What next for children’s rights in Wales? Rhian Croke, Coordinator of the Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group, July 5th 2011.
Today I am speaking on behalf of the Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group that was established in 2002 just prior to the 2nd periodic reporting process to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group is a national alliance of non-governmental and academic institutions principally tasked with preparing the NGO alternative report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
However, since 2002, the UNCRC Monitoring Group has increased in size and strength resulting in an increasing engagement of agencies developing their understanding and other partners’ understanding of the importance of the UNCRC and also developing an important constructive yet critical collective voice that monitors the Welsh Government and UK Government’s obligation to realise the rights of children. This can be seen with the influence of the 2006 Group report Righting the wrongs: the reality of children’s rights in Wales NGO and Stop, Look, Listen: the road to realising children’s rights in
Wales official NGO Alternative report to the Committee. Both reports, reported against the Committee on the Rights of the Childâ€™s Concluding Observations 2002.
The dynamics of the CRC reporting process and the UK Concluding Observations anchored in the authority of the international human rights framework have become an unparalleled tool for stimulating discussion in Wales and in exerting pressure on government to fully address the Convention on the Rights of the Child and make changes to legislation and policy.
Since 2002, strategic policy making in Wales has become increasingly underpinned by the CRC. 1 The Group and their partners have been key to advising and influencing the Welsh Government to develop effective structures to support a childrenâ€™s rights perspective across the machinery of Government.
Perhaps this can most clearly be seen when after almost a decade of committed lobbying by the UNCRC Monitoring Group, in advocating that Government in Wales be made accountable to children in the realisation of
Examples of WAG policy underpinned by the CRC, National Service Framewok for Children, Young People and Maternity Services (NSF), National Youth Offending Strategy, Sexual Health and Well-being Strategy, Rights to Action, Extending Entitlement and Fairer Future for Our Children.
their rights, the then First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, announced the possibility of embedding the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into law on behalf of Welsh children. The Group grasped on this opportunity advising on how a Measure should be best developed and then lobbying and advising proactively throughout the consultation period and legislative passage of the Measure in 2010.
Children’s rights breaches in Wales However, it is important at this juncture to recognise that there are still challenges in realising children’s human rights and the current reality of children’s experience falls well short of what they should expect in a prosperous and developed nation.
It is completely inadequate that 1 in 3 children (36% of children in Wales) are living in poverty (household 60 % below the median income), that poor kids are 5 times less likely to have access to a safe outdoor play space, that Gypsy Traveller children are described as the “most at risk” group in the health system by the British Medical Association, that looked after children have considerably lower outcomes than their peers, that a Barnardo's recent report said it is aware of 2,756 child victims of sexual exploitation offences such as grooming and trafficking, that young people in Wales (aged 16-29) are significantly more likely to be a victim of discrimination, harassment or
victimisation than residents over 40, that disabled children are often distressed that they are not taken seriously and have trouble accessing services that they desperately require.
Also we must not forget that children can still be legal hit and hurt by adults, that asylum seeking children are still being detained and often deported back to unsafe countries and the UK still has the highest rate of incarcerating children in Western Europe. These are non-devolved areas of policy but we still need to consider how we can effectively assert our influence to make changes for children in relation to these areas of children’s rights breaches.
All of the above is why we still must strive in Wales to institutionalise and to mainstream children’s human rights, to recognise that children like adults should be acknowledged as human beings and holders of human rights, in the here and now. We need to keep on perfecting the structures that will make this a reality.
What next for children’s rights in Wales? This is where the radical and progressive development of the accession of the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 presents us with a critical opportunity for taking the embedding of a children’s human
rights based approach further. If implemented effectively it can help Government to develop a better holistic and joined up understanding of
children’s human rights and their implementation. It presents us with the opportunity of creating a robust legal accountability mechanism that does not exist anywhere else in the UK for the protection of children’s civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. It is a ground breaking opportunity!
In order for the legislation to be a success, it can not sit on the face of the statute book, its implementation needs to be effectively resourced (both human and financial). This is where an understanding of the Convention itself and an understanding of the supportive texts and jurisprudence of the Committee on the Rights of the Child become so important. In the words of Jane Williams and Simon Hoffman from Swansea University School of Law, an interpretative community needs to be established to support Government to comply with the principle of ‘due regard’, and where the formal involvement (recognised by the legislation itself) of the Children’ Commissioner for Wales, the Voluntary sector and children and young people themselves become so critical in the offering advice, capacity building and support on interpretation of what compliance with the articles of the CRC actually means in the Welsh context.
The Measure is designed to promote proactive behaviour by the government rather than to confer a reactive individual remedy for a rights violation. Compliance with the duty will involve ensuring adequate internal controls, education (in particular of civil servants) data collection and monitoring, impact assessments - of precisely the kind urged by the UN Committee that we have referred to already this evening the general measures of implementation. External controls then come in the form of public law challenges to the legality of government action, administrative complaints, inspection, investigation by commissioners, audit and parliamentary scrutiny processes (Williams J, 2011).
Returning now to the other general measures of implementation with are integrally interwoven with the successful implementation of the measure. We need:
Robust National Action Plan with ownership for it across Welsh Government, Local Authorities and Public Bodies
As was recognised throughout the CRC 2008 reporting process, there are some great policies and strategies, but there is still a significant gap between policy and implementation. Clear action is now required. The Welsh Government has made a good start, but the current action plan needs to be
reviewed to have a clearer monitoring framework with clear outcomes for children and young people. Most critically the action plan must be delivered in partnership with local authorities and other public bodies, the Welsh Government cannot deliver change for children alone, the delivery agents of childrenâ€™s rights must take responsibility and work in partnership.
