Reframing child protection as human rights: legal and ethical tensions in contemporary child care policy

Hodgson, David (2006) Reframing child protection as human rights: legal and ethical tensions in contemporary child care policy. In: XVIth ISPCAN International Congress on Child Abuse and Neglect: Children in a changing world: getting it right; 03 - 06 Sep 2006, York, U.K.. (Unpublished)


Through global and local policy making, there has been some progress in clarifying the legal, ethical and practical components of ‘children’s rights’ since this concept was described as ‘a slogan in search of definition’ (Rodham, 1973). However, an overview of current reforms for safeguarding children in England, emanating from the Every Child Matters agenda for change (DfES, 2004, 2005), reveals policies that may be interpreted as ambivalent or even hostile towards the language and the substantive recognition of rights for children. Two other ways of characterising legal and ethical concerns appear to be preferred: firstly, children’s interests (most recently extended by additional responsibilities for ‘welfare’ and ‘well-being’ (Children Act 2004, s11 and s2 respectively) and, secondly, children’s relationships (the latter sitting comfortably alongside the renewed emphasis on interpersonal networks and ‘social capital’). The paper considers why it is that, whereas ‘relationships’ and ‘interests’ are part of the accepted currency for legal and ethical judgements in childcare, the legitimacy of ‘children’s rights’ is less assured. A brief historical, philosophical and sociological analysis suggests ways of reconceptualising current child protection policy issues that are more consistent with the promotion of respect for the human rights of children, parents and professionals. This reframing process points towards four significant challenges for policy makers and practitioners: Firstly, to advocate for children’s equal rights to physical and emotional integrity, recognising that personal privacy is central to child protection; Secondly, to maximise formal and informal structures for representation of young people’s perspectives; Thirdly, to recognise and utilise the skills necessary to pursue models of competence-building with children, families and fellow professionals; Finally, to address legal and policy tensions that detract from an ethos of family support, fuel judgemental attitudes and erode professional creativity.

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