We are hiring

11 March 2021

An opportunity to join an expanding, professional, multi-disciplinary team

Policy and Public Affairs Manager (Job Ref: PPAM03/21)
NJC Point 34-36 (£37,890-£39,880)

The Post Holder will be responsible for developing, leading and managing the Children’s Law Centre (CLC) policy and public affairs work to support the achievement of CLC’s mission and strategic goals.

The successful candidate will have a relevant third level qualification, at least 3 years’ experience of developing and implementing strategic policy and public affairs plans and at least 3 years’ experience of evidence based legislative and policy commentary, successful public affairs engagement and influencing at a high level. They will also have experience of successfully influencing a wide range of audiences to effect social justice change. They will have experience of management and supervision of staff.

The successful candidate will have excellent written and oral communication skills. They will require a commitment to children’s rights including children’s participation.

Attractive terms and conditions apply including company pension. This appointment will initially be for three years with good prospects for renewal.

Application packs can be found here or request via email quoting job reference number (Job Ref: PPAM03/21) to: reception@childrenslawcentre.org

Closing date: 5pm Friday 9th April 2021

Interview will be held on Tuesday 20th April 2021.

The Children’s Law Centre is an equal opportunities employer.

Charity No: NIC 101148

Funded by:

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Chief Constable criticised for spit hoods roll-out in defiance of policing board

04 March 2021

The Children’s Law Centre, Amnesty International, CAJ and Include Youth wrote to Doug Garrett, chair of the Policing Board, ahead of their meeting on Thursday 4 March, to ask the Board what steps they are taking to ensure their clear recommendation that all spit hoods by withdrawn by the end of 2020 is followed.

In November 2020, the Northern Ireland Policing Board recommended their immediate phasing out in its report, Review of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Response to Covid 19.

Instead, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has started distributing spit hoods to 4,000 additional police officers.

New figures show that, to date, the PSNI has used spit hoods 95 times. They were used on children (aged 10 to 17) eight times.

In 81% of cases (68 out of 84 incidents) of their use by the PSNI in 2020, spit hoods were used on people with disabilities.

The figures have come to light in a document published as part of a PSNI equality impact assessment launched this week, almost a year after the introduction of the devices.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International, said:

“The decision to roll out spit hoods, rather than withdraw them from use as advised by the Policing Board, is shocking.

“It is disturbing that in more than eight out of ten incidents, the PSNI has used spit hoods on people with disabilities and, on eight occasions, on children.

“The Chief Constable rushed to deploy spit hoods without evidence that they are effective in preventing the transmission of Covid-19. Now he is doubling down on that flawed decision, in outright defiance of the Policing Board.

“Placing a hood over someone’s head is a significant use of force and one that raises key concerns over cruel and degrading treatment, as well as serious potential health risks.

“These devices must be withdrawn from use, as called for by the Policing Board.”

Paddy Kelly, Director of the Children’s Law Centre, said:

“The Children’s Law Centre are extremely concerned that eight spit and bite guards were applied to children during the last year. In the cases of one 16 year-old and one 15 year-old, two spit and bite guards were applied during the same incident. This use of force must have been a frightening experience for these children.

“Their use on children is even more concerning given that children who come in contact with police are more likely to have a disability, mental ill-health or a learning disability. A police officer using a spit hood on a child cannot know if a child has a learning disability or suffers from asthma.

“In the light of medical evidence that the use of spit and bite hoods may increase the risk of Covid-19 infection to both police and members of the public, there can be absolutely no justification for their use on children. Spit and bite guards should be withdrawn in compliance with the Policing Board’s report of November 2020.

“We and other civil society organisations have now written to the Policing Board to ask them what steps they are taking to ensure their clear recommendation that all spit hoods by withdrawn by the end of 2020 is followed.”

