At Family for Every Child, we are committed to improving the lives of children and families by putting their voices at the heart of global discussions that impact on them. This September, we supported children and young people from a diverse range of the communities we work in around the world to share their lived experiences of care as well as the experiences of our alliance members working on the front line at the United Nations Day of General Discussion (DGD). The DGD is an annual event that brings together governments, non-governmental organisations, United Nations bodies, human rights institutions and experts on children’s rights and care to foster a deeper understanding of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It provides an opportunity to review international standards and progress on child rights, and does so with the input of children and families themselves. This year’s DGD focused on the theme ‘Children’s Rights and Alternative Care’ – a key focus area of our work. In the communities where we are present around the world, we work on the front line to support families so that wherever possible children can stay with their family of origin, provide temporary high quality alternative care when necessary, and support children outside of any care environment to be reintegrated back into a family environment. With this experience, we were particularly well-placed to bring extensive and diverse local knowledge to this global forum.
The importance of love
Key to this year’s discussions was the Make our Voices Count Global Consultation report submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Based on responses from 1188 children and young people, ‘love’ was mentioned 688 times, illustrating its centrality to the experiences of children and young people in care. Jakeb, representing our alliance member in the UK, Together Trust, elaborated on this theme. “We shouldn’t be scared of saying the four-letter word ‘love'”, he said, before continuing that he, “strongly recommend[s] to the UN Committee that the sexual orientation and gender identity of children in care needs to be supported and embraced within the scheme of caregiving”. At Family, we believe that love is a vital element in providing a safe and caring environment for children’s upbringing.
Our role at the DGD
As a signatory for the DGD application process four years ago, we played a key role in ensuring that this year’s event on children’s rights took place. Since then, we supported the build-up to the day by engaging children and young people with lived experience of care and locally-led civil society organisations who are closest to children, families and communities on the ground. Our work included the development of three regional submissions, (add links to submissions) as well as contributions to the Africa and Asia submissions in collaboration with other agencies. We were also part of the advisory team for children and young people co-designing the day with the civil society organisation task forces and the committee, supporting children and young people in 11 member organisations to participate in the global survey and to attend as speakers during the DGD event days. Some of the key issues that we brought to the event included: 1. Recognising the right to care for children outside of any caring environment, namely unaccompanied children separated by conflict or disaster, those separated by the justice system, those who have been trafficked, exploited, recruited into armed groups and those placed in domestic service. Many of these experiences were highlighted in the discussions, and our alliance members from Ghana, Challenging Heights, shared their advocacy on the recognition of trafficking as modern slavery – a view which was also shared in the event’s closing remarks. Similarly, two young people from India and Afghanistan who are now living in Greece spoke to the world of their own lived experience of being a street-connected child and an unaccompanied refugee respectively. 2. Advocating for all types of discrimination in the care system to be recognised; namely the over-representation of children with a disability in institutional and residential care, children of colour in the US, indigenous children in places like New Zealand, and LGBTQI+ rights in the care system. The issue of indigenous communities so eloquently presented by Waipareria Trust and Voyce in New Zealand came through in the working group sessions and the closing ceremony, as did the topic of LGBTQI+ rights presented by Jakeb from Together Trust in the UK.
3. Greater visibility of kinship care (where children are raised by extended family) and its need for a range of support. This was acknowledged and mentioned in the closing ceremony thanks to Kate Bundle from Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, an organisation in New Zealand that Family has been collaborating with. Kate said, “Grandparent caregivers need equitable and accessible financial support from the government to be able to care for their grandchildren. Policy change is needed to ensure that hui ā-whānau agreements (a model using Māori cultural practices to support families to participate in discussions about their wellbeing) qualify a child for support from the state from the time of their placement and a clearer legal pathway to guardianship if needed.”
We are committed to transforming the recommendations that have emerged from the UN DGD into actions, especially those from children, young people, persons with lived experience and locally-led civil society. One of the concrete ways will be to include these into the agenda of our upcoming General Forum in October 2021. As we kick off our new strategy, we will incorporate the recommendations from the DGD to reflect into our research, advocacy and campaign, practice exchange, and grassroots movement-building. We are also committed to collaborating with the inter-agency initiatives with the same zeal and passion, to harness our collective force in making this world a better place for children, families and communities.