and without learning disabilities to learn how to work and play with other people. It was a pleasure to hear the group play their African drums in the Garden Lobby, and thanks go to the STUC for the terrific programme they organised for the whole week.

OneBigDrum1

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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.

Why I’ll Be Supporting Jim Hume MSP’s Bill

I am proud to be supporting Jim Hume MSP’s proposed Smoking (Children in Vehicles) (Scotland) Bill.

It is anomalous that while workers have rightly been protected since the Smoking, Health and Social Care Act in 2005, children continue to be exposed to dangerous levels of smoke. In fact, I learned from Jim Hume’s briefing in Parliament that children with two parents who smoke commonly have the same level of cotinine in their saliva – a test for second-hand smoke exposure – as adults who worked in smoky bars prior to the 2005 Act.

The Royal College of Physicians estimates that 25 children per day are admitted to hospital, and 600 per day have to see a doctor, as a result of second-hand smoke exposure.

The Scottish Centre for Indoor Air studied children’s exposure to smoke in cars, and found that the air in a smoker’s car contained on average 8 times more PM2.5 particulate matter than the background level in urban areas of Scotland, or 28 times more than the level in the cleanest rural areas.

The good news is that research with the children of smokers found that the vast majority did take precautions to try to reduce their child’s exposure, such as leaving the living room when smoking. This means that if we can get across the message that a car is a particularly dangerous place to expose children to cigarette smoke, we can expect that many smokers will willingly change their behaviour. This law will help us do that.

Ben McKendrick from the British Heart Foundation has also pointed out that as well as 84% of the general public supporting the measure, as do half of smokers.

I think this is an important and common-sense proposal that could help protect the health of thousands of young people, as well as helping to move us towards a smoke-free Scotland. I’ve told Jim that I am fully behind his proposed bill, and happy to help him get it into Parliament and then into law.

PRESS RELEASE: URQUHART WELCOMES HIGHLAND INVOLVEMENT IN FAMILY NURSE PROGRAMME

Jean Urquhart today welcomed news of a pioneering programme which provides support to first-time young parents being extended to the Highlands.

The Family Nurse Partnership programme, which aims to give children a healthier start in life, is already up and running in Lothian, Tayside, Fife, Glasgow and Ayrshire & Arran council regions.

Family nurses visit expectant mums every one or two weeks during pregnancy and throughout the first two years of their baby’s life, offering guidance and supporting mothers to make positive choices on areas such as child development, preventative health measures, parenting skills, breastfeeding, better diet information and on education and employment.

The evidence from programmes already up and running in the US shows that it is improving prenatal health, increasing young mothers’ uptake of employment, resulting in fewer unintended pregnancies and helping to reduce child neglect.

The programme will be up and running in Highland by early next year, and will see a team of four nurses supporting 100 families.

Jean Urquhart welcomed the Government’s announcement, saying:

“The Highlands is deservedly gaining a reputation for pioneering the integration of health and social care. This will help us to explore the benefits of delivering such an intensive programme in a formally integrated health and social care environment.

 “The programme has been running in the Lothian region for two and a half years now and evaluation of the impact of the project has so far shown positive results.

“Intervening at the earliest possible opportunity to support those in our society who are most in need is the key to improving Scotland’s health. I look forward to seeing this programme bring benefits to a region which is already at the forefront of Scotland’s innovation in health.”

The programme is the brainchild of Dr David Olds, Professor of Paediatrics and Director, Prevention Research Center for Family and Child Health, University of Colorado.

Press Release: Jean Urquhart Welcomes Consultation on Children & Young People Bill

Plans to formally recognise the parenting responsibilities and rights of kinship carers and work towards making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up have today been unveiled.

Minister for Children and Young People Aileen Campbell today launched the consultation on the Children and Young People Bill designed to support children and families.

The new Bill will also compel councils to use Scotland’s national Adoption Register and increase provision of free, flexible and family friendly childcare for three and four year olds and looked after two year olds from 475 hours to 600 hours per year – the best free nursery care package in the UK.

Jean Urquhart, member of the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee, has welcomed the bill, stating:

“Common sense dictates that the most important time in any individual’s development is their early years.

“By continuing to invest in our children and young people, the SNP is working as hard as it can to ensure that Scotland’s families and youth are put at the heart of our society.

“Our commitment to helping working families during tough economic times is also shown by proposals to put in place flexible childcare opportunities, increased nursery provision and improved financial support for kinship carers.

“I would urge everybody who this Bill aims to help- whether that be carers, parents or those working with children and young people- to take part in the consultation and ensure that the most comprehensive and constructive package of measures can be built.”

The consultation can be found HERE.