Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley, launched NICCY's Children's Rights Review at Stormont on 17th February 2009.

Good afternoon, members, ladies and gentlemen – thank you for all coming along today. Before I begin I’d like to say a special thanks to Megan O’Kane, a member of NICCY’s Youth Panel, who you will hear from later on.

In keeping with our commitment to the participation of young people, Megan was on the Steering Group that led the production of this review. Thank you Megan!

It is my pleasure to introduce to you, today, the final report of our Children’s Rights Review. This report is the result of a long and detailed piece of work and it is my hope that it will prove a useful resource for all of you here today.

However, I think that the title of the report poses a question that everyone in this room will have to answer in coming weeks and months:

Children’s Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?

I want to take a few minutes to tell you a bit about why we did this review and how we went about it. Dr Helen Beckett, lead author of the report, will then take you through some of the headline findings of the work.

As I’m sure most of you already know, it is my job as Commissioner for Children and Young People, to safeguard and promote the rights and best interests of children and young people and to work with them to help them challenge and change the world around them.

My role was established in statute in 2003. This legislation introduced a number of statutory requirements upon my role, including keeping under review the adequacy and effectiveness of both services provided to children and young people and law and practice relating to their rights and welfare. This review is a key way in which I have sought to do fulfill this particular duty.

But carrying out the review was not a tick box exercise. It is a real, living indicator reflection of the state of children’s rights.

We are very aware of how useful people have found the 2004 children’s rights report completed for us by a team of academics from Queen’s University. It is being downloaded from my website more than 1,000 times each month!

But we are also aware of the changes that have taken place during this time, not least of which is the restoration of devolution in May 2007.

We wanted to provide a more up to date resource that could inform both our own work and that of others over the coming years.

The other main reason for undertaking this review was the requirement to develop a new Corporate Plan for my office for 2008-2011 and a desire to ensure that this was based on up to date and accurate information. The initial findings of the review directly informed the priority action areas included in our corporate plan.

That is, in essence, why we decided to do this review. So, how did we then go about it?

There were two main elements to the review:

The first of these was a comprehensive review of any research undertaken,and any legislative or policy developments introduced, since 2004.

The second element of the review was direct consultation with over 2200 key stakeholders – this included children and young people, parents and carers and relevant professionals working in the field.

My staff and youth panel went out and about across Northern Ireland, meeting directly with many different groups and individuals and finding out from them what they thought about the current state of children’s rights. Again, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who participated – especially the young people who shared their views and experiences so willingly.

Once all this information had been gathered, it was analysed and the results assessed against the framework of rights contained within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The results of this work are what you see before you today.

I am personally delighted to be able to share this report with you here today. It provides a comprehensive overview of the current state of children’s rights here in Northern Ireland, identifying areas both where things have improved over the last few years and areas where much more progress is required. Particular attention is paid to the experiences of groups of children and young people who are currently experiencing multiple forms of disadvantage and discrimination within their lives.

Whilst I welcome the areas of progress outlined in the report, I must also say that I remain concerned about the continued failure of the Government to make real all the promises contained within the UNCRC, for all our children and young people.

I would therefore use this opportunity to urge Ministers and government departments to consider, and act where needed, on the findings of this review and to implement immediate and determined action to prioritise the rights and best interests of children and young people across all aspects of legislation, policy and practice.

The report contains a wealth of data that can help you in this task, including rich data gathered from participants in the review which, in my opinion, really brings the report to life and illustrates the real impact of change - or indeed lack of change - on children and young people’s lives. The inclusion of these ‘first hand’ perspectives and experiences, set within a detailed policy and practice framework, is – I believe - one of the particular strengths of the report.

Given the scale of the report – it is 450 pages long - we have tried to structure it in as user-friendly a manner as possible, presenting the information thematically in line with the grouping of rights set forth by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Each thematic section of the report contains the findings of both the primary and secondary elements of the review, together with the most recent Concluding Observations issued by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, following the UK State party examination in September 2008. I note with concern that, unlike the other three jurisdictions within the UK, in Northern Ireland we have not yet heard a response from Government to these Concluding Observations.

I have found the report to be an incredibly helpful resource over the last few months, giving me easy access to lots of different sources of information in one, easy to access, document. I’m sure it will also be a useful resource for many others – policy makers, academics, practitioners and students – and I encourage you all to use the information in it, in whatever way you can, to improve the lives of our children and young people.

Before I hand over to Dr Helen Beckett I would ask you to take a moment to reflect on what rights mean.

  • Traveller children being 10 times more likely to die before the age of 10 than children from the settled population;
  • Teenagers from deprived areas being more than twice as likely to become pregnant than those from non deprived areas;
  • One in five children leaving primary school without the required literacy skills;
  • Children and young people not having somewhere safe and accessible to go in their spare time – a particular problem for children with disabilities and those living in rural areas.
  • These are all examples of children and young people being denied their rights.

Let us not ever presume we can give up on the struggle to achieve full and complete rights for Northern Ireland’s 500,000 children and young people.

I will now hand over to Dr Helen Beckett who will take you through some of the key findings of the review.