Refering back to social policy, 'social policy' has many important roles and is used for nemourous factors. In the first sense, social policy is particularly concerned with social services and the welfare state. In the second, broader sense, it stands for a range of issues extending far beyond the actions of government, the means by which welfare is promoted, and the social and economic conditions which shape the development of welfare. Within the UK, the framework for policys change frequently. The most recent changes have been the reformation of the Department of Social Security into the Department of Work and Pensions, the significant transfer of income maintenance to the Inland Revenue, and the demolition of the Department of Transport, the Regions and Local Government, whose key social policy responsibilities have now been placed in the Office fo the Deputy Prime Minister.( Spicker, P. 2003)
Within the social policy spectrum, emphasising particularly on social policies aimed at children. According to Lorraine Fox Harding (Fox Harding, L. 1991), presently there seems to be four main active paradigms of social policy. When exploring each perspective, it is apparent that each viewpoint has been constructed upon several political thoughts. Although these perspectives have similar aims and objectives, there are substantial differences within them. Initiating with the Laissez-faire perspective of social policy, this viewpoint suggests that within the household, predominately fathers know best. Therefore the state intervention is kept to a minimal and takes place in severer circumstances. Secondly looking at the Birth Parents Rights perspective, this view highlights the importance of the birth parents and family structure. The approach is concerned with the birth parents needs and rights to be valued and given recognition of importance. (Fox Harding, L, 1991).
The State Paternalism and Child Protection stance, also emphasises on the family life of the child, however it stresses upon ‘good parenting’. It holds perceptions that if the parents cannot provide substantial care for their children then the state has the given rights to intervene and take over as ‘the parent role’. Foremost the last perspective, which is ‘The Children’s Rights’ point of view, where as discussed previously, this perspective focuses on what the children’s needs and how polices can be formed with the child’s needs in mind. In most circumstances, polices are composed and put into effect with all four perspectives reciprocally.
Through mentioning thoroughly the historical and current viewpoints on children, families and above all children’s rights, the insight and evaluation on how the children’s rights stance has impacted and influenced social polices within the UK can now be examined. Firstly beginning with the Children Act 1989, since this Act has has had predominated impact within UK. The 1989 Children Act, for the first time in child care law, gave a definition of children in need (Children Act 1989 (c.41). The Act begins with ‘The welfare of the Child’ where it states when the state makes a decision concerning a child the first issue which would arise would be what is best for the child, as children should be given paramount of importance when making decisions concerning family issues. The Children Act clearly stresses the importance of the welfare of the child whether they are living at home or under the care of the local authority. It emphasised the importance of parental responsibility and promoting the family unit, through providing a support network for families in need and working in ‘partnership’ with the parents. (Children Act 1989 (c.41).
Nevertheless although the Children Act 1989 highlights that children have been given a voice through the Act and should be involved in decisions regarding their welfare. This initially may bring to attention that the children’s rights perspective is a form of a backbone to the Children Act, however whilst analysing certain statements, it can be brought to attention that within the Act emphasis is made on safe guarding children from significant harm, as stated in section five, “Protection of the Child: (3) A court may treat an application under this section as an application for an emergency protection order. (Children Act 1989 (c.41). . This statement has The State Paternalism and Child Protection stance to it, (Fox Harding, L, 1991), also the principle of no order within the Act comes from the laissez faire perspective. And quite blatantly the partnership in working with families is derived from the birth parents rights outlook, (Fox Harding, L, 1991), as the Children Act states; 3. (1) In this Act "parental responsibility" means all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property. (Children Act 1989 (c.41). Considering that the children Act 1989, starts of with the paramount of importance of the child, and being named ‘Children Act’ but then tends to give equal weight of importance to each of the four perspectives to work along side each other.
