The Unmet Rights of Children in Care: the State of Affairs 12 months on

Covid-19 Anniversary Blog

In April 2020 regulations in the United Kingdom (UK) relating to the protection and care of children who live in residential family centres and who are cared for by foster carers, were relaxed. This raised alarm bells about the increased risk of these children’s rights not being met. Twelve months on, what is current state of affairs for some of our most vulnerable children?  

The relaxing of duties associated with protecting children in care was implemented through the statutory instrument ‘The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020’. Following the introduction of these regulations Article 39,  a charity championing children’s rights, challenged the government on the removal and/or watering down of 65 specific safeguards for children in care in England.

This led, on 24th November 2020, to The Secretary of State for Education being found to have acted unlawfully in removing the safeguarding for children in care through these regulations, and that the Children’s Commissioner and other bodies representing the rights of children in care should have been consulted thereon (Article 39). With reference to England’s 78,000 children in care, in the Concluding Comments at the Court of Appeal it was stated ‘the amendments as a whole were unquestionably substantial and wide-ranging and, when implemented, had the potential to have a significant impact on children in care’

While this is good news for children in care, there remains huge concerns about the lack of measures to ensure children in care are adequately protected.

In November 2020, the Children’s Commissioner reported that of the children in care in England, 6,570 are currently growing up in children’s homes, however, there are insufficient places in these homes to meet demand, stating that, ‘often these children end up in flats where they are overseen by teams of unknown agency staff while awaiting a more permanent place’ (p.3).

Such accommodation is classified as ‘unregulated’ meaning it is not monitored or inspected by any government regulator. Thus, there is an urgent need to improve the situation for the ‘13,000 children ending up in unregulated homes at some point during the year’ (Children’s Commissioner, 2020, p. 11).

In response, on 19th February 2021 Parliament ruled that a ban on the placing children under the age of 16 in unregulated accommodation will come into force in September 2021 (Department for Education). While positive, this ban will only help around 100 children in care at any one time as the majority on children placed in unregulated accommodation are aged 16 and 17 (Article 39, 2021). It will also be too late for those children who have been ‘locked down’ in private and unregulated accommodation.

Thus, the situation will remain whereby young people aged 16 and 17 in the care system can be placed in privately-run accommodation without receiving care, meaning that their right to care will remain unmet. As we move out the pandemic, there is an urgent need to review how we look after children and young people both to ensure that their right to care is met – but also that it cannot be removed or altered without due process.

Professor Carol Robinson is Professor of Children’s Rights within the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 6th May 2020 by Carol which can be found here and coincided with the Human Rights Council’s Annual Day on the Right of the Child, on Monday 1st March 2021.

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World Children’s Day: why we need to raise awareness about children’s rights

Each year the 20th November marks World Children’s Day in recognition of, and to promote, children’s rights.

This date is significant because on the 20th November in 1959, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and, on the same date in 1989, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The Declaration on the Rights of the Child set out 10 principles aimed specifically at protecting children from violence and discrimination as well as their rights to life, good health and education. The UNCRC expands on these principles and includes 54 articles aimed at protecting children’s civil, political, social economic and cultural rights. The Convention applies to all children from birth to 18 years and has been ratified by all countries across the world apart from the USA, making it one of the most widely adopted international treaties of all time. The Convention was ratified by the UK government in 1991.

World Children’s Day is an opportunity for those working with and on behalf of children to organise activities and events aimed at celebrating children’s rights, and to raise awareness of rights that apply specifically to children. It is also a day when governments, teachers and other professionals and organisations across the world draw attention to situations where children’s rights are not being met.     

Although many children live have happy and fulfilled childhoods, countless children do not. For millions of children across the world their rights are not acknowledged or met. Unicef  report that approximately one in three children across the globe – that equates to roughly 663 million children -live in households that lack necessities such as basic nutrition or clean water and, furthermore, an estimated 385 million children live in extreme poverty.  They also report that even in the world’s richest countries, one in seven children live in poverty and one in four children in the European Union are at risk of falling into poverty.

The United Kingdom (UK) is not exempt from these worrying statistics. Data from The Children’s Society reveals that four million children in the UK live in poverty and, even more concerning, they predict that this figure is set to reach five million this year – this equates to an average of nine children in a classroom of 30 who are predicted to be living in poverty. 

These figures reflect some of the difficulties facing children across the world in relatively wealthy, as well as less wealthy, nations. However, they are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to children’s rights not being met. As well as issues of poverty, many children across the world also face challenging issues including violence, neglect, child labour, child prostitution, human trafficking and lack of food, shelter, health care and education.

The examples are a stark reminder of the urgent need to take action to improve the lives and experiences of millions of children to ensure children’s rights are acknowledged, understood and realised.

Carol Robinson is a Professor of Children’s Rights in the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.

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At the Heart of Gold: Rethinking Athlete Welfare

According to experts at a recent public event supported by the Institute for Social Responsibility (ISR), sports organisations need to rethink how they approach athlete welfare, to ensure they are meeting their legal and moral obligations, and to provide a healthy and safe environment.

Abuse and maltreatment in sport have featured heavily in national and international headlines in recent years. Against this backdrop, Dr Melanie Lang, assistant director of The Centre for Child Protection and Safeguarding in Sport (CPSS), hosted a successful public event on understanding and developing athlete welfare on 9th November 2020. The event was timed to celebrate Dr Lang’s latest book, The Routledge Handbook of Athlete Welfare.

The free online event was attended by athletes, academics, and safeguarding and welfare in sport policymakers and professionals from organisations including national governing bodies of sport, the Ann Craft Trust, and the International Centre for Ethics in Sport in Belgium. Delegates were drawn from the UK, Belgium, Cyprus, Sweden, and Spain.

The event featured presentations from four speakers and was opened by Professor Jo Crotty, Director of the ISR. In the first presentation, Dr Lang called for more resources to be directed towards non-sexual forms of abuse in sport. Highlighting research indicating that emotional abuse is the most prevalent form of abuse in sport, yet the least likely to be reported, Dr Lang argued that sports organisations must do more to raise awareness of and act on this form of abuse. Dr Lang provided examples of how athletes can be empowered to speak out about abuse and what sports organisations can do to better respond to under-recognised forms of abuse.

In the second presentation, Dr Geoff Kohe from the University of Kent and CPSS member, and Edge Hill University senior lecturer Dr Laura Purdy discussed care ethics in sport. They highlighted how a particular narrow conceptualisation of care has become normalised in sport, arguing this restricts understandings of welfare. Drs Kohe and Purdy advocated for a broader understanding of athlete welfare and more nuanced conceptualisations of care that are more responsive to athlete needs.

Finally, Professor Hayley Fitzgerald of Leeds Beckett University and the University of Worcester discussed the welfare of disabled people in sport. Professor Fitzgerald noted that research focusing on safeguarding in sport in relation to disability is rare, and that what little is known has tended to come from studies that investigated welfare issues in the general sport population rather than specifically exploring the experiences of disabled participants. Professor Fitzgerald argued that an embedded approach is needed whereby issues of disability are infused within generic safeguarding approaches rather than disabled athletes being treated as a separate category of concern.

The event concluded with a lively discussion between delegates and panellists on a range of welfare issues affecting athletes and other sport stakeholders.

To learn more about the Centre for Child Protection and Safeguarding in Sport, its members and their work in safeguarding and welfare in sport, please visit the CPSS website.

Dr Melanie Lang is Assistant Director for the Centre for Child Protection and Safeguarding in Sport (CPSS), and Senior Lecturer Child Protection in Sport at Edge Hill University.

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