I am writing to you ahead of the parliamentary debate this evening on residential outdoor centres.
Concerns have been raised with the office of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland about the long-term loss of outdoor educational opportunities for children. Outdoor education is an important part of the rights to education set out in articles 28 and 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Outdoor education has direct impact on the physical and mental health of children and young people, and the right to leisure and recreation. Outdoor education centres have a special significance for many disabled children, care experienced children and children experiencing poverty who may otherwise miss out on outdoor education opportunities.
The focus of concern is on the decision-making process around financial support for outdoor residential centres, and the apparent failure to embed children’s rights in this process. Decisions made now will have a life-long impact on a generation of children.
On 8th April 2020, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) warned of the “grave physical, emotional and psychological effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on children”. The CRC called on States to focus on 11 key areas in response to the pandemic, these include;
- Consider the health, social, educational, economic and recreational impacts of the pandemic on the rights of the child.
- Explore alternative and creative solutions for children to enjoy their rights to rest, leisure, recreation and cultural and artistic activities.
Whilst difficult decisions must be made in planning how best to use limited resources, it is important that the overarching duties set out in the UNCRC, including Article 3 (on the best interests of the child) and Article 12 (requiring that children’s views be given due weight), are reflected when these decisions are made.
A Child Rights Impact Assessment aids decision-making, ensures that children’s rights are given the highest possible protection and identifies mitigating action.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has called for States Parties to ‘make children a priority in budgetary allocations as a means to ensure the highest return of the limited available resources’. The Committee, in General Comment No. 5, is clear that children should be protected from the adverse effects of economic policies or financial downturns.
Furthermore, General Comment number 19 on Public Budgeting for the Realisation of Children’s Rights recommends open, inclusive and accountable resource mobilisation, budget allocation and spending. States Parties should ensure that children participate in budget decisions, particularly on those issues that concern them.
It is our understanding that the outdoor education sector has developed plans which could see the redeployment of staff to compliment outdoor learning that is taking place in schools, or deliver outdoor education where schools do not have the capacity. Alternative and creative solutions should be sought, to prevent the future loss of opportunity for children.
The pandemic has highlighted and further entrenched existing inequalities, tackling this will require the prevention of long-term impacts. It is vital that the mental and physical health and wellbeing of children in Scotland is protected and promoted. The UNCRC Incorporation (Scotland) Bill is currently before the Parliament; children’s rights must be at the heart of all decisions that affect them.