Thursday, September 08, 2011

A chance to improve children's lives - but let's give children a say too!

When Willie Rennie tweeted this morning asking for question suggestions, the subject I suggested was children's rights and services.

The Scottish Government has today launched a consultation on a new Children's Rights Bill. This will form the basis of a new Children's Services Bill in 2013. This is a real opportunity for Scotland and its politicians to work together to really make life better for children.

The range of subjects this could and should cover is enormous. Let's look at some examples.

if we're serious about adhering to the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, we have a long way to go on Article 27:
States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.
Thousands of children are growing up in poverty and in horrendous housing. Tackling that will take some effort.

Then we have to look at those kids who are growing up in households where alcohol or drugs are abused. It's stressful enough for adults to live with addicts - but so much more confusing and frightening for children.

The education we provide has to suit all children. Curriculum for Excellence is helping with this, but often parents struggle to get the right help if their children have difficulties at school.

There is a huge emphasis on early intervention - tackling problems before they get out of hand. However we do have to be careful that resources are targetted effectively and take account of different ideas and lifestyles. Even if we don't agree with it, we have to respect parents' rights not to have their children vaccinated, or to educate them at home. These decisions should not automatically trigger social services knocking at the door.

Promoting healthy body image is also essential - and, I think we also need to look at the dangers of the easy availability of internet pornography. It scares me half to death to think that the boys my daughter is mixing with are probably already watching stuff which portrays women in a subjugative role. This is bound to shape their expectations about how relationships work - and not for the better.

I also think supporting parents, particularly in the early years, is so important. I'd like to see better breastfeeding support, for a start. So many people who give up in the first few weeks really would rather not - and often if they had better quality information and support, it would help them through the difficulties they faced. I also want to see health visitors giving out advice which reflects current research on the long term impact of such things as sleep training. There are more options available than the "controlled crying" technique, but these are rarely even discussed. We need to look at how and when we educate about the needs of babies and young children - I think school, not the ante natal support group a few weeks before you give birth is the best place to start.

I wish it wasn't just groups and civic bodies which were being invited to give their responses. As a parent, a former member of a parent council and someone who has been involved in supporting parents I'd have loved the opportunity to share my views and experience.  I would have liked the consultation to be open to everyone who wants to to contribute. And do you know what, looking at the list of invited respondents again, there doesn't seem to be one single child..... That has to change, I think. We need to be listening to kids of all ages too.

I have barely scratched the surface here, but these are the issues which first came to my mind. I am encouraged that the Children's Minister is my local MSP Angela Constance. Her heart is absolutely in the right place and I know that she will work with organisations and representatives of political parties to do the very best she can.

In her covering letter she said:
As a society we have a moral obligation to do the right thing by our children: to ensure they have a happy and healthy childhood; and that they have every chance to realise their potential as they grow. By recognising and respecting their rights in law, we can ensure that everything government does systematically places the interests of children at heart and that their voices and needs shape the support they should receive.
This consultation and subsequent legislation must translate into tangible action which helps our children. I remember going to a SAMH hustings during the election where it was clear that all the politicians thought that mental health services and treatments were better than they actually were because of laws that they had passed. We'd better not muck this up!

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