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Looking forward in gloomy times

Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be this hard, once sang Chris Martin. And that could be said to be true of my now two and a half years with Children in Scotland.

While I love the organisation and it is a real privilege to have this role, navigating the twin menaces of COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crisis has proven to be quite the challenge. While different charities have distinct challenges, a common thread is how to keep and build a resilient organisation.

Since my first day, I have been looking back over my shoulder at the menaces as they have tried to catch us and grind us down. This year we have had to unfortunately make unwanted changes to the organisation, including having to say goodbye to three valuable and experienced members of staff, as well as having to reduce hours for another three.

This is something that we are increasingly seeing across the charity sector (and, indeed, beyond). The SCVO tracker (click here for more) gives a good insight into the current reality for Scotland’s third sector. What is worrying is that this is happening at a time when demand for the services of charities working with and for children and young people is higher than ever.

At difficult times like these, it is always necessary to pause and think, so I thought I would share a few of my emerging reflections.

An inevitable cycle?

While this current situation has been brought on by the poisonous combination of COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crisis, were we to take a historical look at the charity sector, we would see many such moments when the economic situation has made it difficult for charities and the wider third sector.

So, unless we create new economic models, we have to see this as the long-term context we are operating in. There will be times of plenty and times of scarcity, and our job will be to navigate our organisations through this constantly changing environment. This is not the unusual, but the usual.

Are we resilient enough?

We know that the charities that come through such crises best are ones that have built the best levels of resilience. We also know that for large parts of the charity sector, building this resilience is difficult.

We all probably recognise the shoogly combination of the challenge of full cost recovery through project funding, the difficulty of funding the core functions through grants, the sometimes restrictive nature of the commissioning relationships we have, and the short-term nature of many of the grants and other funding streams, which we rely on to do our work.

As a result, we often find it difficult to even build the minimum level of reserves.

We are often on a bit of a hamster wheel, running fast just to keep us financially healthy in the short-term, leaving us little capacity to work on income generation that might be more relevant to long-term sustainability – and might actually allow us to have a rest from the wheel now and again.

Within Children in Scotland, we will be thinking about how to find the time and resource to better invest in long-term sustainability. I think we have done some good things on this, and I am thankful that we do have a level of resilience. I am also confident that, having made changes at the start of this year, we are now in a stronger financial position. However, there is more to be done for the medium and longer term, and I need to find time and the necessary resources to do this work well.

Does collaboration go far enough?

Ultimately the charity sector is set up to be lots of independent stars in a rich, twinkly galaxy. In Charity Law, charity trustees have to consider the best interests of their charity, not the charity sector as a whole. So, there is ultimately a ‘selfish’ aspect to the way we are created and, indeed, the way we have to act, particularly when there is competition for resources.

In practice, the charity sector can be, and often is, very collaborative. We know that the power of the sector is greater the more we can bring our different strengths together. However, there is possibly a question about whether or not we could do more to collaborate to build the resilience of the sector as a whole.

I’m not sure quite what this looks like yet, but I have a real question about how we can do more to make the most of economies of scale across the whole sector. There have been some good initiatives in the past. For instance, creating shared spaces for charities, looking at how to create economies of scale in core costs, looking at sharing expertise across various organisations, and so on.

A more difficult question is whether we have the strength and capacity to have even more difficult conversations. Some of the most difficult conversations that some organisations I know have had is when they have realised there might be value in even closer collaboration, even the possibility of a merger. However, I am not sure that as a sector we are as strong as we need to be at having these difficult conversations in a safe way.

Making the most of the moment

I imagine I will be involved in many conversations about resilience over the next wee while. What I want to explore is what more we can do for our members and our wider network as we explore this issue. How can we help build better funding models? How can we work together to demand better commissioning? How can we collaborate better together both in terms of cost savings, but also in terms of releasing or creating new, independent income streams? How can we create space to have the creative conversations to make all this happen?

I am open to ideas, conversations and debates. So please get in touch if you have something you want to share, sound out or just get off your chest.

Ultimately, the drive needs to be towards how we can support the sector as a whole to be more resilient so that we can all twinkle as brightly as possible.

