Family Law - Government Is Failing the Youngest Generation

On 21 January 2013, the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) published its ‘Review of Government action on United Nations’ recommendations for strengthening children’s rights in the UK’. The report criticises the Government for failing to implement the changes recommended in a 2008 report by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child – changes which, in 2010, the Government had committed to take into consideration when enacting law and policy. 

The CRAE report suggested that the Government was unable to provide evidence that it ‘routinely assesses the impact of its policies of children’s rights’. In response to a request for information from 17 Government departments on what is being done to assess the impact of its policies on children’s rights, only one department (the Department of Education) provided a detailed analysis of its policies.

The report criticised the Government not only for failing to implement many of the necessary changes, but for actually moving away from the preferred position on many issues. Of the 118 recommendations included in the UN Report, the CRAE indicated that 89 of them had seen either no significant changes or significant deterioration in law or policy. An example of this failure offered by the CRAE report is that the Government failed to meet the targets of reducing the number of children living in poverty by 600,000, to 1.7 million children, and indeed the report suggested that this figure is likely to rise significantly by 2020.

The CRAE welcomed the Government’s expressed commitment to improving the models of adoption and family justice. It also welcomed the proposed reforms to the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC), stating that these reforms would allow the Office “greater independence and a rights-based mandate.” However, the CRAE qualified this statement by noting that the reforms should have gone further in guaranteeing the OCC’s independence and should have provided the OCC with a broader mandate. It also welcomed the Government’s expressed commitment to improving the models of adoption and family justice.

The report also noted the following:

  • Forty-eight children died as a result of “deliberately inflicted injury, abuse or neglect” in 2011-12. In 65% of these deaths, feasible steps could have been taken to reduce the risk of death.
  • The life expectancy of a boy born in Kensington and Chelsea is almost 12 years longer than that of a boy born in Blackpool (85.1 years compared with 73.6 years).
  • Over 3,000 children in foster care went missing between January 2012 and March 2012. In the year ending November 2012, the number of children who went missing from foster care was up 19% on the previous year.
  • Of 6,610 19-year-olds who had left foster care, 36% were not in any form of education, employment or training – an increase of 12% on the 2008 figure. 
  • Of children in care, 13.9% achieved grades between A and C in their GCSEs – compared to 58.6% of their peers.

The CRAE report criticised the Government for failing to take action to address “the intolerance and inappropriate characterisation of children and young people in society and in the media.” Furthermore, the report criticised the Leveson Inquiry report for not making any recommendations on this issue, explaining that although the report did refer to children, it was more concerned with privacy than with the representation of children.

The report criticised the continuing position in the UK that allows parents and those in loco parentis to use “reasonable punishment” as a defence to a charge of common assault against children. The Government claimed (as part of the Universal Periodic Review of the UK in 2012) that having such a defence available was not in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Commenting on the report, Paola Uccellari, Director of CRAE, remarked that “when the Government reports to the UN this time next year, it will find it difficult to say with any credibility that it is committed to children’s rights.”