We’re available for advice on children’s human rights on email at inbox@cypcs.org.uk and on freephone at 0800 019 1179.

We're experiencing a high number of enquiries at the moment so there may be some delay in our response, but we will reply as soon as we can.

Q:
Who checks the Commissioner’s accounts?
A:

Because the Commissioner is funded by public money, it’s important that their accounts are checked over – or audited – and that as a member of the public you have access to these audited accounts.

Like all public bodies, the Commissioner publishes an annual statement of expenditure each year as well as accounts. This says how much money’s been spent on:

  • public relations
  • overseas travel
  • hospitality and entertainment
  • external consultancy.

Our accounts are checked by:

The Auditor General for Scotland

The Commissioner must send their accounts to this person every year. Their office will inspect the accounts.

The Scottish Parliament

The Commissioner receives their approved budget on a monthly basis from the SPCB.

The Advisory Audit Board

The Advisory Audit Board (AAB) advise the Commissioner on, and review, the system of internal control and the arrangements in place for corporate governance, managing risk and auditing financial and management performance. The AAB will provide assurance through a process of constructive challenge. 

Q:
Who’s responsible for the funding the Commissioner gets?
A:

The law that sets out the Commissioner’s role says that the Commissioner or a member of their staff has to be responsible for:

  • signing their accounts
  • making sure their finances are regular and correct
  • making sure resources are used economically, efficiently and effectively.

The Commissioner acts in the role of accountable officer, and in this role they are answerable to the Scottish Parliament.

This means that – while the Commissioner is independent – the law does say they should spend the money they get from the public in a reasonable way, and there are systems in place to make sure this happens in practice.

Q:
How is the Commissioner funded?
A:

The Commissioner is funded through public money, and ultimately through the people of Scotland.

But isn’t the Commissioner independent? How can that be if they get funding in this way?

The Commissioner’s funding doesn’t come through the Scottish Government, but from the Scottish Parliament.

The Commissioner requires Parliamentary approval of their budget each year via the SPCB.

The Commissioner’s financial year runs from 1 April to 31 March. Each summer, the SPCB writes to the Commissioner seeking a budget for the next financial year and an estimated budget for the year or years after that.

The SPCB looks at the Commissioner’s budget submission and may request oral or written evidence of the bid, agreeing changes if necessary before formal SPCB approval. The Commissioner’s budget submission forms part of the SPCB’s overall budget submission that must be approved by the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee.

Q:
What’s the difference between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament?
A:

The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government aren’t the same thing. The Government is made up of MSPs who are are members of the political party that is in power now, while the Parliament is made up of every MSP.

The Commissioner is independent of the Scottish Government and reports to the the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB).  MSPs from every political party in Parliament sit on the SCPB.

Q:
What is food insecurity?
A:

Access to food is a basic human right, and it’s one that isn’t met for all Scotland’s children and young people. Across the UK, more and more people are being pushed into food insecurity— where they don’t have consistent access to sufficient affordable, nutritious food.

People need access to food in a physical and economic sense— they need to get to where food is, then afford it when they’re there. Economic access means that people should be able to afford food without compromising other basic needs, such as heating.

This isn’t the case for lots of families in Scotland right now, so several children and young people are having their access to food compromised.

Q:
What are the optional protocols of the UNCRC?
A:

Like many other human rights treaties, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is followed by Optional Protocols. These are additional parts to a treaty that can:

  • further address something in the original treaty, or
  • address something the original treaty doesn’t mention, such as an issue that didn’t exist when it was first adopted.

Optional Protocols give more detail about the area they discuss, and expand a state’s obligations beyond those given in the original treaty.

Optional Protocols of the UNCRC

The UNCRC has three Optional Protocols:

A state that signs up to the UNCRC isn’t required to sign up to its Optional Protocols. Currently, the UK is signed up to two Optional Protocols, but not to the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure.

Q:
What is a General Comment?
A:

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child creates general comments to:

  • provide interpretation and analysis of specific UNCRC articles so that States have guidance around putting these into practice, and
  • deal with how the UNCRC applies to broad issues related to the rights of the child.

