Annex B: Mid-Term Report to the UK State Party on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by the UK Children's Commissioners
The four UK Children's Commissioners marked the mid-term point in the UN Committee's current reporting cycle with the publication of a report offering their views on the progress the four UK administrations are making in relation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Alongside Together Scotland's 'State of Children's Rights' report, the Commissioners' mid-term report provides a useful independent analysis of the progress being made across the four UK administrations to further the realisation of children's rights. Scottish Ministers are committed to responding positively to the recommendations set out in the report wherever possible, and given the powers available to them. Those recommendations focus on five key areas:
Participation in decision-making
The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that children's voices are heard whenever decisions are being taken which affect them. In order to make this a reality, we intend to include provisions in our planned Children and Young People Bill to embed the GIRFEC approach, which puts children and young people at the heart of decisions that affect them. A consultation paper setting out our proposals for the Bill is due to be published soon.
We know that some children will need support if they are to participate in the decisions which affect them and that advocacy is one of the key ways to achieve this. We have recently completed a national consultation on a set of proposed principles and minimum standards to be applied whenever advocacy support is being given to a child or young person. Further information on our approach can be found under priority action area 6 in this report.
Details of the action we are taking to encourage the participation of children and young people in schools can be found under priority action area 7.
The Scottish Government takes a 'social model' approach to disability, focussed on breaking down barriers to participation and inclusion in society. That is why in February 2011 we published the 'National Review of Services for Disabled Children'. This includes an action plan to ensure services and policies are more inclusive of, and suitable for, the needs of disabled children and young people. The Review Group is currently advising on and overseeing the implementation of the Review, and a progress report will be published in summer 2012.
Engaging, involving and working with disabled children and young people is crucial to the effective development of policies and services. As part of the National Review, the Scottish Government, in conjunction with partner organisations, has undertaken a consultation with a range of disabled children and young people, and will use the results of this consultation to inform future policy development. We are also currently considering how to ensure the views of all children and young people are considered when developing policy and services, and what are the best ways to capture their views.
We continue to provide funding of £3.3 million directly to organisations working with disabled children and young people, and this level of funding will be maintained over the next three years.
The Scottish Government is doing all it can to tackle poverty and inequality in Scotland, within the powers and resources available. Progressive reform of the welfare system, which remains reserved to the UK Government, is critical to doing this.
Our approach is to use our devolved powers in areas like health, education, housing and employability to address the long-term drivers of poverty. We do this by stimulating the economy and focussing on early intervention and prevention to invest in, and support, deprived, vulnerable children and their families.
Examples of actions include:
- extending free schools meals entitlement to include pupils of parents who get both maximum child tax credit and maximum working tax credit;
- establishing a £270 million Early Years Change Fund over this Parliamentary term, and a £6.8 million Early Years, Early Action Fund; and
- targeting the Energy Assistance Package on those most likely to be fuel poor, including families on low incomes.
A wide range of funding streams across the Scottish Government contribute to poverty reduction. Equally Well (2008) made estimates of resource allocation to tackling health inequalities. Within that, spending focussed on poverty and employment was estimated as:
- 2008-9 - £219.14 million;
- 2009-10 - £234.44 million; and
- 2010-11 - £214.04 million.
These figures represent only a small proportion of public resources targeted towards tackling poverty.
Further information on the range of actions we have progressed in this area can be found under priority action area 17.
Children seeking asylum
The Scottish Government will continue to monitor the circumstances of families resident in Scotland and the way they are removed from the UK.
We are also strongly supportive of the Young Person's Project, by the Legal Services Agency and funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to provide legal advice to refugee and migrant children and young people (up to age 25) across Scotland.
This project, unique in its approach, offers advice on a range of issues, including immigration and asylum law, access to appropriate accommodation and support, and compensation. It also offers free second-tier advice and training to other organisations and seeks to contribute positively to policy making on relevant issues.
Further information about our work to improve support for unaccompanied asylum seeker children can be found under priority action area 19.
The Scottish Government continues to deliver a wide range of activity in this area. Prevention and early intervention are at the heart of our approach.
Early and effective intervention - a way of diverting young people from formal systems such as our children's hearing system - has now been introduced in 29 out of 32 local authorities across the country.
In 2010, we increased the minimum age of prosecution, meaning it is no longer possible to prosecute a young person under age 12 in court. The majority of children between the ages of 12 and 16 who commit an offence will be referred to a children's hearing with prosecution in court being limited to grave offences. 16-17 year olds who offend can be prosecuted in court or referred to a children's hearing, depending on their status. Where prosecuted, a sheriff may ask the advice of a children's hearing and, where that hearing agrees, may choose to have the case disposed of there.
Further information on our youth justice approach is included under priority action area 21.
We have taken steps to ensure that where offence grounds have been accepted or established at a children's hearing they are no longer classed as convictions, effectively ending the criminalisation of young people going through the children's hearing system. This approach also has the effect of limiting the number of offences that can be disclosed for employment purposes.
Work is ongoing with local authorities across Scotland to implement our 'whole system approach' to preventing and reducing offending amongst young people. That approach recognises that many young people could and should be diverted from statutory measures, prosecution, custody and remand through early intervention and intensive support in the community. In line with the GIRFEC approach it also provides for streamlined and consistent planning, assessment and decision making processes for all young people under 18 who offend, ensuring they get the right help at the right time.
Under 16s can no longer be remanded or sentenced to the prison estate in Scotland. The number of 16 to 21 year olds in the prison estate has decreased for both remand and direct sentenced prisoners by 14 per cent and 17 per cent respectively over 2010-11.
More generally, the Commissioners felt that action was required to establish more robust structures and mechanisms for monitoring and reporting on our approach to the UNCRC in Scotland. Scottish Ministers want to ensure that children's rights are a fundamental consideration in the planning, development and review of policies, legislation and services across the public sector. Through the upcoming consultation on our proposed Children and Young People Bill, we are exploring with stakeholders how legislation might help us with this.