Councils told to ask the children

14th November 1997 at 00:00
Children should be treated as citizens and their views taken into account, Sam Galbraith, Minister for Children's Issues, told Children in Scotland's annual conference in St Andrews last week. "The Government supports the empowerment of young people so that they can play an informed and active role in the decisions that affect their lives," Mr Galbraith said.

But he was treated to a sharp reminder that reality has a long way to go to match the rhetoric as Erica Wallace, of Baldragon Academy, Dundee, said: "We spend a vast amount of time in school which is one place where people think we should be seen and not heard."

She added: "We do not get enough chance to discuss our education or get involved in the way schools are run." A pupil protest at the threatened closure of Rockwell High, which merged with Kirkton High to form Baldragon, led to a threat of expulsion from the headteacher. "People only want us to express our feelings quietly and without fuss," she objected.

Her complaint earned an assurance that Inverclyde would not be so dismissive of its pupils. Yvonne Robertson, the council's education convener, said such views would be "a valuable resource" in the debate on school rationalisation.

Mr Galbraith was commenting on the Children Act (Scotland) 1995 which stipulates that children and young people should be consulted in the home, in the courts, by children's panels and councils.

But he stressed: "For people to play an active and responsible role in society, they need to feel valued by that society." The Government's new deal, which aims to get all unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds into work, education or training, was a major plank in ensuring this sense of "inclusion".

"If the children of today are to take their place in the society of tomorrow, we must meet those needs, be sensitive to their concerns, recognise their rights and, in turn, expect them to recognise their responsibilities. Above all we must listen to them," Mr Galbraith said.

He reminded delegates of Article 12 in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child "which requires that the views of the child be taken into account".

In a presentation by members of the Article 12 network, Emma Kyles, a pupil of Castlebrae High in Edinburgh, outlined a range of activities in Craigmillar, such as a drugs conference that allowed young people to have their say. "I owe a great deal to my community. It is a family to which everyone belongs, " she said.

But Margaret Hannah of Fife Health Board questioned why there were so few representatives from councils or schools at a conference on children as citizens. "That says something about their culture," Dr Hannah said.

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