New Assembly can ‘Close the Gap’ in Children’s Rights

24 May 2022

The Children’s Law Centre has launched a new document outlining some key priorities for the new Assembly to protect children and young people in this jurisdiction. The document, titled ‘Close the Gap’, highlights the positive actions that can be taken by MLAs in a functioning devolved Assembly to close the gap in children’s rights.

Read ‘Close the Gap’

Key priorities range from incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into domestic law, through a range of youth justice issues, improvements to special education needs and disabilities (SEND) provision, fixing children’s mental health services, supporting children with complex needs, and addressing the gap in prevalence data to assess the unmet needs of children and young people.

Image displaying key priority 'Incorporate the UNCRC into domestic law'

Fergal McFerran, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at CLC said: “In recent years, CLC experts have consistently highlighted the gap in children’s rights in this jurisdiction and the impact this has had on children here. Whether it’s through the NGO stakeholder report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, or the ‘Tracing the Review’ report, the theme is absolutely clear, children and young people in this jurisdiction are being left behind.

“However, our experience tells us that devolution has the potential to transform lives and deliver real change. We believe the new Assembly mandate provides an opportunity to do just that.

“We hope this document clearly lays out some key steps that a new functioning Assembly can take to close the gap in children’s rights. It has been developed through our legal and policy expertise and grounded in our frontline experience working on behalf of children and young people, particularly those most vulnerable and marginalised.

“We look forward to engaging constructively with decision makers over the course of the coming mandate to promote, extend and defend the rights of children and young people.”

Read ‘Close the Gap’

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Restraint and Seclusion Recommendations Welcome, Implementation Essential

25 April 2022

The Children’s Law Centre (CLC) has welcomed a report by the Department of Education reviewing the use of restrictive practices in education settings. The report makes six recommendations, including repeal of Article 4 (1)(c) of the Education (NI) Order 1998 and outlines the need for statutory guidance.

Legal experts at CLC also welcomed the recognition of children’s rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) within the report, as well as the collaborative work undertaken to consult with stakeholders. A key issue at this stage is the extent of the legislative reform required to ensure compliance with human rights standards within education settings.

Special education needs and disability expert, Rachel Hogan, said: “I would like to pay tribute to the small group of committed individuals who have consistently built pressure to address this issue. That includes, most notably, children, young people and the parents and carers of the children and young people affected. This is what happens when the people affected have their voice heard by decision makers and should be an important lesson on how good, evidence-based, decisions can be made.

“There can be no doubt that the existing framework and guidance has led to instances where the human rights of vulnerable children have been seriously violated. The grievous impact this has had on the children affected, as well as their parents and carers, has now been brought into the public domain and acknowledged.

“There has been a notable lack of consistency in approach between education and health and social care settings and this must be fully addressed. Children should have equal protection from the unlawful and disproportionate use of restrictive practices regardless of the setting they find themselves in.

“The recommendations in the report reflect the direction of travel we need to take to protect children in education settings. This includes the urgent need for legislative reform, clear statutory guidance and monitoring practices. CLC is pleased to have had the opportunity to feed in to the report through the Department of Education’s reference group and the NI Commissioner for Children and Young People’s advisory group.

“Effective and timely implementation of the recommendations is now key. The young people affected, and the parents and carers who have fought for change, all deserve to see progress. We cannot continue to allow children’s rights to be breached in this way. The current framework has fallen well short of international human rights standards and this is the first step towards addressing that. “CLC looks forward to ongoing engagement on the implementation of positive change to realise and protect the legal rights of children and young people in education settings.”

Read a report on the recommendations by thedetail.tv

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Youth@CLC Launch Children and Young People’s Survey

14 March 2022

Image of the 'Rights Here, Right Now' logo

Youth@CLC, the youth advisory panel at the Children’s Law Centre, has launched an important survey to collect opinions and first-hand experiences of children and young people as part of the UK reporting process to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The survey will be used to tell the UN Committee what matters to under-18s here, how their rights can be better protected, and their lives improved.

Image states: Tell us your thoughts. Click here to complete survey.

The survey can be found here and is open between 14th March and 14th April 2022. The results of the survey will inform a children and young people’s report to the UN Committee as part of the 2022-2023 reporting process. It will influence the outcome of the UN Committee’s examination of the UK government in 2023.

Children and young people can click here to find out more about children’s rights, the UNCRC and the survey.

CLC Youth Participation Worker, Sinead McSorley said: “This is a very important way for children and young people in this jurisdiction to feed into the UNCRC reporting process. Their experiences and opinions are key to understanding if the UK government is fulfilling the obligations it signed up for when it ratified the UNCRC in 1991. We know children’s rights have a massive impact on the lives of children and young people, from education and healthcare to leisure and youth justice. However, we can’t fully understand how well these rights are being protected, or where the gaps are, unless we get the views of as many under-18s as possible.”

Image of girl in wheel chair, with text reading: "Rights Here, Right Now. Children and Young People's Survey. For the young people's report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Open between 14th March - 14th April."

“The last UNCRC report was sent to the Committee in 2015, but so much has happened since then, including the UK’s decision to exit the European Union and the outbreak of COVID-19. It’s our experience, and the experience of a wide number of children’s organisations, that the gap in children’s rights here has grown into a chasm. It’s vital that we gather the views of children and young people to better inform our understanding.”

Wren, a member of Youth@CLC, said: “As part of the children and young people’s report, we will be carrying out a survey and holding workshops with some of the most vulnerable children and young people here to better understand where the government might be failing in its obligations. It’s really important that we gather as many views as possible to give children and young people a real voice. The reporting process doesn’t come around every year, so please make sure you don’t miss this opportunity to have your say.”