Looking at the Children Act 1989 optimistically, the act overall aids the child and family, as it illustrate the need to, where possible, avoid placing care orders and prosecution of children (Abbott,P and Wallace,C, 1992), as this would therefore avoid breaking up the family unit. According to (Pascall, G, 1997), as positive results of the Children Act 1989 demonstrate that fewer children are being looked after outside the home by local authorities. There is also a reduction in emergency protection orders which are in replacement of ‘place of safety’ orders and care orders whereby parents are, with the local authorities, held responsible. (Pascall, G, 1997). Whereby social workers previously were shown to, on occasion, to use place of safety orders where it was not necessary Social workers tend to show positive changes in attitudes and approach in their work, as a direct consequence of the Children Act 1989 providing a more structured legal framework. (Pascall, G, 1997). Hence the security of specific guidelines to follow or as a result of working in partnership with the parents, in the position of offering assistance and support in an attempt to keep families together, wherever possible. (Pascall, G, 1997).
Similar to the Children Act 1989, another policy that has had great impact on a world wide scale, is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989. The UN convention visions a child (under age 18) as an individual and as a member of a family and a community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development. (Volpe, 1997) The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is based on the philosophy that children are equal to and have the same value as adults, while identifying at the same time they are vulnerable because of their age and are subject to the decisions and behaviour of adults. The rights set out in the Convention can be grouped into three broad categories; Protection: children have a right to protection from cruelty, abuse, neglect and exploitation. Participation: children have a right to play an active role in society and to have a say in their own lives. Provision: children have the right to have their basic needs met. (Volpe, 1997)
By emphasising on that children have rights, however with these rights come responsibility, as the Convention is explicit about the fact that young people not only have rights, but also the responsibility to respect the rights of others, especially of their parents. For example, it states that one of the aims of education should be to develop respect for the child's parents, and their values and culture (Volpe, 1997). Rather than creating conflict between the rights of parents and the rights of children, the Convention encourages an atmosphere conducive to dialogue and mutual respect.
Within the UN Convention, there appears to be some ideological conflicts between those who see children's rights in welfare terms and those who wish to promote a child's self determination. For example, Michael Freeman (1992), a child advocate who supports the "child empowerment" school of thought, viewed that the most significant article in the Convention is Article 12 which states: "Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child". (Volpe, 1997). But, as Freeman points out, the Convention's preface may undermine not just a child's independence but his or her welfare as well, for the text acknowledges that "due account" should be taken of "the importance of the traditions and cultural values of each people for the protection and harmonious development of the child".(Freeman and Veerman, 1992). Therefore the Convention glosses over the issue that "traditions and cultural values", in certain situations, which may undermine the child's life chances (Freeman and Veerman, 1992).
Thus the essential aims of the UN Convention are to recognise children as individuals who are entitled to respect and protection. The major concerns of the Convention can be seen as; protecting the dignity of the child, raising the child to full membership in the community, and establishing the child's status as a person rather than a possession. Unfortunately, a large gap exists between the ideals of the Convention and concrete action, as this is evident within the UK, as the British government had been profoundly criticized by the UN Committee for not implementing the articles of the convention within its policy portfolio (Lansdown, G. 1995 cited in Lavalette M and Pratt A, 2001, p: 248). One example of this is within British Juvenile crime, as between 1993-1994 (Lavalette M and Pratt A, 2001), within Britain there was a high rise in crime involving children, therefore the government introduced The 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act , this Act came with harsh penalties for child offenders, conditions of the young offenders were horrendous. The governments own chief inspector of prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, had quoted, that the majority of establishments holding children and young adults were operating as a human warehouse rather than reforming institutes. (Lavalette M and Pratt A, 2001), instead criminal attitudes were being reinforced, this clearly falls far below the minimum conditions required by the Children Act 1989 and the UN Convention 1989. More so ever disturbing figures from 1994 to 1997 show that 41 suicides and 4,112 cases of self inflicted harm, had taken place within young convicts. (Home Office, 1997 cited in Lavalette M and Pratt A, 2001).
One may ask were where the implementation of children’s rights in these circumstances? This clearly shows that the welfare of these children was not looked after, this goes against the Backbone of the Children Act 1989, where the paramount of importance is given to the child, has been neglected. And “Article 27: An Adequate Standard of Living: The right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.” (Children Act 1989 (c.41).