An example of the first kind of general comment would be General Comment 17, which provides additional information around Article 31 of the UNCRC. An example of the second kind would be General Comment 16 on the impact of business on children’s rights.

Q:
What is a minimum age of criminal responsibility?
A:

The minimum age of criminal responsibility is the lowest age where a person who commits an offence is considered to have enough maturity to understand their actions— and the fact they can be held criminally responsible for them.

It’s not the same as the minimum age of prosecution.

In Scotland the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 8, although a law has been passed that will raise it to 12. But 12 is still below 14, which is the minimum acceptable age in human rights terms.

Q:
My parents are going to court about contact—who’s going to listen to me?
A:

When parents don’t live together and can’t agree on:

  • where their children should stay, or
  • how much time they should spend with each parent,

they will go to the Family Court for a Child Welfare Hearing so someone can make a decision on what should happen. 

The person who makes this decision is known as a Sheriff. They will hear each parent’s view and ask questions if they need more information. But Sheriffs know that your views are equally important as the child or young person involved. Because of this, they may ask a Child Welfare Reporter to spend time with you to find out how they feel about what is happening.

Sometimes, the Sheriff will speak directly with you. This all helps Sheriffs take a child or young person’s views into account when they are making their decision.

Your rights

Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the European Convention on Human Rights and laws in Scotland all make it clear that children and young people have the right to have contact with both parents, but only if it is safe and in their best interests for this to happen.

The UNCRC also says that children and young people have the right to have their views heard and taken into account when decisions are made about them. Article 12 specifically mentions the importance of this in decisions taken by courts.

There are ways you can help make sure the Sheriff hears your views. You can fill in an F9 form from the Court – your solicitor can give you a copy – or get a ‘Helping Hands’ form from the Scottish Child Law Centre—these are especially good for younger children. You can also write directly to the Sheriff. Even young children and those who have different ways of communicating can and should be helped by adults to do this.

What you can do

There are ways you can help make sure the Sheriff hears your views. You can fill in an F9 form from the Court – your solicitor can give you a copy – or get a ‘Helping Hands’ form from the Scottish Child Law Centre—these are especially good for younger children. You can also write directly to the Sheriff. Even young children and those who have different ways of communicating can and should be helped by adults to do this.

Children and young people can also have their own lawyers. Normally lawyers will act for children if they are 12 or older, but they will also represent younger children as long as they are able to understand what is happening.

If you would like more information you can contact either the Scottish Child Law Centre or ClanChildlaw who can give you advice and information.

A:

If you are a child or a young person and would like advice and information from the Commissioner’s office – or to tell us something you’re worried about – you can contact Linda, Nick or Maria by:

  • using the form at the bottom of our website
  • emailing us at inbox@cypcs.org.uk
  • texting 0770 233 5720 (Texts will be charged at your standard network rate)
  • calling our children and young people’s freephone on 0800 019 1179.

We can also give advice and information about children’s rights issues to adults—please contact us on inbox@cypcs.org.uk or through using our contact form.

Q:
What is the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe?
A:

The UK Parliament is represented on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

The UK Parliament is made up of MPs from several political parties, including ones that aren’t in the Government. PACE makes sure these parties still have a voice at the Council of Europe. Members of the UK Parliament elect the UK delegation to PACE, and must make sure this reflects the balance of political parties in the Parliament at the time.

PACE’s mission is to uphold the shared values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. It:

  • holds governments to account over their human rights records,
  • presses states to achieve and maintain democratic standards,
  • uncovers human rights violations,
  • ensures states keep their human rights promises,
  • demands answers from states around possible human rights violations, and
  • recommends sanctions where necessary.

PACE also makes proposals for improving Europe’s laws and practices, and provides a cross-party forum for debate to which the governments of the Council of Europe must collectively reply.

Q:
Can my school share information about me without my permission?
A:

Just like adults, children and young people have the right to have their information protected and their privacy respected. They also have the right to access information that organisations hold about them and to have it corrected when it isn’t accurate.