Stop & Search Highlights ‘Systematic Targeting’ of Children & Young People

02 March 2021

Children and young people are being systematically targeted through the disproportionate use of stop and search powers in Northern Ireland. New statistics have revealed that children between the age of 13 and 17 make up only 6% of the population but account for 12% of all stop and searches in Northern Ireland, with rates reaching even higher in areas of deprivation. This reflects a continuing trend.

The disproportionate use of stop and search powers on children and young people is also shown to be hugely ineffective, with only 4% of stop and searches of 13 to 17 year olds leading to arrest. This is twice as ineffective when compared to other age groups and questions if the use of stop and search in many cases was appropriate and legal.

Claire Kemp, Policy Officer at the Children’s Law Centre said:

“These statistics yet again demonstrate a systematic targeting of children and young people with the ineffective use of stop and search powers. This is a continuing trend and is deeply troubling. The evidence would suggest that this is a policy decision on the part of the PSNI.

“When dealing with children and young people, the PSNI should be taking additional caution when using stop and search powers. Instead there is a very clear trend suggesting that children and young people are being targeted because of their age. They are more likely to be stopped, but this is less likely to lead to arrest.

“The practice is disproportionate and ineffective, but it goes even further than that. In areas of high deprivation, the rates are even more worrying and severely undermines children and young people’s confidence in the police. In the end, this has a negative impact on the safety and protection of children and young people who make up around 12% of all victims of crime. These young people rely on the police, but the disproportionate and inappropriate use of stop and search powers has the effect of making young people less trusting of police and therefore less likely to turn to them for help, placing them more at risk.”

If you want to know more about your stop and search rights, just ask REE, our legal advice bot for children and young people aged 13 – 17 at www.reerights.com. You can also request to speak to a live legal adviser.

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Children Facing Worst Case Scenario Over Post-Primary Admissions

01 February 2021

The Education Authority has published admissions criteria for children transferring from primary to post-primary education. This comes after the late cancellation of common entrance assessments. The transfer process now rests on a reliance, by the Minister of Education, upon schools’ Boards of Governors to develop and submit alternative criteria, without accounting for the adverse impacts of the ongoing emergency.

We cannot lose sight of the stress facing children this year. In my work at the Children’s Law Centre, I see every day the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 and policy responses to tackle the pandemic are having on groups of children. The stress and anxiety brought on by post-primary transfer in any normal year has been massively increased in the face of this year’s complexities. Then, set this beside the warnings from child health experts across the UK, including NI’s mental health champion, describing children’s welfare as “a national emergency”.

We must ask ourselves, are we doing everything in our power to help children and young people through this? Are we acting in their best interests?

Children who have been going through this constantly shifting and mentally draining process now face an array of alternative criteria, but will it end the uncertainty? The real concern now is that this is just the beginning of a new wave of stress and anxiety. This is simply not an acceptable situation for ten and eleven year olds, or their parents, to have to face when resilience is already drained.

The cold, hard reality is that P7 children are now facing the worst-case scenario, with their peers in P6 following closely behind. In a 2016 circular that was reissued in October of last year, the Department of Education stated that “all Boards of Governors are required by law to have regard to” recommendations on criteria, warning that “if a school fails to follow guidance and does not have sufficient reason for doing so the school may not be indemnified by the Education Authority if legal proceedings are initiated against the school”.

Despite these warnings, it became all too predictable that without active direction from the Department to support schools through this difficult year, children would face a wide array of different criteria, some on the ‘recommended’ list and some on the ‘not recommended’ list. Looking at schools who self-published early, that was exactly the picture emerging. Some schools adhered to the guidance, some clearly not. Ignoring guidance on non-academic criteria, or using unreasonable or unfair academic criteria, is likely to lead to legal action.

Children are now faced with criteria that differ from school to school and a long wait until they find out their fate in June. Add this to the possible prospect of a proliferation of litigation and we could see even more disruption to the transfer timetable.

