Today is a big day for everyone concerned about the rights of children and young people.
This afternoon, the House of Lords will vote again on the Government’s attempts to restrict the ability of ordinary citizens to challenge state decisions. Peers added three important amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill at its report stage to safeguard the future of judicial review as a cornerstone of the rule of law. However, fewer Liberal Democrat MPs than UKIP MPs voted to retain the amendments in the Commons, so the Bill returns to the Lords.
The suspicion is that Ministers are pushing the changes through as they don’t much like having their decisions challenged. Much, therefore, rests on peers’ determination to stand their ground on a fundamental constitutional matter. A briefing by JustRights sets out just how crucial the outcome of this ping-pong is to children and young people’s access to justice.
- As JustRights publishes its new young people’s manifesto Make Our Rights Reality, James Kenrick, Co-Chair of JustRights and Advice Manager at Youth Access, raises questions about the role of the state in protecting young people’s rights
- Read young people’sMake Our Rights Reality manifesto;
- Sign the petition calling on the Government to review young people’s access to advice and legal support; and
- Join the conversation #MakeOurRightsReality.
Meanwhile, in an apparently unrelated development, hundreds of young people, frustrated by cuts to the services they value and their increasing inability to realise the rights they theoretically possess under the law, have come together to say ‘enough is enough’ and demand change.
Amongst the things young people are calling for in their powerful manifestois improved access to age-appropriate, independent advice and legal support. Young people are very clear about what they want from an advice service and care passionately who they get their advice from.
As a society, we have a vague expectation that young people will be supported in their times of need by the state. Indeed, whilst adults might most frequently turn to the Citizens Advice Bureau (an independent charity) for help to resolve their general problems, children and young people are expected, if not required, to turn to social workers, housing departments, youth offending teams and JobCentre Plus – arguably all agents of the state. National data confirms that young people aged 16-24 are roughly twice as likely as older adults to get their advice from official sources and half as likely to get it from independent agencies.
Does this really matter?
Well, young people themselves think it does. In our national consultation survey, three-quarters of 15 to 25 year olds said they believed local Councils didn’t provide advice that was in young people’s best interests and two-thirds didn’t trust that the Government wanted them to know their rights and entitlements. Only 9% said they would feel comfortable approaching a local authority advice service. Whilst trust in independent advice services increased as young people got older and gained more advice-seeking experience, this wasn’t the case for statutory services. Young people enter adolescence rather trusting of the state, but their trust seems to fall away after having to rely on its services.
When we got to speak to young people in greater depth in our focus groups, it became clear that what we were picking up on was widespread cynicism about the capacity of statutory authorities to put young people’s interests above those of the system. This cynicism was particularly evident amongst those who were more vulnerable and had had greater experience of the system. Far from trusting the state to protect them and uphold their rights, young people believed official services tended to:
- fob them off with bad advice that was designed to save money;
- let them down when they most needed help;
- and often made their situation worse.
Again and again, we heard young people complain that authorities didn’t listen to them or take them seriously. It is this ‘culture of disbelief’ that has emerged clearly in Rotherham, Rochdale, Doncaster and all the other places that widespread child sexual exploitation has been uncovered.
It is time to listen to young people. And young people state unequivocally in their manifesto: ‘It should be illegal to put the interests of the system above the rights and protection of young people.’
Young people’s suggested approach lies in stark contrast to that of a Government that seems more intent on silencing vulnerable individuals who have the temerity to challenge state decisions.
In a week in which the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement has led commentators to ponder a reimagining of the role of the state, it seems reasonable to ask whether we actually want to entrust the state with safeguarding young people’s rights.
Author: James Kenrick
James is advice services development manager at Youth Access, the national membership organisation for youth advice and counselling services. James is also co-chair of JustRights, the campaign for fair access to advice, advocacy and representation for children and young people