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LAST MODIFIED ON: 02/10/2020
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Formal Mechanisms of Consultations
The United Kingdom is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Article 12 of the UNCRC affirms that:
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.
In practice, this involves an emphasis on consulting young people and encouraging their involvement in local democratic processes and decision making. On September 1st 2020, the Scottish government announced the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Incorporation Bill, which will enshrine the UNCRC into Scottish law and will make it unlawful for public authorities to act incompatibly with the incorporated UNCRC requirements, giving children, young people and their representatives the power to go to court to enforce their rights. The Bill is designed to change the way children’s rights are taken into account, with a strong focus on involving children and young people in policy decision-making.
A publication released in March 2020 outlines how the Scottish Government involves children and young people in policy-making, with a specific section on participation. You can read the full publication here.
Annual meeting of Cabinet members with children and young people started in February 2017, encouraging a more systematic, coordinated and sustainable approach to engaging with them at national level. Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament and Children's Parliament meet with Cabinet Ministers to discuss issues that are important to them. Such meetings help to inform the government's agenda over the following year. The most recent meeting of the annual youth cabinet took place in February 2019 and included decisions on teachers, public transport, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), bereavement and youth work.
Under the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003, local authorities are required to consult and cooperate with community bodies and with other public sector bodies as appropriate in the Community Planning process. According to statutory guidance issued by the Scottish Executive (now Scottish Government) in 2004, 'communities' could include communities of interest, such as young people; the definition of a 'community body' in the Act has therefore been left deliberately broad to avoid excluding particular communities. The guidance notes that the involvement of bodies will vary from area to area, meaning that the guidance is not prescriptive.
Local authorities also have specific statutory duties to involve children and young people in decision-making on services which fall under the remit of Community Planning Partnerships, such as, for example, the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010, the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000, the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 and the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004.
To help Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) and their individual partners to interpret their responsibilities under the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003 and other relevant legislation in relation to engagement with children and young people, the Scottish Executive issued an advice note, Engaging Children and Young People in Community Planning (2006). The note includes advice on monitoring and evaluating the impact of engagement on decision-making and how to increase participation levels; involving children; reaching and involving excluded groups; and avoiding tokenism.
The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland published guidance for local authorities on meeting their consultation duties under the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010. Participants, Not Pawns (2010) includes guidance on appropriate methods and materials to be used in consulting young people and the support to be provided in order to help those who might otherwise have been excluded or disadvantaged in the consultation process; suggestions include adapting or varying the settings and methods used for consultations (to make them more accessible) and the support available to young people to have their voices heard (by providing assistance for young people whose first language is not English, for example).
Consultations may take place through the representative bodies dealt with in ‘Youth representation bodies’, but other methods are also used. These include online consultations, focus groups, street interviews and surveys. The use of social media has become increasingly common in consultations, as this is regarded as a particularly suitable means of engaging young people’s interest.
Note that since the passing of the Requirements for Community Learning and Development (Scotland) Regulations 2013, local authorities have been required to develop a three-year plan outlining how community learning and development (CLD) will be delivered in their respective areas. CLD aims to improve the life changes of people of all ages, through personal development, learning and active citizenship and develop stronger, more resilient communities. Local authorities are required to consult relevant partners in drawing up these plans, providing evidence of their assessment of local needs, including the needs of young people.
Note also that since the passing of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, public bodies such as local authorities must report every three years on the actions they have taken to improve the rights of children and young people in their respective areas, including their right to express their views concerning matters which affect them. It also introduced provisions for public authorities to take into consideration the views of children and young people in decisions that affect them, which led to the introduction of the Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment. Guidance published by the Scottish Government in 2016 for public authorities about their responsibilities under the act can be found on the Scottish Government website.
The main public authorities involved in consultation are government departments, government agencies and local authorities.
Also playing a key role is the Office of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland (CYPCS). This role was established by the Commissioner for Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2003. The Commissioner’s general function is to promote and safeguard the rights of children (and young people under the age of 18, or 21 for those with experience of Scotland’s care system), with particular emphasis on the rights set out in the UNCRC. In carrying out the work of the Office, the Commissioner must involve, and consult both children and organisations working with and for them. The Commissioner must pay particular attention to those children who do not have other adequate means by which they can make their views known.
In 2013, the CYPCS published the 7 Golden Rules for Participation in various versions for different age groups and different languages and to aid accessibility for disabled young people, including a British Sign Language version.
Youth representation bodies, youth organisations, young advisors/experts and individual young people, may all be involved in consultations. See information about the 2008 guidance issued by the Scottish Government below for details about involving children and young people who may be at risk of exclusion.