Judith will give more insights into the challenges and opportunities facing the charity sector during her keynote speech at our Annual Conference 2024 on 29-30 May at Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. 

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Nicola Killean: “Children and young people give us the fuel to do our work”

Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, Nicola Killean, will co-chair the first day of our upcoming Annual Conference 2024, sharing duties with a member of our young people’s advisory group, Changing our World (CoW).

Ahead of the flagship event, which will be held on Wednesday 29 and Thursday 30 May at Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, here, Nicola shares insight into her new role as Commissioner, discussing the importance of participation and engagement to ensure young people’s voices are heard and acted upon.

I've been lucky throughout my career to work with children and young people across a really wide age range, engaging with babies and toddlers right through to young adults and school leavers.

Having this opportunity at Sistema Scotland, and through the Big Noise programme (click here for more), has given me an amazing perspective around the importance of ensuring children feel included. My previous experience helps keep my focus as Commissioner broad, but I recognise the importance of always doing targeted work too, particularly engaging with children whose rights are most at risk. When I started the job in August last year, one of my top priorities – and duty – was to continue listening to children and young people, using their insights to shape the work we’ll do over the next six years because, after all, I work for them and their rights.

It's only by really listening to children and young people articulate the truth about what they're experiencing every day, and what they're experiencing within our different systems, that we are able to understand where we have made progress, where we should celebrate, and where the work still has to be done.

Children and young people are amazing at helping us face challenges head on – they are so insightful, and so full of suggestions about ways we can make things better, so the more we can tap into that knowledge, connecting the dots and ensuring decision making is influenced by their insight, the better.

Although children and young people  face many challenges right now – poverty, mental health, education, discrimination and climate change are just a few of the issues children and young people have highlighted to us – it's also a very optimistic time. After  decades of campaigning, the UN Convention on The Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is now being incorporated into Scots law (click here for more), marking a landmark moment for children’s rights across all areas of law and policy. The opportunities presented by UNCRC are huge, and it will be my role to bridge the gap between children, their rights and views, and the key duty-bearers who have the responsibility of delivering incorporation.

I was drawn to this role by a combination of being a real champion for children and young people, and a drive to make sure their rights are protected, respected, and fulfilled. And while shouting from the rooftops about how capable and amazing they are, we can also continue to focus on raising the bar to improve their lives.

I always say that children and young people give us the fuel to continue to do our work, to fight for things to be better. So, the more that we can be with them, listen to them, and draw on their insight, the stronger we will be.

For the latest information on the Annual Conference 2024 programme, click here to visit our hub

To buy tickets, click here to visit our Eventbrite page – and don't forget, Children in Scotland members receive an exclusive discount!

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Nicola Killean is the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland

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Children in Scotland reveals full programme for Annual Conference 2024

Children in Scotland has today revealed details of the packed programme for its upcoming Annual Conference 2024, with keynote speeches and workshops set to address the sector’s most challenging and important issues. 

Held on Wednesday 29 and Thursday 30 May at Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, the flagship event will bring together delegates, partners and supporters from across the children’s sector, with a range of keynote speakers, exhibitors, workshops and networking sessions available over the two days. 

One of the highlights of the programme, on the first day of the conference, Jimmy Paul, Head of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, will use his keynote to discuss the growing concern of behaviour in schools, while exploring the many challenges faced by young people today.  

With a varied career managing health and social care services, and having co-chaired the Workforce Group on the Independent Care Review, Jimmy is uniquely placed to examine the factors many experts believe are contributing to behavioural issues, including the fallout from the pandemic, which saw an entire generation of children missing out on crucial years of education, socialisation and connection, the current cost of living crisis, and increased use of social media across all age ranges. 

As well as offering evidence-based solutions, his speech will outline an emerging vision for the future, providing delegates with an informative and inspirational talk, which will focus on promoting collaboration across the sector. 

