Fiona Morrison, Centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection, University of Stirling
Máire McCormack, Childhood and Youth Studies Research Group, University of Edinburgh
Kay Tisdall, Childhood and Youth Studies Research Group, University of Edinburgh
How can a child access justice, should one of their human rights not be upheld? We reflect on how to create a child-friendly system of complaints, remedy and redress, that aids both public bodies to learn and children to have their human rights met. Our reflection is inspired by our recent seminar, ‘Implementing Children’s Rights in Scotland – Developing Systems of Child-Friendly Complaints, Remedy and Redress.’
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill marks a major milestone for children’s human rights in Scotland. It will ensure children’s rights are woven into policy, law and practice in Scotland and that children can rely on their UNCRC rights in the domestic courts. When publishing a Children’s Rights Scheme, Scottish Ministers will need to report on how they will ‘promote complaints handling procedures that children can understand and use’ and ‘ensure that children have effective access to justice’. This brings us closer to ensuring a system of child-friendly complaints, remedy and redress is available to children across public bodies.
Why is a system of child-friendly complaints, remedy and redress so important?
It will ensure children are able to claim their human rights. Without it, there is little a child can do when their rights are breached. It will provide mechanisms and means for children to access justice and ensure there is accountability when their human rights are breached.
We need to think systematically about such a system is designed and become embedded. If we don’t, there is a risk these mechanisms won’t be valued by children or public bodies.
Keeping children at the heart
Children need to be at the heart of this system. It must be orientated to and inclusive of children. A new system can’t just be ‘bolted on’ on to existing mechanisms – we talk elsewhere about how current legal processes are designed by and are largely used by adults.
A first step would be to imagine and design with children what a system of child-friendly complaints, remedy and redress should look like – from a child’s perspective. Careful consideration is needed about how children might navigate them. Children’s complaints may involve complex webs of public bodies – a system must not fracture or lead to the compartmentalisation of children’s lives.
Protecting and realising children’s rights
Children and adults need to know what children’s human rights are. Children are not just recipients of services or subjects to proceedings. They are rights holders and public bodies have a duty to uphold their rights. Children’s human rights need to come to the fore of the work of public bodies.
The success of systems for complaint will depend on those who hear children’s complaints. Children will need to be confident that those who do so are knowledgeable, protective and progressive about their rights.
Supporting children to claim their rights
Complaints can be uncomfortable for children and public bodies. Issues of power become more acute: for instance, should a child wish to complain about their experience of social work, education or a court. These issues need to be surfaced and dealt with.
We need a resourced infrastructure so children can navigate the system. Children will need access to advocacy and independent legal representation. Barriers to children’s access to legal aid need to be resolved. Children will need support from individuals who are skilled and knowledgeable about their rights and working with children.
Monitoring the implementation of systems of complaint, remedy and redress
And finally, we need to monitor the implementation of these systems. We need to know what complaints are made, by whom and what the outcomes are. Children will be the key constituents of the systems, so children must play a key role in evaluating and judging their success.
So, what next?
To take this forward we need to:
- Design systems with children and ensure children are at the heart of them.
- Think systematically and create a ‘joined up’ system. Children can’t be left to negotiate multiple systems to seek remedy for what might be multiple and interlocking problems.
- Avoid ‘administrative mud’: action needs to be timely and child-friendly.
- Create a learning system. We need to embed children’s rights monitoring, so complaints become vehicles for transformation – for public bodies to learn and improve how they uphold children’s human rights.
- Ensure our systems are seeped with knowledge on children’s human rights. This starts with ensuring children know about their rights and extends through to the knowledge of judicial decision makers.
Once passed, the UNCRC (Incorporation) Scotland Act provides an extraordinary opportunity to realise children’s rights in their everyday lives and in times of crisis. To ensure this happens, we need a child-friendly system of information, advocacy, complaints, redress and remedy. This is a design challenge – and one for us to take the opportunity to consider now, so we are ready for this future.
This post first appeared on the University of Edinburgh Childhood and Youth Studies Research Group blog, where a recording of the seminar is available.