Your rights

Article 16 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is about the child’s right to privacy. It says that every child should:

  • know that information is held about them,
  • know why information about them is being held,
  • know who controls any information about them,
  • know who has access to the records of information about them, and
  • be able to have inaccurate information about them deleted or corrected.

In the UK your information rights are also safeguarded by the Data Protection Act 2018. This Act says that you have the right to find out what information the government and other organisations store about you. These include the right to:

  • be informed about how your data is being used,
  • access personal data,
  • have incorrect data updated,
  • have data erased,
  • stop or restrict the processing of your data,
  • object to how your data is processed in certain circumstances, and
  • data portability (allowing you to get and reuse your data for different services).

In the UK your information rights are also safeguarded by the Data Protection Act 2018. The Act says that you have the right to find out what information the government and other organisations store about you. These include the right to:

You also have rights when an organisation is using your personal data for:

  • automated decision-making processes, which happen without human involvement, or
  • profiling, so they can do something like predicting your behaviour or interests.

What you can do

If you think your school may have shared information about you when they shouldn’t have, you can ask the school to tell you what information they have shared, who they shared it with and why they shared it.

You could then ask the Information Commissioner’s Office in Scotland whether your personal information may have been shared incorrectly. If it has been, you can make a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner’s advice line number is 0303 123 1113.

A:

Your personal information is any information that can be identified as being about you.

For example, imagine we sent out a form that asked you to tell us your name, which school you went to and your opinion about something.

There probably isn’t anyone else at your school who has the same name as you, so we’d be able to work out that you personally had given us that opinion.

That would make your name and the school you went to personal information, because we could use it to identify you. It also means the opinion you put down on the form is your personal information. 

Some personal information is called special category data, which has extra protections because it’s more sensitive than other personal information.

A:

Special category data is particularly sensitive personal information. Because it’s more open to misuse than other personal information, there are extra protections around it.

It includes information about someone’s:

  • Race or ethnic origin
  • Political opinions
  • Religious or philosophical beliefs
  • Trade union membership
  • Genetic data
  • Biometric data (when used to identify someone)
  • Health
  • Sex life
  • Sexual orientation

Sometimes we will need special category data to help us resolve issues that affect the rights of individual or groups of children and young people in Scotland.

We also ask people to share some of this information with us to help us meet our equalities duties.

A:

If you are a child or a young person and would like advice and information from the Commissioner’s office – or to tell us something you’re worried about – you can contact Linda, Nick or Maria by:

  • using the form at the bottom of our website
  • emailing us at inbox@cypcs.org.uk
  • texting 0770 233 5720 (Texts will be charged at your standard network rate)
  • calling our children and young people’s freephone on 0800 019 1179.

We can also give advice and information about children’s rights issues to adults—please contact us on inbox@cypcs.org.uk or through using our contact form.

Q:
How can I get contact with my brother or sister?
A:

Families are important, especially relationships with your brothers and sisters— your siblings. We know these relationships are important for mental health and a sense of identity, so you should be able to contact your brother or sister unless for some reason it’s not in your best interests.

Your rights

Article 8 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which is about the child’s right to a family life, also talks about the importance of a child’s right to an identity. It recognises the importance of siblings, grandparents and other relatives to a child’s sense of identity.

The  United Nations Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children (II B (17) also says that every effort should be made to enable siblings to maintain contact with each other, unless this is against their wishes or interests. 

And the European Court of Human Rights of Human Rights has confirmed family life can exist between siblings—reinforcing your European Convention on Human Rights right to family life.

What you can do

If you’ve been separated from your siblings because you are in care, you can tell your Children’s Hearing that you want to have contact with your sister.

Contact is something a Children’s Hearing must consider when they are making decisions, including trying to keep siblings together or at least have contact with each other.

You might find it helpful if you’re speaking to social workers or Children’s Panel members to have an advocacy worker to support you in getting your views across. You can find information about advocacy for looked after children on the Who Cares? Scotland website.

A group called Stand up for Siblings is supporting calls for a change in the law to protect relationships between brothers and sisters in the new Children (Scotland) Bill. You can find information specifically for children and young people on their website.