Jimmy Paul said: “I am delighted to be speaking at the Children in Scotland Annual Conference, where some of the most caring and determined people from across the nation gather.  At the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, we know that improving the lives of children goes hand in hand with making Scotland the safest place in the world to live.  The world has changed drastically in recent years with the pandemic, the cost of living driving more families into poverty, and with changes in social media, which has impacted on experiences of childhood and the landscape of violence in Scotland.  I’m looking forward to exploring this in my keynote address and advocating for compassion and collaboration at the heart of everything we do."

Also on day one of the programme, which will be co-chaired by Nicola Killean, Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland, Children in Scotland’s CEO Dr Judith Turbyne will discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the charity sector, encouraging conversation and debate among the audience. A panel discussion that day will also look at Artificial Intelligence (AI) in relation to child rights and safeguarding. 

Led by Steven Sweeney, Chief Executive of Voluntary Action South Lanarkshire and Children in Scotland board convenor, day two of the programme will open with keynote addresses from Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping the Promise, Natalie Don MSP and campaigner and activist Amal Azzudin. Dr Alexia Barrable, lecturer in Psychology and Education at Queen Margaret University, will discuss the impact of nature on health and wellbeing in the afternoon.  

On both days, workshops will be held by Scottish SPCA, Multi-Cultural Family Base, Aberlour Children’s Charity, Kibble, and many more organisations and charities across the sector, with topics covering everything from transitions for young people with additional support needs to a day in the life of a young carer. 

Children and young people’s voices will be central to the conference. Children in Scotland’s children and young people’s advisory group, Changing our World, have been involved in the planning of the event and will be present on both days, and students from Edinburgh College of Art have been invited to provide their take on what happens. Both days will see young people co-chairing, while many of the workshops will have children and young people’s voices embedded in them. 

Alongside powerful keynote speeches, informative panel discussions, and engaging workshops, both days of the Annual Conference will provide opportunities for practitioners to network and engage with colleagues.
 

Simon Massey, Children in Scotland’s Head of Engagement & Learning, said:This year’s conference promises to be one of our best. We have got such a varied programme, with contributions from across the whole sector, everyone will find something of interest. But the opportunity to connect with colleagues in person is not to be missed in our world of remote working.  

I’m particularly pleased to see how children and young people’s voices are being embedded throughout the programme – from planning to delivery and, afterwards, evaluating its success.  

Thanks to our sponsors and exhibitors, we have been able to keep prices low, so I hope to see as many people there as possible – it really will be worth a day or two away from work.” 

Click here to explore Day One of the programme 

Click here to explore Day Two of the programme 

For further info, interviews and all media requests please contact: press@childreninscotland.org.uk 

Annual Conference 2024

Join us on 29 & 30 May at Scottish Gas Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh

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Meet our speakers and presenters

Learn more about the experts joining us at our Annual Conference 2024

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Participation and engagement work

Find out more about how we embed the inclusion and participation of children and young people in our work

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Our membership offer

Be part of the largest national children's sector membership organisation in Scotland

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Enquire

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Scottish Government announce £30 million mental health funding following youth-led report on support and services

The Scottish Government has announced £30 million for community-based mental health projects following an independent report into support and services by the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP).

The Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund for Adults, and the Children and Young People’s Community Mental Health and Wellbeing Supports funds have been awarded £15 million each for 2024-25, helping to support a range of groups and services around the country.

In 2022, Members of Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYPs) formed the Mental Health Investigation Team to deliver a youth-led approach for evaluating mental health services, which was supported by Children in Scotland, and subsequently called on the government to provide additional funding to address the barriers that prevent access to high quality support, particularly for children and young people.

Findings from the Mental Health Investigation Team’s report showed that 61% of young people surveyed were receiving or had received support from more than one type of mental health service, while government figures show more than 58,000 children, young people and their families accessed community mental support services in the first half of last year.

The Scottish Government used the findings and recommendations from SYP’s report to consider the critical importance of providing mental health support to children, young people and families across Scotland, alleviating the continued impact of the pandemic.

With young people continually highlighting the need for mental health and wellbeing support, SYP (click here for more) has welcomed the news of increased funding.

Ellie Criag MSYP Vice Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament said: “Young people have told their MSYPs for years that mental health support is a priority for them and we know for services to be effective, they need to be properly resourced.