That is why the Children’s Law Centre, along with 24 other organisations, wrote to the Education Minister on 13 January. In the letter we requested “that the Department of Education use its powers of Direction held under section 38(3)(a) of the Coronavirus Act 2020, along with Paragraph 14(4) of Part 3 of Schedule 17 and/or Article 101 of the Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1986 to direct school Boards of Governors of all grammar schools on suitable contingency admissions criteria for this academic year to ensure they do not unlawfully discriminate against any group of children and to consult with relevant stakeholders on what those admissions criteria should be.”

Children are facing an exceptional set of circumstances. The Department of Education holds the power to direct a fair and robust solution, in the best interests of children, that would enable the continuity of education and avoid disruption of the transfer timetable. Instead, even at this stage, it looks like children face even more uncertainty ahead.

The detrimental impact this is having on young children is playing out in front of our eyes. They are left carrying the cost of government inaction.

Rachel Hogan
Special Educational Needs and Disability Expert, Children’s Law Centre

Notes:

  • The Department of Education circular containing admissions criteria guidance can be found here.
  • A copy of the letter, sent by the Children’s Law Centre on 13 January, can be found here.
  • The Children’s Law Centre is an independent charitable organisation established in September 1997 which works towards a society where all children can participate, are valued, have their rights respected and guaranteed without discrimination and every child can achieve their full potential. The organisation is founded on the principles enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • The Children’s Law Centre operates a dedicated free phone legal advice line for children and young people called CHALKY and provides legal information through an online platform known as ‘REE’ and legal advice through ‘REE Live Chat’ – https://childrenslawcentre.org.uk/clhexpert/.
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Minister Must Act in Best Interests of Children

13 January 2021

Leading voluntary sector organisations in Northern Ireland, led by the Children’s Law Centre, have called on the Minister for Education to ‘direct schools not to use any transfer test during a time of public health emergency, as a necessary and proportionate measure to protect children’.

The letter, signed by 25 charities, outlines powers of Direction held by the Minister for Education under existing legislation, including the Coronavirus Act 2020 and the Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1986.

The letter further requests that the Minister uses his powers ‘to direct school Boards of Governors of all grammar schools on suitable contingency admissions criteria for this academic year to ensure they do not unlawfully discriminate against any group of children and to consult with relevant stakeholders on what those admissions criteria should be’.

Rachel Hogan, a lawyer from the Children’s Law Centre, said:

“The health and mental well-being of all of our ten and eleven year old children must come first. We cannot entertain a situation where we have cancelled all other exams due to COVID-19 but then expect a particular group of ten and eleven year old children to endure the uncertainty and stress of continuously having to prepare to sit a transfer test which may ultimately be subject to cancellation on health and safety grounds.

“It is already well established how COVID-19 has had a drastic impact on our children and young people, especially their mental health. We should be doing all in our power to lessen that impact, rather than worsen it.

“There is a way to resolve this in the best interests of children. The Minister has the power to act and he should exercise that power to ensure the health and well-being of young children.

“We understand there is a wider debate around academic selection in Northern Ireland, but we cannot let that stall any action in this unprecedented year where the risk to the health and well-being of our children is so high. We are already seeing evidence of the stress, worry and anxiety caused through delay.

“This is a time for leadership. The transfer test must be cancelled, with clear direction being given on emergency contingency admissions criteria. There is a duty to ensure this is fair and does not unlawfully discriminate. Failure to act in this regard could lead to further disruption as a result of legal challenges, putting children through further emotional stress.”

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS:

• You can find a copy of the open letter here
• The Children’s Law Centre is an independent charitable organisation established in September 1997 which works towards a society where all children can participate, are valued, have their rights respected and guaranteed without discrimination and every child can achieve their full potential. The organisation is founded on the principles enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
• The Children’s Law Centre operates a dedicated free phone legal advice line for children and young people called CHALKY and provides legal information through an online platform known as ‘REE’ and legal advice through ‘REE Live Chat’ – https://childrenslawcentre.org.uk/clhexpert/

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