New law could revolutionise children's rights

Consultation on the Children and Young People Bill gets under way

Emma Seith

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Looked-after children will be able to turn to local authorities for help and financial support up to the age of 25; the children's commissioner will be able to represent individual children; and every child will have a named person responsible for his or her well-being from birth to 18 - if a new law comes into force in Scotland next year.

The Scottish government is currently consulting on the Children and Young People Bill, which aims to make children's rights more real through the services that they receive.

Other proposals include:

- embedding the rights of children and young people across the public sector in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC);

- introducing duties on the government to further and promote the UNCRC;

- increasing annual funded pre-school provision from 475 hours to a minimum of 600 hours for three- and four-year-olds and looked-after two- year-olds;

- making early learning and childcare more flexible and seamless.

Scotland's children's commissioner, Tam Baillie, can currently undertake investigations on behalf of groups of children and young people. But the bill proposes allowing him to undertake investigations on behalf of individual children seeking redress for perceived violations of their rights.

Mr Baillie described this as "a positive move", but warned that its effectiveness would be "subject to available resources".

He continued: "Experience from other countries, such as Ireland and Wales, suggests that this function could expose serious instances of abuse, neglect or unjust treatment of vulnerable young people" (see panel).

Through the bill every child will also receive a "named person" - "a single point of contact for services that children and families can use if they wish". Health boards will be responsible for providing the named person from birth to school age, and councils from school age until 18.

Councils will also be required to support looked-after children until they reach 25, instead of 21, bringing their practice more in step with ordinary families.

The Growing Up in Scotland survey, which has been following 14,000 families since 2005, found that by the time children were three or four, about 60 per cent of families were using two or more forms of childcare.

The bill aims to address this "lack of continuity and consistency" by expanding free nursery hours and improving flexibility so that parents can be offered compressed hours over a few days, hours outwith term times, or longer sessions of early learning and care.

The consultation closes on 25 September 2012. Publications20120771810

An a* victory

A looked-after young person threatened with losing his foster place as he was embarking on his A levels was helped to challenge the decision by the children's commissioner for Wales.

The commissioner received a letter from the young person, who had suffered abuse and spent most of his life in care, explaining he had fallen behind with school work and was due to start his A-level course that September, aged 18, just as funding for his foster placement was ending.

Keen to pursue his education and stay with his foster family, the young person wanted to challenge the decision.

The commissioner met the young person but before a meeting with the council and other agencies could take place, the authority reversed its decision.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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