UNCRC incorporation can empower youth workers as human rights defenders

YouthLink Scotland’s Policy and Research Manager Kevin Kane reflects on this week’s publication of a UNCRC Incorporation Bill – and the future possibility of a statutory right to youth work.

Young person walking away in field

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Incorporation (Scotland) Bill will positively affect the lives of children and young people the length and breadth of Scotland.  

Our vision at YouthLink Scotland is for the human rights of young people to be integrated into all aspects of society, which is why we view the Scottish Government’s commitment to incorporate UNCRC into Scots Law as a landmark moment for the sector. 

Incorporation will undoubtedly bring about huge benefits to children and young people, but it can also act as a catalyst for youth workers, everywhere, to be empowered as human rights defenders for the tens of thousands of young people they already support across the country.  

The role of a youth worker in relation to UNCRC will go far beyond information provision. That is important, of coursebut what is imperative is the key role youth workers will now play in working alongside young people to embed the legislation in schools; within hubs in the heart of the community (universal and targeted); in the local authority and voluntary sector; those involved in care and support; in outreach; and in outdoor learning settings. Our vision is that every young person and youth worker is in the strongest position to build on the legacy of incorporation.  

We intend to use incorporation to embolden young people through the soft and hard skills of youth work. This will help young people understand, promote, and defend their own rights – and that of their peers. In doing so, we will shine a light on the essential role of youth workers play in advocating on a young person’s behalf. Youth workers do a wonderful job at this already, however, incorporation will bring legitimacy to a youth work approach already taking a maximalist approach to incorporation. 

Scotland’s National Youth Work Outcomes are enshrined by UNCRC. As such, the youth work sector is strategically positioned to act in the promotion of cultural change – and in a unique position across sectors to help implement any new laws.  

Incorporation is a further opportunity for the youth work sector to look again at the possibility of a statutory right to youth work. We know UNCRC and youth work are inextricably linked. It is not a big leap, therefore, to consider the idea of a statutory right to the practice. This would be extremely positive to young people within the youth work sector. It would also introduce new and formative experiences for those currently not involved or able to access any form of youth work – and provide a solid anchor to the advancement of children and young people’s right in the future.