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The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland is one of many organisations and individuals who are corporate parents.

A corporate parent is the name given to an organisation or person who has special responsibilities to care experienced children and young people. This may include:

  • those in residential care,
  • those in foster care,
  • those in kinship care, who live with a family member other than a parent, and
  • those who are looked after at home.

In simple terms, a corporate parent is intended to carry out many of the roles a loving parent should. While they may not be able to provide everything a parent can, but they should still be able to provide the children and young people they’re responsible for with the best possible support and care.

Corporate parent responsibilities are intended to encourage people and organisations to do as much as they can towards improving the lives of care experienced and looked after children, so that they:

  • feel in control of their lives, and
  • are able to overcome the barriers they face

Part 9 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 puts the concept of corporate parenting into Scots law. It makes it so:

  • there are certain things corporate parents have to do by law for the children and young people they’re responsible for,
  • corporate parents have to report to Scottish Ministers on how they’re carrying out their responsibilities.

How a corporate parent’s performance is reviewed

Corporate parents must report to Scottish Ministers on how they’re carrying out their responsibilities, and must follow the guidance that Ministers issue on how to carry out their duties. Ministers have to report every 3 years on how well corporate parenting is working in Scotland.

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ENOC is a network which includes Children’s Commissioners and Children’s Ombudspersons, who all promote and protect children’s rights as laid out in the UNCRC. There are representatives from 34 member countries who come together to share information and strategies.

As a member of the Network we take part in an annual programme that includes seminars, an annual conference, position papers and participation.

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International human rights treaties and agreements, such as the UNCRC, are developed through a process of negotiation among Member States of the UN. Individual States then decide for themselves whether to be legally bound by the treaty— to sign and ratify it.

When a state like the UK signs and ratifies an international treaty – as it has done with the UNCRC – then it’s pledged to make sure its domestic laws and policies comply with it.

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The domestic laws of a country are laws that can be upheld in its courts.

Scots law is the kind of domestic law that’s enforced in Scotland’s courts.

If someone wasn’t keeping promises they’d made under an Act of the Scottish Parliament, or an Act of the UK Parliament that applies to Scotland, they’d be breaking domestic law, and so could be taken to a Scottish court.

If they weren’t keeping promises made under international law this couldn’t happen, unless those promises had also been written into domestic law.

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We can find out if Scotland and the UK are keeping their human rights promises by:

  • asking young people who live here about their lives and any challenges they face,
  • asking decision-makers like the Government and local councils what work they are doing and laws they are making to protect and promote children’s human rights,
  • asking organisations and researchers who know a lot about children and young people to tell us if they think Scotland isn’t keeping its human rights promises.
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Like many other human rights treaties, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is accompanied by Optional Protocols. These are additional treaties that can:

  • further address something in the original treaty, or
  • address something the original treaty doesn’t mention, such as an issue that didn’t exist when it was first adopted.

Optional Protocols give more detail about the area they discuss, and expand a state’s obligations beyond those given in the original treaty.

Optional Protocols of the UNCRC

The UNCRC has three Optional Protocols:

A state that signs up to the UNCRC isn’t required to sign up to its Optional Protocols. Currently, the UK is signed up to two Optional Protocols, but not to the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure.

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The UK Parliament is represented on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

The UK Parliament is made up of MPs from several political parties, including ones that aren’t in the Government. PACE makes sure these parties still have a voice at the Council of Europe. Members of the UK Parliament elect the UK delegation to PACE, and must make sure this reflects the balance of political parties in the Parliament at the time.

PACE’s mission is to uphold the shared values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. It:

  • holds governments to account over their human rights records,
  • presses states to achieve and maintain democratic standards,
  • uncovers human rights violations,
  • ensures states keep their human rights promises,
  • demands answers from states around possible human rights violations, and
  • recommends sanctions where necessary.

PACE also makes proposals for improving Europe’s laws and practices, and provides a cross-party forum for debate to which the governments of the Council of Europe must collectively reply.

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Incorporation of an international law like the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) means it gets written into a country’s law at a national level— a level known as domestic law.

When an international law is incorporated into Scots law, it has more power to bring about change.

Often, this happens through cultural change, but this is underpinned by the fact the law would have legal force in Scottish courts.