Local authorities should also consider your need for contact with your family – including siblings – as part of assessment and care planning. If they don’t do this, you can make a formal complaint about social work. You can find out how to do this on your council website by searching under the word ‘complaints’.

If you are not happy with the response to your complaint, you can ask the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to review it.

Using the law

Although the UNCRC recognises the right to family life as including sibling relationships, Scots law does not make it easy for siblings to obtain orders enabling contact.

If you would like to have legal advice, the Scottish Child Law Centre and Clan Childlaw can give you this for free.

A:

If you are a child or a young person and would like advice and information from the Commissioner’s office – or to tell us something you’re worried about – you can contact Linda, Nick or Maria by:

  • using the form at the bottom of our website
  • emailing us at inbox@cypcs.org.uk
  • texting 0770 233 5720 (Texts will be charged at your standard network rate)
  • calling our children and young people’s freephone on 0800 019 1179.

We can also give advice and information about children’s rights issues to adults—please contact us on inbox@cypcs.org.uk or through using our contact form.

Q:
What can I do about plans for a development that could harm the environment?
A:

All planning applications have to be approved by the local council. If the proposal is likely to have a significant impact on the environment the developer will be asked to conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA). Waste disposal sites may be asked to do this depending on where they are and how big they are.  

An EIA will be required if the development is going to produce toxic waste.

Your rights

Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) warns of the risks of environmental pollution, and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has highlighted the damaging effects of environmental pollution and its impact on children’s rights, mentioning contamination of water supplies, sea pollution and air pollution.

Pollution is also mentioned as an obstacle to the child’s right to play in a safe environment in Article 31 of the UNCRC.

Article 12 – which is about children voices being heard in decisions that affect them – means that children and young people have the right to participate in decision-making processes. This includes planning consultations.

Local authorities should always make sure they are taking children and young people’s best interests into account when they make decisions that will affect them.

What you can do

Members of the public of all ages can write to the council to object to planning proposals. Concerns raised about the negative impact on the environment will be discussed by the Council’s planning committee at a meeting— and you can attend this and speak at it.

You can also write to your Councillor, your MP and your MSP. You could start a campaign or petition.

If planning permission has already been granted, sometimes a local authority can consider making a Revocation Order— effectively meaning that planning permission is taken away. But this has to be confirmed by Ministers in the Scottish Parliament, so orders like this aren’t issued very often.

You will find information about the plans and process for objections on your local council’s website. Planning Aid for Scotland also offers free advice and Citizens Advice can help, too.

A:

If you are a child or a young person and would like advice and information from the Commissioner’s office – or to tell us something you’re worried about – you can contact Linda, Nick or Maria by:

  • using the form at the bottom of our website
  • emailing us at inbox@cypcs.org.uk
  • texting 0770 233 5720 (Texts will be charged at your standard network rate)
  • calling our children and young people’s freephone on 0800 019 1179.

We can also give advice and information about children’s rights issues to adults—please contact us on inbox@cypcs.org.uk or through using our contact form.

Q:
What can I do about the toilets at my school?
A:

Our office has been told many times about issues with school toilets— that they’re dirty, have no soap, hot water or handtowels, have no doors on cubicles and aren’t accessible outside of break times.

In 2013, we launched a campaign to improve school toilets and conducted research with children and young people.  As part of this, we called on the Scottish Government to publish new standards for toilets in schools in Scotland.  The Government consulted on the 1967 school premises regulations, but has not yet updated them.

Your rights

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says that children and young people have the right to health and the right to privacy.

Because of this, school toilets should be safe, accessible and fit for purpose.

What you can do

You should discuss the problems about the toilets with your head teacher. If this doesn’t improve things, you could ask your parent council to get involved.

If this doesn’t help, you can make a formal complaint to your local education authority—you can find information about how to do this on your council’s website by searching under the word ‘complaints’.

If you are not happy with the local education authority’s response to your complaint, you can ask the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to look at how your complaint was handled.

