Hearing voices

In Scotland we have incorporated into law the UNCRC, or the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

This is a very good thing as anyone who cares about children and people would accept that children need to be cared for, nurtured, safe and protected. This applies to all children in the world but, as adults living and/or working in Scotland, we are first and foremost duty bearers under the UNCRC who work together to make sure that Scotland’s children have their rights protected.

As adults, we have chosen to live and work in Scotland (unless we perhaps are so vulnerable that we do not have a choice). Children in Scotland have, on the whole, not made a choice to live here.

Recently, two people who have immense experience in educational leadership and whom I respect very much have written pieces on what can happen to some duty bearers under the UNCRC when they raise concerns around protection of Children’s Rights under the UNCRC.

Neil McLennan wrote this piece back in July:

https://www.scottishreview.net/NeilMcLennan578a.html

This week, Melvyn Roffe wrote the following piece for the Times: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/melvyn-roffe-truth-about-myth-of-scottish-education-should-have-been-evident-jbmbmssw7

If you can’t read the piece behind the Times paywall, you can read about his ideas here too: https://www.countytimes.co.uk/news/national/19828801.top-school-principal-calls-young-peoples-whistleblowing-officer/

In all honesty, it seems strange and sad to me that professionals working in a system whose core business is to ensure that every Scottish child can live a safe, fulfilling and content life should need a “whistleblowing” officer to whom they can report concerns and in order that they can be protected. But I cannot deny that I have witnessed too many examples in my long career of professionals revealing uncomfortable truths and being silenced in the most harmful ways; harmful to both them as individuals and to the children that they were trying to help.

The truth is that although the stories that these professionals often tell, of ruined careers, broken minds and bodies and often broken relationships and families, the tragedies that they suffer are accompanied by the continued tragedies suffered by children and families who do not get the support to which they are entitled.

There is no doubt that cuts to services, funding, training and changing political ideologies mean that supports for the most vulnerable in our societies are at risk. There is no doubt that the additional pressures caused by a global pandemic have brought strained services to a point of great risk.

But it is possible to acknowledge this and work together to address the challenges we face without denying the truth and without silencing those who, in many instances, have the integrity, creativity commitment to help find solutions.

When adults use their voices to express views on the experiences of children, they are often doing so because they have the communicative capabilities, courage and power to share what children can not. Our job as teachers in schools is to ensure that children have all the expressive capabilities to convey their ideas, feelings and experiences with clarity and confidence by the time they independently enter the adult world at the age of 18; this is why we have such a huge focus on developing literacy in school. As children, though, they often struggle to communicate in this way and need the help of trusted adults, particularly when what they are trying to convey is difficult, or uncomfortable, or contrary to what the status quo expects of them. When adults help to share the voices of children in this way, this is the true meaning of pupil engagement, a term often used but rarely truly understood.

Sometimes even the parents and carers of children who need extra help find that they, as adults, can’t find the right words or ways of communicating to get the support needed for their children from systems that can be inaccessible and hard to understand. In these cases, professionals who speak up may also be representing the voices of parents and carers who are in turn representing the voices of their children. When adults help to share the voices of family members in this way, this is the true meaning of family engagement, a term often used but rarely truly understood.

When professionals speak up to share information about what is happening for a child living in Scotland in the 21st century, they are often not speaking for themselves, they are speaking as a duty bearer who is protecting Article 12 of the UNCRC (respect for the views of the child):
“Every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously. This right applies at all times, for example during immigration proceedings, housing decisions or the child’s day-to-day home life.”

It is only by knowing what is happening for a child that we can be confident that we can keep them safe and allow them protection from harm, ensuring that we fulfil our duty under article 19. “Anyone else” could potentially, whether by omission or commission, be the very system that is there to look after them:

Article 19 (protection from violence, abuse and neglect)
“Governments must do all they can to ensure that children are protected from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and bad treatment by their parents or anyone else who looks after them.”

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