Child poverty hit rising high during the conservative era, child poverty in Britain was one of the worst case’s within Europe, from 1973-1993 poverty had increased from a mere 10 per cent to 32 per cent. (Lavalette M and Pratt A, 2001). Then in 1997 New labour came into authority, New Labour had condemned the previous government for its child poverty issues, but made matters worse by putting extra pressure, not just on the child, but on the family unit as a whole, as they enforced parental responsibility, were parents could be forced by law to attend counselling or guidance. (Lavalette M and Pratt A, 2001). It can be said that the labour government had taken a Laissez-faire approach by putting responsibilities of the government upon the parents/carers. Typically the rich and poor gap has grown ever so wide and like the conservative, labour also failed to promote children’s rights.
The term Equality is stressed within The UN Convention of the rights of the child 1989, (Convention on the Rights of the Child). But to what extent is the fair assessment of the UK's performance in the arena of children’s rights? As Health Minister John Hutton, launching the UK Government's second report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in August 1999, referred to 'the encouraging progress we as a nation are making in implementing the Convention's wide-ranging provisions '. (UNICEF, 2000) In saying this when the UK approved the Convention in 1991, it set down at the same time several reservations, or 'opt-outs', which mean that UK national law, takes priority over the articles of the Convention (UNICEF,2000) . This would not be a concern if national law protected children more than the Convention. But in fact the UK reservations have severely limited children's rights, particularly for asylum-seeking children and young offenders. However, the reservation relating to the status and treatment of refugee children arriving in this country still stands. The new Immigration and Asylum Act (passed at the end of 1999) (UNICEF, 2000) is an example of the detrimental effect of this reservation. Where asylum-seeking children and their families will receive less financial support than UK national children. This is a direct contravention of the Convention principle that no child should receive different treatment from any other child. Furthermore, the benefits are given mostly in the form of vouchers that have already proved stigmatising and discriminatory.
Until recently the UK has gone without a children’s commissioner, which was after a very long process of campaigns and votes. And to an extent were arguments had been made against children’s rights through establishing independent office for children, by stating "It would just create an unnecessary level of bureaucracy." Or "Government has obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child - government should fulfil them itself, not set up an independent office." (Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) 2003). But as seen in the previous paragraphs that when the government does not fulfil these obligatory rights, then it is up to the independent body (children’s commissioner), is to create a new agency to carry out the Government’s responsibilities. All over Europe there are active children’s rights ministers and offices, for instance Norway, which was the first country to appoint an ombudsman for children, and this was over 20 years ago. (Dobson, A. 2001). Trond Waage, Norway’s Commissioner stated "We have enormous freedom to represent children and we aim to be proactive and lead the way in Norway where children's issues are concerned. But what is vital is that there is freedom to act independently on behalf of children. Without us, children's interests may be forgotten," (Dobson, A. 2001). Other countries such as Iceland and Austria also have children’s commissioners. It seems that the UK has a large amount of catching up to do when concerning children’s rights.
In a positive light, it can be concluded that it is clear to state by looking into the history of childhood and children’s rights, throughout the ages, the welfare of children and their families has immensely been improved. This can be due to the implementation of the children’s rights movement on a worldwide basis. And from the input of certain Acts and social policies, such as Children Act 1989 and UN Convention of The Rights of a child 1989. However, within the UK, brining into attention that the acts are in place in writing but unfortunately not quite so in practice. The dominant ideology of childhood portrays it as a ‘walled garden’, (Lavalette M and Pratt A, 2001), fully protected, where no harm can afflict or hurt the phase of childhood. This assignment has showen that this perfect worriless place does not exist in reality, especially not in the UK, as the governments in the past and present have demonstrated this through the lack of input in the: juvenile justice, education, poverty, unequal opportunities of children and their families and overall on the issue of children’s rights. Although it can be acknowledged, things have improved with time, but there are clear signs that more work needs to be done for a brighter prosperous outlook for the future of children’s rights within the UK.
Word count: 3,289.
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Student Number: 0206108