A:

If you are a child or a young person and would like advice and information from the Commissioner’s office – or to tell us something you’re worried about – you can contact Linda, Nick or Maria by:

  • using the form at the bottom of our website
  • emailing us at inbox@cypcs.org.uk
  • texting 0770 233 5720 (Texts will be charged at your standard network rate)
  • calling our children and young people’s freephone on 0800 019 1179.

We can also give advice and information about children’s rights issues to adults—please contact us on inbox@cypcs.org.uk or through using our contact form.

Q:
Can the police handcuff a child?
A:

Using handcuffs on a child – or any other kind of physical force – should only happen when absolutely necessary, like to stop that child harming themselves or someone else.

It should also only happen as a last resort and for the shortest possible time.

Your rights

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) says that no child should be deprived of their liberty in a way that is against the law except under very specific circumstances. It says you must be treated with humanity and respect for your dignity in a way that takes into account your age and ability.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child says in their General Comment 24 that a child can only be restrained when there is an immediate threat of injury to themselves or others and only when everything else has been tried.

A:

Someone is deprived of their liberty when they are kept somewhere and not allowed to leave, under constant supervision and control.

A:

Restraint means holding a child or young person to stop them from moving.

Seclusion means shutting a child somewhere alone and not allowing them to leave.

What you can do

If you believe you have been illegally restrained you can make a complaint about your treatment to Police Scotland. If you’re not happy with the decision they make, you can ask the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner to look at your complaint again.

A:

If you have a complaint about the police you can contact Police Scotland online, by post, by telephone, or in person at a police station. Information about how to make a complaint can be found here.

If your complaint is about a senior police officer you can make a complaint to the Scottish Police Authority.

If you are not happy with the response to a complaint, you can ask the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) to review the way your complaint was handled.

A:

If you are a child or a young person and would like advice and information from the Commissioner’s office – or to tell us something you’re worried about – you can contact Linda, Nick or Maria by:

  • using the form at the bottom of our website
  • emailing us at inbox@cypcs.org.uk
  • texting 0770 233 5720 (Texts will be charged at your standard network rate)
  • calling our children and young people’s freephone on 0800 019 1179.

We can also give advice and information about children’s rights issues to adults—please contact us on inbox@cypcs.org.uk or through using our contact form.

Q:
How can I contact the Commissioner’s office?
A:

If you are a child or a young person and would like advice and information from the Commissioner’s office – or to tell us something you’re worried about – you can contact Linda, Nick or Maria by:

  • using the form at the bottom of our website
  • emailing us at inbox@cypcs.org.uk
  • texting 0770 233 5720 (Texts will be charged at your standard network rate)
  • calling our children and young people’s freephone on 0800 019 1179.

We can also give advice and information about children’s rights issues to adults—please contact us on inbox@cypcs.org.uk or through using our contact form.

Q:
What is UNCRC incorporation?
A:

Incorporation of an international law like the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) means it gets written into a country’s law at a national level— a level known as domestic law.

When an international law is incorporated into Scots law, it has more power to bring about change.

Often, this happens through cultural change, but this is underpinned by the fact the law would have legal force in Scottish courts.

That means that if the Scottish Government doesn’t meet its international human rights obligations to a child or young person, they can be taken to court in Scotland.

Q:
What is civil society?
A:

Often people want to get into groups to change things about how society works. These groups might be charities, non-governmental organisations, pressure groups or social movements. Collectively, these groups make up civil society.

Civil society doesn’t include:

  • organisations that are run for profit, such as private companies,
  • political parties and organisations run by the government,
  • independent institutions who monitor human rights— such as the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland.

Q:
What is domestic law?
A:

The domestic laws of a country are laws that can be upheld in its courts.

Scots law is the kind of domestic law that’s enforced in Scotland’s courts.

If someone wasn’t keeping promises they’d made under an Act of the Scottish Parliament, or an Act of the UK Parliament that applies to Scotland, they’d be breaking domestic law, and so could be taken to a Scottish court.

If they weren’t keeping promises made under international law this couldn’t happen, unless those promises had also been written into domestic law.

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