The State of Children’s Rights

The Children’s Rights Alliance for England just published their 2018 report into the State of Children’s Rights. Their report outlines “systemic failures to protect children in England”. They write:

National and local government is failing to protect children in England whilst policymakers focus on Brexit, leaving children traumatised, powerless and vulnerable to abuse in many areas of their lives.

CRAE have used new data, gathered through Freedom of Information requests, in writing this report. It has been thirty years since the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was adopted by the United Nations, yet the UNCRC has still not been enshrined in British law. I wrote about that four years ago here.

Areas of concern, amongst many, are child homelessness; how children are treated by the police; rising school exclusions; and the increased number of children living in poverty. It is an extensive report, so I can only give a brief overview of each section. Needless to say, I welcome these proposals.

The paper calls for children’s rights impact assessments to be part of any changes to the law in relation to Brexit, including statutory instruments. It also proposes a cabinet minister with responsibility for children’s rights be appointed and that there should be a

statutory obligation on public authorities to conduct child rights impact assessments in all decision-making affecting children, including in budgetary decision-making.

The fullsome section on Poverty and Homelessness has many good suggestions to take children out of poverty, including excluding children’s benefits from the benefit cap and getting rid of the two-child limit on child tax credit and UC. It calls for an abolition of the practice of housing children in B&Bs, hotels or caravan parks.

FOIs carried out by CRAE reveal that 1,173 looked after children were housed in independent accommodation for longer than 6 months.

There were serious issues raised in the Safeguarding section around the rising number of children in care and provision for them; the staggering rise of children suffering abuse and neglect; and the rising number of sexual offences against children. The report calls for children involved in county lines to be treated as victims of trafficking and modern slavery, not criminals.

The government should urgently address the funding gap in children’s services and provide additional funding to local authorities struggling to provide early intervention services, and ensure sufficient funding to implement the new reforms introduced under the Children and Social Work Act 2017.

The section on Immigration, Asylum and Trafficking highlights the ongoing practice of children being held in detention centres, even though the government promised to abolish this, and calls for all decision-making in children’s asylum cases to have the child’s protection and wellbeing at the heart of the decision. Of the estimated 144,000 undocumented migrant children living in England and Wales, many who came to the UK as children or were born here, the report calls for the introduction of a shorter route to permanent status with lower application fees. Further, the National Referral Mechanism for those children trafficked (the government estimates there may be more than 4,000 trafficked children) needs to provide more support for children

and ensure that decisions on whether a child has been trafficked are made by trained multi-agency child protection services, and ensure rights-based training for all frontline professionals.

In the chapter on Education, the report calls for a reversal of school cuts; more funding for SEND; and the introduction of a statutory right to appeal against exclusion decisions. The information on the use of physical restraint was harrowing: from their survey, 88% of parents said their disabled child had experienced physical restraint.

The government should abolish all methods of restraint against children for disciplinary purposes in all institutional settings, including “special schools”, and ensure it is used against children exclusively to prevent harm to the child or others and only as a last resort. The use of isolation rooms should be abolished.

In regards to Health, the report shows how funding is desperately needed for CAMHS and community mental health services. There are huge increases in the number of children and young people being referred to CAMHS, but not enough resources to treat them, with one study showing 55,800 child referrals for specialist services rejected in the past year.

The government should develop a crossdepartmental child health and wellbeing strategy which is coordinated, implemented and evaluated across the four nations. Particular attention must be given to addressing health inequalities among children.

In the final section, Policing and Criminal Justice, the paper highlights the increasing use of spit-hoods and tasers against children and calls for this practice to end. CRAE questions the use of Young Offender Institutions, and instead call for the use of care-based homes in situations where children should be detained. In regards to restraint, CRAE says

Restraint against children should only be used when the child poses an imminent threat of injury to themselves or others and it should never be used to deliberately inflict pain. The government should abolish all methods of physical restraint for disciplinary and immigration purposes. The government should abolish solitary confinement or any conditions that amount to solitary confinement.

It has been a long blog – but there is so much that still needs to be done in protecting, nuturing and enabling our children and young people to live full and happy lives. The fight goes on.


* Kirsten Johnson was the PPC for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election. She is a pianist and composer at

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One Comment

  • Peter Hirst 19th Mar '19 - 6:09pm

    Why do we treat our children so poorly? Is it part of the short sightedness of politicians’ time frame? I can’t believe it is anything more sinister, just an oversight when there is so much going on and so many issues needing attention. What about a Children’s cabinet minister and statutory examination of all polices for their effects on them.

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