Research Briefing Paper for Schools, Settings and Services
A very brief summary taken from Coram (registered charity), February 2017, ‘Brexit: children’s rights at risk or future opportunity in the global area’.
As of 23rd June 2016, there has been wide ranging discussion into how Britain should leave the EU and the implications of doing so. In this process, the interests of children have been barely mentioned. In the Brexit white paper, “The UK’s exit from, and new partnership with, the EU”, children are only mentioned once as it urges ‘us all’ to work towards a “stronger, fairer, more Global Britain” for the country’s ‘children and grandchildren’. Despite this, there has been little debate or discussion into the needs of, and issues, regarding children.
The report does not constitute original research but a commentary on the rights and welfare drivers for children. Whilst, inevitably, some of the content in this paper is speculative, it aims to inform and contribute to a stronger emphasis on the issues affecting our children today and our citizens of the future. This summary attempts to draw out a few key issues for the reader’s consideration.
Uncertainty can put schools and pupils under strain. The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has suggested that school leaders are reporting that some of their young students are worrying about their future.
“Pupils are worried about being forced to leave Britain. They are fearful of a potential rise in racism and community conflict. They are concerned about their prospects in an uncertain and isolated Britain.”
In the initial period after the vote to leave the EU there were reports of very immediate effects. In addition to examples of violence, there has also been a spike in xenophobic and racist bullying of school children perceived to be from outside the UK. There are serious repercussions for individual children and young people who become victims of abuse, in particular significant effects on their mental health, emotional wellbeing and social network. Furthermore there is also a potential wider impact on educational establishments.
Some of the UK’s most vulnerable children from low socio-economic backgrounds are potentially at risk without the support of the EU. The European Commission’s preventative strategy, ‘Investing in children: breaking the cycle of child poverty’14 includes action in areas such as: collecting and disseminating best practice, monitoring and evaluation, and structural fund investment (England’s allocation for 2014-2020 is €6.2 billion (£5.3 billion). The European Commission has also set aside a €3.8 billion fund for 2014-2020 for the most deprived to pay for food, clothes and other essential items. In the UK, parts of these funds have been used for activities such as breakfast clubs. 80-90% of the funding for UK breakfast clubs comes from the European Regional Development Fund, with local authorities contributing the remainder.
The EU has also ensured that reference to children’s rights is being embedded in its founding objectives and principles. In terms of the legal rights of children and young people, one of the most important recent developments at the European level has been the Lisbon Treaty which establishes among the aims of the EU, under Article 3, the ‘protection of the rights of the child’. The Treaty made the European Charter of Fundamental Rights binding, giving children (under Article 24 of the Charter) ‘the right to such protection and care as is necessary for their well-being’; meaning that children’s best interests must be a primary consideration in ‘all actions relating to children, whether taken by public authorities or private institutions’, echoing Article 3 of the UNCRC. Respecting and acting upon children’s rights and views are central to the work of the Local Authority.
Currently, an unaccompanied minor claiming asylum in an EU member state may join a family member or relative in another member state where it is in their best interests to do so. Over 750 children were transferred to the UK in 2016 under the provisions. However, of particular concern is the situation of children from other EU countries in care. At present these children are the least likely to have adults who will speak up for their rights.
There remain a significant number of areas of children’s rights that are difficult for the UK to address acting alone. These include immigration and free movement, but also consumer protection and other aspects of child protection. Some of the tangible benefits that EU arrangements have delivered include data on child trafficking, a universal telephone hotline for children who go missing, and work on guardianship models for the most vulnerable children.
This summary gives merely a brief insight into some of the risks, challenges and opportunities post-Brexit. Brexit may entail the rewriting of much UK legislation. This presents an exceptional opportunity to review, amend or update some legislation relating to children and to improve and strengthen children’s rights and opportunities “unshackled” by the other 27 EU states. It is important to hold dear the fact that children need permanence, safety and security if they are to thrive when moving forward with post-Brexit Britain.