“This welcome funding announcement highlights the power of youth-led research into issues which affect young people. We were able to capture evidence, as peers, facilitating focus groups which would not have been possible through adult led research.”

First Minister Humza Yousaf said: “This further £30 million will fund community-based projects which are focused on prevention and early intervention, and this is a significant step forward in supporting people’s mental health and wellbeing by making sure they can easily access the help they need, when and where they need it.”

The new funding means more than £65 million has been made available to local authorities since 2020 to deliver community-based mental health and wellbeing support for five to 24 year-olds and their families, which includes mentoring, art-based therapies, digital services, whole-family support, counselling and sport or physical activities.

For more information on Scottish Youth Parliament’s youth-led approach to evaluating community based mental health services, click here: syp.org.uk/taking-a-youth-led-approach-to-evaluating-community-based-mental-health-services

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Collaborate, network and learn: Our plans for Annual Conference 2024

When our Annual Conference returned post-pandemic in November 2022, we realised just how busy that month was for many across the children’s sector.

With so many events all held within the same few weeks, it felt very crowded, and we were aware people had to choose between events. We made the decision to move the conference to May when there (currently…) appears to be less larger events on – we’re also hoping to benefit from better weather! 

Those of you who attended the 2022 conference may also recall it was hybrid, however, we found that set-up wasn’t the most effective use of resources, so this year we have reverted to in-person only. 

Apart from those two changes, many other things remain the same. 

We’re back at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, providing us with space to have the large conference hall, exhibition hall, and lots of workshop rooms to accommodate our full programme. 

The exhibition hall provides the space to meet approximately 40 different organisations from across the children’s sector, and it will also be the space to network and grab refreshments and food (yes, cake stalls will be back!). 

And, as always, children and young people’s involvement will be central. Delegates will see lots of Changing our World (click here for more) – our children and young people’s advisory group – and we will have a young person co-chairing each day, too. We are also hoping to have Edinburgh Collage of Art students returning to provide their take on proceedings. 

Our programme is currently still being developed but, as of early March, we have the following experts confirmed for our lineup: 

  • Nicola Killean, the Children & Young People’s Commissioner, who will co-chair day one of the conference.
  • Steven Sweeny, CEO of Voluntary Action South Lanarkshire and Children in Scotland Board Convener, is co-chairing the other day.
  • Dr Judith Turbyne, our CEO, will be delivering a keynote and asking delegates about their priorities to help us shape our future plans.
  • Dr Alexia Barrable, lecturer in Psychology and Education at QMU, will discuss her research into how interactions with the natural world can affect children and young people’s wellbeing.
  • A panel discussion, moderated by Ken Corish, Online Safety Manager at South West Grid for Learning, will focus on the implications and opportunities Artificial Intelligence (AI) poses for children and their rights.
  • Jimmy Paul, Head of Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, will discuss the topic of behaviour in schools.

We will be delivering 25 workshops across the two days – but with more than 90 submissions, our Learning & Events team now faces the challenge of whittling that down! The quality of ideas has been so high, so some workshops that don’t make the final cut will no doubt make an appearance in our Learning Programme. 

Sustainability is also a key issue for us.

Financially, we need to hit the sweet spot of covering our costs while keeping our ticket prices as low as possible. Thanks to our sponsors – Kibble, Road Safety Scotland and Harmeny – and exhibitors, we have been able to do that. Our prices are substantially lower than most other conferences and represent real value for money. 

We are at the start of our journey to make the event more environmentally friendly and plan to develop this year-on-year. We feel that using Murrayfield allows people to travel by public transport and this year we are limiting the amount of hardcopy materials we produce, and moving to a vegetarian and vegan menu. 

It’s shaping up to be a great conference – I really hope to see you there! 

For the latest information on the conference programme, click here to visit our hub

To buy tickets, click here to visit our Eventbrite page – and don't forget, Children in Scotland members receive an exclusive discount! 

About the author

Simon Massey is Head of Engagement and Learning at Children in Scotland

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"Even after 20 years as Dr Spritely, every day still feels new and exciting"

Working to help vulnerable people overcome feelings of powerlessness, anxiety and isolation, Edinburgh-based charity Hearts & Minds delivers therapeutic clowning sessions across a range of settings, from paediatric healthcare units and respite centres to schools for pupils with complex needs.

