New Briefing - Barriers and solutions to using children’s rights approaches in policy
‘Why do you need to insert rights into communication? Why do you need to say ‘X has a right to housing’ when you could just say ‘X needs housing’? Individual from homeless charity
‘It’s something you could include in a briefing as a techy point but it’s not something that would be a major plank of our briefing.’ Individual from large children’s charity
‘The CRC can be that extra lever – it’s the UN!’ Child rights expert
Over the last few months, we have been conducting research to explore the barriers and solutions to using a children’s rights approach to policy. Above are just some of the views expressed by people we interviewed and attendees at our roundtable. Our new briefing outlines the findings and suggests some potential solutions for how to embed a children’s rights approach to policy making across your organisation and the Government.
This briefing is part of a three year project funded by The Baring Foundation to build the capacity of the voluntary sector to use children’s rights arguments in their policy and public affairs work. Find out more here. As part of the research, we interviewed 16 people, which included a mixture of children’s and human rights policy and legal experts from across the UK and Europe, policy experts from large children’s charities and the homelessness and mental health sectors. We then tested our findings at a roundtable event with 22 individuals.
How common is a children’s rights approach to policy
Unsurprisingly, we found that only organisations consisting of children’s rights experts who had children’s rights as part of their core ethos or aims were currently using an explicit children’s rights approach to policy. This meant that other organisations felt they did not always need to take a children’s rights based approach, particularly in a difficult external context. They were however, more likely to use the CRC in legal casework, strategic litigation, or for lobbying on a piece of legislation. Use of a children’s rights approach was also more common in certain charity sectors.
What are the benefits of using a children’s rights approach to policy?
Interviewees told us that a clear benefit was being able to use human rights to frame children’s rights. This was particularly because the courts use the CRC to interpret the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in cases concerning children. It was felt its long history and tradition in the UK also helped to create a common language that appealed to decision makers.
The CRC itself was seen as a uniquely powerful tool as it sets out a binding, universal minimum standard and framework for accountability for how children should be protected and treated. In addition, the ECHR and other human rights treaties were not developed with children specifically in mind so therefore do not contain a number of key principles and protections which are of crucial importance to them. Experts outlined the importance of the CRC as ‘a whole continuum of rights for children’ that looks at the child holistically along their developmental journey to adulthood.
What are the barriers to using a children’s rights approach?
The most common complaint from participants was that the CRC is too legalistic and technical and that it did not necessarily add value in policy work as it can over complicate matters. This was combined with a lack of understanding of the CRC, its surrounding procedures and what a children’s rights approach entailed.
The fact that the CRC is not incorporated into UK law and England also does not have a public sector statutory duty to have due regard to the CRC, as in Scotland and Wales, was seen as a key barrier to using the CRC as a lobbying tool. In particular, this meant the Government and the courts had limited legal, policy or political imperative to act in accordance with the CRC and that organisations were unclear how to make effective use of it in their lobbying.
The biggest barrier to taking a children’s or human rights approach was seen to be the pervasive anti-human rights agenda and narrative, common amongst some politicians and media. ‘You don’t want to be labelled a woolly lefty in the current environment.’ Individual from large children’s charity.
Anti-international rhetoric and a feeling that ‘why do we need international organisations telling us what to do?’ was also seen to be common amongst the public as well as comments such as: ‘Internationally rights are ok but domestically it’s not an issue.’ Individual from mental health charity
Because of these issues, people questioned the need to take a rights based approach in policy and what value it added: ‘There is a feeling that if there is another way to talk about the issue that resonates, then why complicate the issue?’ Individual from mental health charity.
The fact that the CRC and children’s rights approaches were more commonly used in certain sectors such as the refugee or criminal justice sectors concerned interviewees as they felt this served to perpetuate the myths spread by the press that human rights and children’s right are only for certain groups of “undeserving people” rather than that they are unconditional and for everyone.
How to take a children’s rights approach to policy making
The briefing contains 19 recommendations on how organisations and the Government could embed a children’s rights approach to policy making, as well as two examples of how to take a children’s rights approach to policy. Download the briefing to find out more.
Now we have developed a deeper understanding of the reasons why people do and don’t use children’s rights arguments as a policy tool, the next two years of this project will apply these findings to help build the capacity of the mental health and homelessness sectors to use children’s rights approaches in their policy work. Please contact Natalie Williams for more details: NWilliams@crae.org.uk