How Promise on young people’s rights was broken - Alison Dickie
And I could have cried again on Thursday afternoon at the meeting of Edinburgh Council when the Administration voted against discussing the report, simply because we had reached 5pm and the rules for video meetings said we could just go straight to a vote without debate.
Had there been a debate, I wanted speeches filled with ‘sorry’; an apology to any of the care experienced young people who may have been listening. But there was nothing for them to hear.
If I had been called to speak, they would have seen two booklets which have long been pinned to my notice board behind me. One is The Promise, which underpins the commitment that Scotland would “come together and love its most vulnerable children to give them the childhood they deserve”. The other is the Children’s Parliament’s Little Book of Children’s Rights.
I’m prevented from writing about the contents of the whistleblowing report into the abuse, but let’s just say that for those young victims it feels like the rights of children were nowhere to be seen, or indeed, the pledge of The Promise.
We’ve just spent the last two years in lockdown with our most basic freedoms denied and we all know how that felt. Imagine, then, being a child in secure care in normal times and being robbed of your liberty.
“Taking away a child’s liberty is one of the most serious restrictions a state can impose on a child’s human rights,” wrote the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland, Bruce Adamson. “It has deep and long-lasting consequences, particularly on a child’s emotional and social development. For children who have been traumatised already, often as a result of abuse or neglect, the impacts of being deprived of their liberty can be devastating and irreparable.”
Worse, imagine then being trapped in the maladministration, injustice and illegality the Council’s report describes.
The Promise asks, “that Scotland must strive to become a nation that does not restrain its children.” It’s tragic this needs to be stated, yet the events in Edinburgh’s units right up to late 2020 shows how necessary it is.
The report tells the story of the Council’s failure to meet the promise to put all children and young people in the driving seat of decisions to prioritise their rights and needs, and there is a long way to go to ensure other commitments are met, like re-thinking the purpose of secure care, considering alternative community-based support and developing a caring, nurturing and trauma-informed workforce.
The city owes a debt to all those who chose to speak out to protect those young Edinburgh people who experienced such abuse, and also to the many good, dedicated officers who support our young people every day.
They will be vital for implementing the report’s proposed action plan and whilst I don’t support either secure care or restraint, it addresses the lessons from this whistleblowing case. I’m less sure it addresses the need for accountability.
The case studies tell of victims not being heard or believed, so learning from their experiences is an absolute priority if the council is ever to fully embrace a culture that puts young people’s rights first.Alison Dickie is the independent councillor for Edinburgh Southside, until recently an SNP councillor vice-convener of Edinburgh's Children and Families Committee
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