The charity’s dedicated team of professional arts practitioners use a variety of playful techniques to help children and young people find the confidence to smile and laugh again, donning bright yellow coats and squishy red noses as they transform into their fun, friendly and engaging ‘clowndoctor’ alter egos during visits to hospital wards and classrooms.

As the charity celebrates its 25th anniversary, here, co-interim Artistic Lead Fiona Ferrier – aka Dr Spritely – shares how the Hearts & Minds clowndoctor programme is proving laughter is the best medicine.

Working as a clowndoctor, no two days are ever the same – and that’s because the children and young people we work with are all unique.

When we visit hospitals, hospices, respite care settings and schools, we arrive with a lot of artistic tools in our bag, including improvisation, music and songs, dances, magic, puppetry, games and storytelling, which we use to help form genuine connections with often scared, anxious and worried young people.

And while we have extensive training and expert techniques ready at hand, it’s always the children who inform our play, as every visit is a co-creation between us and them. As soon as we enter the room – be in a classroom or hospital ward – we take the children’s lead, sitting with them at their level to let them know we are creating a safe space to explore their feelings and emotions.

For example, we might go into a room and the child is just sitting quietly, not quite ready to engage, so we sit there quietly with them. Then, after a few moments, they might catch our eye, and we look back at them or our fellow clowndoctor and let out a playful, ‘Whoa!’ to catch their attention. From there, we build and build the interactions until, by the end of the visit, we’re all playing a silly game with everybody in the room saying ‘Whoa!’ every time they make eye contact.

Other games we play can be as simple as knocking on the door and telling the children we have a delivery, before proceeding to push a giant invisible box into the room – and we never know what will be inside. We ask the kids to ‘open’ the box and sometimes it’s a fish that we throw around the room, while on other occasions we’ve ‘found’ giraffes, sharks, robots, an Xbox… anything they could possibly imagine.

It may sound simple, but encountering the child exactly where they are in that present moment lets them know we’re going on an adventure together, and they are leading the way. It’s all about giving young people agency in an environment where they might have lost self-confidence or faced powerlessness, anxiety, isolation and boredom as they go through painful, distressing or confusing treatments and procedures.

One of the most powerful things about the clowndoctors programme is that it's inclusive for everybody. It doesn't matter about age or ability, whether the child is verbal, non-verbal or has complex needs, every individual can have a participatory play session where they are at the heart of the fun – even if it’s just a wink or smile – and we know playing with us can help reduce stress and anxiety, while improving communication and social skills.

We've worked with children who, teachers tell us, never speak outside of the home, but while playing with the clowndoctors – who, of course, are very silly and can’t remember the words for things – start talking away. And because they are playing, they often do things without realising, like physiotherapy exercises or school work, too.

I’ve been Dr Spritely for 20 years now, and I can honestly say every day still feels new and exciting. It's wonderful to feel that you are making a difference to children’s lives and, ultimately, it’s such a joyous privilege to meet so many wonderful young people and be a part of helping them feel better.

Joy and laughter are powerful tools, and when I put on my red nose, switching from being Fiona to becoming Dr Spritely, I know something special is about to happen.

For more information about the work of Hearts & Minds, including the clowndoctors programme, visit heartsminds.org.uk

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Nicola Killean joins expert lineup for Children in Scotland’s Annual Conference 2024

Children in Scotland is delighted to announce the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, Nicola Killean, will chair the first day of its up-coming Annual Conference 2024.

Held on Wednesday 29 and Thursday 30 May at Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, the flagship event will bring together delegates, partners and supporters from across the children’s sector, with a range of keynote speakers, exhibitors, workshops and networking sessions available over the two days.

As part of Children in Scotland’s commitment to participation and engagement, Nicola will co-chair with a young person, and will introduce contributors and share reflections as the packed programme gets underway.

Joining an exciting, expert lineup of sector leaders still to be announced, Nicola says the Annual Conference will be a welcome opportunity to discuss and dissect some of the big issues facing children and young people today.