Coordinated Government We have seen some slippage in Wales with regards to this in recent times. It is critical that we ensure that there are well-resourced structures driving the effective coordination and monitoring of the CRC implementation across Government. Before we had a Minister for Children sitting in the senior Ministerâ€™s portfolio, now we have a Deputy Minister with a much wider brief, this role deserves to be given more authority with clear responsibility for CRC implementation. The Cabinet Committee for children and young people needs to be strengthened and tasked with effectively overseeing the implementation of the CRC. There has been some budget cutting in relation to civil servant capacity in relation to rights implementation, this is also not acceptable, there needs to be a cross-cutting childrenâ€™s rights unit within WG with adequate authority and resources.
Alike to Welsh Government, coordinated Government for children needs to also be a part of the remit of local authorities approach to corporate
governance. CRC accountability needs to be within all job descriptions. Policy and guidance for staff should be developed to show how they can incorporate a children’s human rights approach in their working practices and children’s rights objectives and targets should be incorporated into performance management arrangements, including SMART targets in divisional business plans. Finally local authorities need to ensure that senior management are designated the clear role of coordinating CRC implementation.
In relation to scrutiny of Welsh Minister decisions and policies, the National Assembly for Children and Young People and other National Assembly Committee’s need to ensure they scrutinise the implementation of the national action plan on children’s rights, the implementation of the Concluding Observations 2008 and also develop their accountability role in scrutinising that Minister’s decisions and policies are in compliance with the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure.
At local authority level scrutiny committees should also be taking on the role of scrutinising local authority cabinet decision making to determine whether it is compliant with the CRC.
Children’s rights budgeting
Again it is positive to see that Wales are seen to be the leader in relation to Children’s Budgeting, and transparently demonstrating the proportion of expenditure on children. Transparent budgeting is now more critical than ever in these times of fiscal austerity, if Government can demonstrate that it is fulfilling its article 4 obligation to spend to the ‘maximum extent of its available resources’ on the fulfilment of children’s rights then there will be no need for the nongovernmental community to take legal challenge under the new legislation in relation to Government complying with article 4.
Now it is time to continue to improve the necessary systems to enable the routine analysis of all Government spending in all of its future budgets as well ensuring that the planning and reporting process makes better links between budgets and outcomes for children and young people. This should also be occurring at local authority level.
Children’s rights impact assessments One of the best ways of scrutinising and embedding the CRC in decision making is to use the tool of Children’s Rights Impact Assessments, which foster a process of regular proofing of policy, legislation, budgetary decisions and decision making for their impact on children and compliance with the CRC. It is the starting point of a systematic children’s rights perspective in
working and decision making processes for activities by which children and young people are affected. Up to this point Welsh Government has not used this tool although impact assessments have been carried out in relation to sustainability, equality and the Welsh language scheme, but it appears that most positively they are currently in the process of commissioning a contractor to develop such a tool. Also of interest at the local authority level Cardiff Local Authority are currently researching the best model of children’s rights impact assessments to use to embed the CRC into their own decision making processes.
Data collection With regards to Government having an accurate understanding of children’s lives and how to improve on outcomes for children, WG does deserve to be congratulated for its National Children and Young People Well-being monitor – the consistent collection of this data is critical to Government making appropriate decisions that are in the best interests of children and young people across Wales. The second monitor issued in 2011 can also be commended because it includes children's views on their lives for the first time supporting the human rights perspective that children should be recognised as the experts on their own lives and their experience brought to bear on policy making. It obviously could be improved to include further disaggregated data and children’s rights indicators however; it is a positive collation of
statistics against the seven core aims that understands that children and young people’s well-being is dependent on a myriad of factors.
Raising awareness of children’s rights I am not going to go into any detail as Louise has touched on some of the positive developments in relation to article 42 (raising awareness of the CRC) implementation in Wales, however I just want to reinforce just how critical the promotion of knowledge and understanding of the CRC and a CRC based approach is to successful implementation of the CRC in Wales. As the UN Committee itself has stated
“if the adults around children… do not understand the implications of the Convention, and above all its confirmation of the equal status of children as subjects of rights, it is most unlikely that the rights set out in the Convention will be realised”.
What is now required is for Government to produce a comprehensive strategy to promote knowledge and understanding of the CRC in Wales, which clear directives for professional bodies to incorporate the CRC into their curricula and occupational standards, that all professionals working with and for children should be receiving statutory, pre and post qualifying comprehensive and on-going training on the CRC and the CRC should be taught in school.
Schedule 5 of the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure should offer significant opportunities for further progressing much of the above.
Next steps for the UNCRC Monitoring Group Finally, the Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group will continue their role to monitor and hold Government to account to implement the CRC. The key priorities for the group leading up to reporting to the UN Committee in 2014 will be to carrying out a cycle of rolling reporting against the Concluding Observations 2008 and the National Action Plan on Childrenâ€™s Rights, holding seminars and encouraging dialogue with Government, producing reports on where the current shortfalls are in terms of childrenâ€™s rights breaches and holding them to account to respond to them.
The group is also determined to support and influence the implementation of the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure, continuing to act as critical friend and offering support through capacity building and interpretation on the CRC. Additionally the important role and function of the Article 42 sub-group of the monitoring group will continue the dialogue with Government and professionals on the best way to promote knowledge and understanding of the CRC across Wales.
The international community are currently watching the progress of Wales in relation to the general measures of implementation of the CRC with great anticipation, let us continue to surprise them by working in partnership and harnessing all opportunities to embed a human rights based approach to children and young people.