We have developed some materials for teachers and youth workers to prepare and assist children and young people to complete the survey:

The ‘Rights Here, Right Now’ survey is being conducted by Youth@CLC, with assistance from the Children’s Law Centre, Dr Deena Haydon and Save the Children NI

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Decade of Delay on Key Youth Justice Recommendations

23 November 2021

Children’s rights in Northern Ireland are being compromised by a failure to implement youth justice review recommendations

That’s the key message after the launch of a new expert led research report, jointly commissioned by four leading third-sector organisations – Children’s Law Centre, Include Youth, NIACRO and VOYPIC – Voice of Young People in Care.

Download the Report

The independent research, titled Tracing the Review: Developments in Youth Justice in Northern Ireland, was conducted by Dr Siobhan McAlister and Dr Nicola Carr, experts in the field of youth justice in this jurisdiction. It tracks the progress of several key recommendations made a decade ago in the Youth Justice Review and was launched in Parliament Buildings on Tuesday 23rd November at 1pm.

The new report draws particular attention to the lack of progress in relation to raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility, a key recommendation from the Youth Justice Review. It also outlines a number of key findings, including the need to ensure compliance with children’s rights and human rights standards.

Paddy Kelly, Director at the Children’s Law Centre said: “In this jurisdiction, we have one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in Europe, and indeed the world. The recommendation to raise the age of criminal responsibility is one of the key elements of the Youth Justice Review ten years ago but it has remained unimplemented. The UNCRC clearly recommends raising the age to 16 and the NI Executive has a duty to comply with UNCRC obligations. We cannot cherry pick children’s rights.

“Failure to raise the age has serious real world impacts on vulnerable children. Rather than addressing the failures that have pushed young people towards the criminal justice system, we are criminalising them. This in turn can have lifelong negative impacts, both on the children affected and the criminal justice system itself.”

Read the Report

Dr Paula Rodgers, Policy Co-Ordinator at Include Youth said: “The overuse of remand and the placement of children into custody remains areas of concern. The recommendations of the Review concerning the development of alternatives to custodial remand have not been brought forward, and such lack of alternatives remain a fundamental weakness in provision.

“Whilst numbers are small the simple fact is one young person held in custody is one too many. A further concern is that care experienced young people are disproportionately represented in these numbers and this is something that needs to change as a matter of urgency.”

Olwen Lyner, Chief Executive of NIACRO said: “Legislation should be brought forward to give effect to all aspects of Recommendation 21 of the Youth Justice Review, with respect to criminal records. This is particularly the case with respect to recommendation 21a of the Review “to ensure diversionary disposals do not attract a criminal record or be subject to employer or more general disclosure”.  

“Indeed, the recent judgment in relation to the judicial review on the Rehabilitation of Offenders and the necessary policy consultation that will follow, gives an opportunity for these issues to be dealt with.”

Alicia Toal, Chief Executive at VOYPIC, said: “Whilst overall numbers of children and young people held in custody have declined, we are concerned that children and young people from care continue to be over-represented amongst those on remand and in custody under PACE provisions.  Compliance with children’s rights standards would ensure that custody is only used as a measure of last resort.  This report highlights the need for urgent action from the Executive, to ensure better outcomes for all children across the region.”

Tracing the Review: Developments in Youth Justice in Northern Ireland 2011 – 2021

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Systemic Failure on Children’s Rights in Northern Ireland

16 December 2020

A report submitted by the Children’s Law Centre to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child paints a bleak picture in relation to children’s rights in Northern Ireland. The report demonstrates a systemic failure to incorporate the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child within legislation, policy and practice. This has left children’s rights in Northern Ireland far behind internationally recognised standards.

The ‘List of Issues Report’, compiled in partnership with stakeholders in Northern Ireland, seeks to inform questions posed to the UK government and NI Executive ahead of the next examination of the UK Government by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Download the report

Speaking after submitting the report, Children’s Law Centre Director, Paddy Kelly said:

“The NI Executive is failing children and young people in Northern Ireland. There has been a complete failure to make progress on concluding observations and recommendations since the previous examination by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. This has led to systemic failures, with no comprehensive framework to provide strong protections for children’s rights in Northern Ireland.

“The list of delays on key issues is almost endless. The Children and Young People’s Strategy has not been published and it is unclear if this is to be accepted as the delivery mechanism for UNCRC implementation. No efforts have been made to raise the age of criminal responsibility, and corporal punishment in the family remains lawful with no plans to repeal the legal defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’. Homeless children are still not being provided with suitable accommodation and medically fit children with complex needs are not able to leave hospital due to the lack of suitable accommodation in the community. Likewise, children with Special Education Needs continue to suffer due to a long list of operational failures and delays.

“This is simply unacceptable and failure to address these issues is having a devastating impact on the lives of children and young people in Northern Ireland. Things have been made even worse by COVID-19 which has exposed and exacerbated many pre-existing problems. Where we previously saw gaps in the protection of children’s rights, we are now seeing chasms.

“The current situation for children in Northern Ireland is grave and the Children’s Law Centre is seeing this daily in our work. We need to see immediate action to address these problems ahead of examination in 2022.”

NOTES:

  • 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/
  • The Northern Ireland NGO Stakeholder Report to Inform the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s ‘List of Issues Prior to Reporting’ can be found here, the supporting evidence report can be found here
  • The Northern Ireland NGO Stakeholder Report to Inform the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s ‘List of Issues Prior to Reporting’ has been endorsed by 48 organisations
  • The Children’s Law Centre would particularly like to acknowledge the work of Deena Haydon in drafting the report, the National Children’s Bureau and Include Youth for their support in the compilation of the report and NICCY for their support.
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