Information on the extent of youth participation
There is no central source of data or statistics on the level of young people’s participation in policy consultations.
A national survey of children and young people (aged 6 to 25) on the Children and Young People Bill was undertaken in 2012. The Scottish Government collaborated with organisations such as Young Scot and the Scottish Youth Parliament in producing suitable materials and identifying the specific groups likely to be under-represented in the survey. Dialogue Groups were used to gather qualitative views from these specific groups of young people, including young homeless, young people in secure accommodation, young people with life-limiting medical conditions, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people, young Muslim females and young mothers. The Scottish Government has provided information on how the survey was devised and conducted.
A March 2017 survey, conducted by Children in Scotland, provided examples of where children and young people had been involved in policy making. These policy areas include: safety and crime prevention; justice; community planning; education; wellbeing; and knife crime. It demonstrates that children and young people support the development and implementation of policy making in Scotland.
Feedback to a formal government consultation is usually in the form of a published government response to the consultation or a commissioned analysis. Feedback on how responses will contribute to policy-making may also be provided through relevant organisations involved in the consultation. In some cases, a specific version of the response is issued for children and young people, which focuses on their participation as, for example, in the analysis of responses to the consultation on supporting Disabled Children, Young People and their Families, in 2019.
On its website, the Scottish Government publishes the results of consultations under the banner ‘We Asked, You Said, We Did’. Alongside summaries of the consultation questions and consultation responses, the Government provides information on what it has done, or proposes to do, as a result of the consultation exercise.
In February 2018, the Scottish Government published a research paper on The Impact of Children and Young People’s Participation on Policy Making. Children in Scotland was commissioned to conduct this report, aimed to explore and provide evidence of the impact children and young people’s participation has had on national and local policy making. The key questions the research addresses are:
- In what ways do organisations involve children and young people in national and local policy making in Scotland?
- What types of impact does children and young people’s participation have on organisations’ decision-making process and the decision reached?
- What lessons can organisations share on what is working well and what could be improved in involving children and young people in national and local decision making?
Their findings are based upon six case studies. The research identified that children and young people are engaged in Scottish policy; in policy areas, including: police powers, child rights, and education. Children and young people’s impact over policy can be characterised in two ways: the influence over decisions reached in relation to policy, and the impact on organisational and individual practices.
According to the case studies, children and young people tend to have more impact on policy making when they were engaged at an early stage of the policy making process; and had influence over the scope of the issue and the engagement methods used.
For more information, the report can be found on the Scottish Government website.
In 2019, a total of 838,288 young people voted on UK topics and 840,322 young people voted on devolved topics in the annual ‘Make Your Mark’ ballot. The Shetland Islands was the region with the highest turnout in Scotland, at 41%. The ballot decides what Members of the UK Youth Parliament should debate and vote on to be their campaign for the coming year. See ‘Youth parliament’ for further information.
Large-scale initiatives for dialogue or debate between public institutions and young people
Year of Young People 2018
2018 in Scotland was the Year of Young People (YoYP). It involved a programme of events, activities and ideas celebrating young people and their talents, achievements and potential. Young people themselves were at the heart of the planning and decision-making process for the YoYP: 18 young people were selected as the initiative's co-designers, alongside Scottish Government.
The Year of Young People had six themes:
- participation - looking at how young people can influence public services and decisions which affect their lives
- education - creating a strong role for young people in shaping their learning
- health and wellbeing - supporting young people to lead healthier, active lives
- equality and discrimination - broadcasting the value of young Scots and challenging discrimination in all its forms;
- enterprise and regeneration - celebrating young people's role in innovation and entrepreneurship;
- and culture - celebrating young people's talent and contribution.
It’s objectives included:
- providing a platform for young people to express their views on issues that affect their lives,
- showcasing young people through events and media,
- developing a better understanding and cooperation between generations,
- recognise the impact of those who support young people’s lives (like teachers and youth workers), and
- provide young people with opportunities to express themselves through culture, sport and other activities.
Children in Scotland
Children in Scotland has an aim, set out in its strategic plan for 2017-2021 of ‘championing participation and inclusion of children and young people’, so they can ‘experience their views being listened to and acted on’, and experience being ‘active partners in policy making and implementation.’ A key action to contribute toward this is includes: working to support inclusive, participatory communities where children and young people lead, are empowered, enjoy their responsibilities, and play a full role in society; and providing compelling evidence from children and young people to shape policy and legislation. Additionally, they created a Participation and Engagement Team to facilitate towards its goal, and developed a children and young people’s advisory group, (aged 8 to 18), to ensure children and young people had a space to express their opinion and concern on issues that impact them.