Supporting families: a rights-based approach

Supporting families seminar

Supporting families – a rights-based approach

A seminar from HomeStart Scotland and Parenting across Scotland, 27 August 2019

Shelagh Young, Director of Homestart in Scotland and chair for the day, introduced the seminar by stressing the importance of a rights-based approach given the Scottish Government’s move towards a human rights framework and incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots Law.

Judith Robertson, Chair, Scottish Human Rights Commission

Judith outlined the history and purpose of the human rights framework and their importance as the foundation of freedom, justice & peace in the world.

She said that the PANEL principles (a simple way of breaking down what a human rights approach means in practice) can assist in guiding our work, challenging stigma and discrimination by giving voice to those furthest away from being heard. These put families in the driving seat especially if we realise participation & accountability principles.

She signposted participants to a self-assessment toolkit

View Judith's presentation here

Karyn McCluskey, Chief Executive, Community Justice Scotland

Karyn spoke of her passion for prevention work and of how supporting families is part of this. Family support can turn peoples’ lives round and can prevent the transmission of trauma across generations. It should be based on assets rather than deficits and needs to matter when budgets are set.

Families need to know where they can access support - family support should be a universal service for all.

Morag Treanor, Professor of Child and Family Inequalities, Heriot-Watt University

Morag said we set up families to fail. Our idea of family is hugely isolated and binary. We think families should largely be self-sufficient and not need state support. Parents’ rights & children’s rights are indivisible – it’s not possible to fulfil children’s rights without supporting families. It is crucial to inform families about what children’s rights mean for families.

Poverty is a dereliction of human rights. She used an example of how low-income families are often forced to pay ten times more for a washing machine when they cannot afford the £250 initial outlay and need to use high interest pay day loans so that the costs spiral to become a £2,000 debt.

Working with NHS Health Scotland on child poverty she has helped to develop poverty-related materials to use in the initial education of healthcare workers across the whole of Scotland via an online module:

View Morag's presentation here

Clare Simpson, Manager of Parenting across Scotland, closed the seminar by summarising the speakers’ content and the table discussions (see below). She said that in addition to the forthcoming human rights framework the incorporation of the UNCRC offered opportunities for families to be better supported by a rights-based approach as the UNCRC puts families right at the centre of children’s rights:

“Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding” UNCRC preamble.

For more information about families and the UNCRC

Roundtable discussions

Table discussion followed focussing on three questions. Brief notes are given below of the questions and responses.

1. What does incorporation of the UNCRC mean for families?

Overall, delegates were hopeful for families and the impact the incorporation could have on families’ wellbeing. Feedback included:

  • It empowers children to feel respected - children feel that they can make a difference and well-being improves if they feel they are in control
  • Families know what rights mean and have a role in these rights. Don’t know if your rights are being met if you don’t know what they are. Parents most in need of rights are less likely to know them.
  • Bring parents along on the journey – rights support the whole family and are not a threat to parents
  • More consultation and drive to support families placing families at the centre – putting power back into families.
  • Knowing rights: there is a knowledge gap for parents who may not understand rights/fear what they mean.
  • Tension between children’s rights – how do you address this? (e.g. bullying)
  • Work needed to promote understanding of rights
  • Social workers – implications for training, help to families
  • Need to sell this as positive, and asset/strengths based
  • A whole family approach using family group-based decision making
  • Trust-based relationships and openness & transparency
  • An awareness raising campaign will be needed

2. How will it affect you in the work that you do?

  • More informed about services and align focus of services and policy
  • Need for new policies, guidance etc at national level for public authorities and third sector
  • Whole change of ethos
  • Workforce will need time and information to fully understand & implement it
  • What can we do to support you? Asking the question. Listening to the family and acknowledging their rights aren’t being met. Supporting families to make sure rights are met.
  • What does full incorporation of UNCRC mean for children who are unable to act on their behalf – trusted adults, advocacy services, more advocacy
  • Training and resources
  • Voice of family heard to inform policies which affect them
  • Invest in prevention and early intervention services
  • Need to do family impact assessments
  • Balance between rights of family and child protection
  • Impact of hearings on child
  • Shared language for families, services and legislative level/govt
  • Bonus to families that things will be more transparent

3. What challenges and/or opportunities will there be?


  • Funding and increase in demand for services
  • National outcomes should demonstrate all local authorities incorporate UNCRC
  • Poverty – disaffected group of people
  • Skills – training to support families
  • Capacity of services to meet need
  • Families not being in right place to accept support – flexibility of services
  • Time, investment and support for practitioners
  • Can say these are your rights but don’t necessarily have resources and services to help families meet these
  • Worry that children’s rights could be used against practitioners as well as parents
  • Worry that UK government will not adhere to the Human Rights Act after Brexit
  • Representation – are the right people round the table?
  • Legal aid - what are the implications?
  • Media – how these rights are perceived/presented (Named Person example)
  • UK wide organisations will have to adapt to differing legislation/ practices


  • Learn from other countries/good practice
  • Learn lessons from GIRFEC – how to support parents to understand children’s rights – not doing to families
  • Promote understanding that children need adults to fulfil their rights
  • Empowering for organisations
  • To consult and engage more with families
  • Vehicle to enable parents to be a voice for their children
  • More accountability – parents with information to challenge decisions
  • Redirecting funding towards prevention and families/family support
  • Helps give clear guidance and measurable outcomes
  • Staff passion and values aligned to rights training