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Making children’s rights real in Scotland

Project contact
Emma Thomson
Consultancy Associate

When planning to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law, the Scottish Government enlisted the expertise of the Observatory of Children’s Human Rights Scotland, based at the University of Edinburgh, to drive its implementation.

The challenge

Scotland is leading the way internationally in incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law. This provides a transformative opportunity – to ensure that children’s human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled under a legal framework. To support this transformation, the Scottish Government awarded a grant to the Observatory of Children’s Human Rights Scotland, working with Matter of Focus and Public Health Scotland (PHS), to create the Theory of Change for Making Children’s Rights Real in Scotland.

Incorporating the UNCRC in Scotland presents many opportunities for meaningful change, as well as many challenges. The Theory of Change team was tasked with unravelling these threads and laying out the processes through which positive change will happen.

Plan of action

The Observatory of Children’s Human Rights Scotland is a collaborative of Scottish organisations that is working to drive the implementation of children’s human rights in Scotland, with local impact and global learning.

The organisations working together to develop the Observatory’s strategy and agenda are: CELCIS, Childhood and Youth Studies (MHSES, University of Edinburgh), the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, Children’s Parliament, the Global Justice Academy (Edinburgh Law School, University of Edinburgh), Inspiring Children’s Futures (University of Strathclyde), and Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights). Its secretariat is currently administered by Childhood and Youth Studies at Moray House School of Education and Sport, University of Edinburgh.

Because the work of implementing the UNCRC operates in a complex system, with a complex web of actors, varying states of readiness and varying priorities, the journey of developing the Theory of Change was as important as its result. With meaningful connections to outstanding academic expertise, the public sector and the wider Scottish civil society, the Observatory was uniquely placed to deliver on this ground-breaking project.

The finalised Theory of Change is a distillation of wide-ranging engagement – children, young people and over 60 Scottish organisations had an input in its development – as well as commissioned research and analysis of what effects change. The project helped to develop a common vision and agenda for making children’s rights real in Scotland and to bring cohesion to Scottish-wide efforts to implement the UNCRC.

Moving forward

The Theory of Change was turned over to the Scottish Government in May 2022 and will now be a guide for the Scottish Government to inform their work on the UNCRC Implementation Programme. The Theory of Change will also support other stakeholders working towards UNCRC implementation in Scotland by providing them with a framework to review their existing work and develop an evidence-based action plan. As such, the work of the Observatory of Children’s Human Rights Scotland and its partners will influence policy for years to come.

The process of bringing our partners and stakeholders together to help articulate the Theory of Change has been as important as the output from this work. It has brought together a wide range of insights, hopes and expectations and helped us all coalesce around a shared vision of what we want to achieve for Scotland and a shared understanding of the building blocks for that.
The product of this work will help the Scottish Government and UNCRC Strategic Implementation Board consider not only if there are any gaps in the three-year implementation programme that need to be filled but also to identify indicators that our building blocks are in place and that they are making a difference to outcomes for children and young people. ”

- Michael Chalmers, Director for Children and Families (Scottish Government) and Chair of the UNCRC Strategic Implementation Board

Related links

The Observatory of Children’s Human Rights Scotland

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Theory of Change report, summaries and evidence papers

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