That means that if the Scottish Government doesn’t meet its international human rights obligations to a child or young person, they can be taken to court in Scotland.

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All adults can support children and young people to be human rights defenders, and that’s something we’d encourage them to do.

But there are some adults – duty bearers – who international law says have a responsibility to respect, protect and fulfil children and young people’s rights.

Because the State is the main duty bearer when it comes to defending human rights, these responsibilities often fall on people who are employed by it.

These would include:

  • Scottish Ministers,
  • Scottish Government officials,
  • local authority staff,
  • teachers,
  • social workers,
  • health workers, such as doctors and nurses, and
  • police officers.

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Article 24 of the UNCRC says that people should know about the health services they have access to. They should get information about physical and mental health, and they should know about the services they can use if they have difficulties with either.

Young people have the right to get information about their health in private, without a parent or guardian’s knowledge. While as a child it might have been in their best interests for a parent or guardian to make decisions about their health, young people should be able to choose which services they need.

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Article 19 of the UNCRC says that if someone uses violence against a child or young person, it’s never acceptable or justifiable. It should be possible for them to report a violent act in a safe and confidential way, and reports made by young people should be investigated by the authorities.

It should be possible for a person who commits an act of violence against a child or young person to be taken to court. When this happens, the child or young person who the act was committed against shouldn’t be discriminated against because someone has been violent towards them, or because they’ve spoken up about it.

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If you believe you may have been discriminated against the  Equality Advisory Support Service provides advice and assistance on equality and human rights legislation and how it may relate to you.

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Under Article 19 of the UNCRC, Scotland and the UK should help make sure that people aren’t violent towards children and young people and should also take steps to make sure children and young people don’t feel like self-harming or committing suicide. In addition, we should make people aware of how common violence against children and young people is, and which children or young people may be at risk of it.

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There are some limits to freedom of expression. These aren’t just in place for children and young people— the limits set out in Article 13 of the UNCRC are the same as those placed on the expression of adults.

  • People can’t express themselves in a way that would harm the rights or reputations of others. For example, they don’t have the right to reveal private information about someone, or to say things about a person that aren’t true.
  • People can’t express themselves in a way that would threaten the safety of others. For example, they can’t tell people there’s a fire in a crowded building when there isn’t.
  • People can’t express themselves in a way that would hurt members of their community.
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Article 12 should be taken into account when governments pass laws. New laws should take into account the right of children and young people to have opinions in any and all areas of their lives.

As well as this, one of the Commissioner’s jobs is to make sure children and young people can have their voices heard.

He does this by:

  • telling children and young people about Article 12 and the rights that it gives them
  • telling adults to think about article 12
  • finding out what stops children and young people from having a say, and thinking about how things can be changed.

Our 7 Golden Rules resource is designed to help adults get better at working with children and young people and listening to them.

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While Article 15 of the UNCRC promotes freedom of association, it does say there are some circumstances where it doesn’t apply. For example:

  • children and young people can’t meet with individuals or groups when they threaten their rights. For example, they can’t meet people who are likely to pose a danger to them.
  • children and young people can’t meet with individuals or groups when they would threaten other people’s rights.
  • children and young people can’t meet with individuals or groups in order to break the law.
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Yes.

The opinion of a child and young person should be considered everywhere, including in their home, in their workplace and at school. This is true no matter how young that person is, although the weight their opinion is given should change as they grow older or become more mature.

Article 12 applies to everyone, and care should be taken to make sure it can be exercised by everyone in reality. For example:

  • special materials should be produced for children and young people with disabilities if they need these to make their views heard,
  • special consideration should be given to children and young people in vulnerable situations, such as those in care or refugees,
  • care should be taken to make sure the opinions of girls are respected just as much as those of boys.
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When adults who know a child or young person think about that person’s best interests, they should:

  • think about what’s best for them in their day to day lives,
  • make sure they are protected and cared for.

When adults in positions of power think about children and young people’s best interests, they should:

  • think about what’s best for children and young people in their day to day lives when making laws,
  • make sure children and young people are protected and cared for,
  • make sure that groups who protect and care for children and young people are good at what they do.

Article 3 of the UNCRC is about children and young people’s best interests.

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