Nicola Killean, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, said: “I am delighted to be co-chairing Children in Scotland’s annual conference for a day with a young person. The conference is a fantastic opportunity to exchange knowledge and reflect on good practice on how children’s rights are being delivered in Scotland. With the implementation of the UNCRC Act on the horizon, it’s an even more significant time for adults, young people, and children to come together to share experiences with the aim of making children’s rights a reality for all children in Scotland.”

Simon Massey, Children in Scotland’s Head of Engagement and Learning, said: “We are so excited to announce that Nicola will be jointly chairing the first day of our Annual Conference. I am looking forward to welcoming her to what I hope will be regular involvement in our flagship event, and keen to hear about her first few months as the Children and Young People’s Commissioner. As always, we’re really looking forward to bringing people together from across the children’s sector to share ideas, collaborate, network and learn.”

For further info, interviews and all media requests please contact Alice Hinds: ahinds@childreninscotland.org.uk or press@childreninscotland.org.uk

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Children in Scotland shortlisted for two prestigious awards

Children in Scotland has been shortlisted for two awards at the upcoming Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce Business Awards 2024, which are this year centred around the theme of “grow, scale, succeed”.

The judging panel selected Children in Scotland for inclusion in the Service Excellence Award, and the Employer of the Year category, recognising the hard work of teams across the organisation.

Awarded to businesses committed to delivering the best experience and service possible, with evidence of customer satisfaction and endorsements, our nomination for the Service Excellence Award comes for the work of Enquire, Resolve, and My Rights, My Say.

Providing practical support, advice and representation for children, young people, parents and families throughout Scotland, in 2023, 100% of parents and carers who gave feedback on the Enquire helpline rated the service as “excellent”, while the My Rights, My Say team grew from two to five associates, highlighting an increased demand for the advocacy and support service.

The Employer of the Year award aims to recognise businesses implementing initiatives to benefit employee health and wellbeing, and Children in Scotland was shortlisted for the positive visions and values embedded into all our work, as well as our commitment to flexible working policies, on-going training opportunities, and our focus on work-life balance.

Winners across all 15 award categories will be announced during a ceremony at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) on Thursday 29 February 2024.

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Safer Internet Day 2024: Exploring children’s rights and AI

Safer Internet Day is the UK's biggest event highlighting the importance of online safety, and for 2024, the theme is ‘Inspiring change? Making a difference, managing influence and navigating change online’.

In the past few years, one of the biggest changes to the online world has been the rapid and widespread availability of Artificial Intelligence (AI), with many experts now looking for ways to balance the benefits of chatbots and content creation tools with keeping children and young people safe online.

As Safer Internet Day (click here for more) kicks off today, February 6, here, we highlight an important project being run by the Children's Parliament which is placing children’s views at the forefront of AI implementation in Scotland.

(This article is an excerpt from an interview featured in Issue 5 of Insight, the bi-annual publication for Children in Scotland members. Click here to find out more)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a global phenomenon that presents challenges and opportunities for children and young people around the world. Scotland’s AI Strategy, published in 2021 by the Scottish Government and the Scottish AI Alliance, set out the vision for the development of “trustworthy, ethical and inclusive” AI with children’s human rights at its centre.

The strategy highlighted the importance of adopting UNICEF’s policy guidance on AI, which was created from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), enacting policies and systems that “protect children, provide equitably for their needs and rights, and empower them to participate in an AI world by contributing to the development and use of AI”.

With the strategy published, the Scottish Government needed the right team to ensure children’s voices were being listened to in the delivery of the vision, and three organisations were called on to provide knowledge of AI systems, policies and ethics, and children’s rights and participation – Children’s Parliament, the Scottish AI Alliance and The Alan Turing Institute.

The three organisations worked together to launch the Exploring Children’s Rights and AI project (click here for more), which is being held in three stages until 2024. The first stage was delivered between August 2022 and March 2023, and explored children’s understanding of AI, introduced the subject of children’s rights, and shared how AI systems could impact them.

Engagement work took place in four different schools in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirlingshire and Shetland, and Children’s Parliament, in partnership with representatives from The Alan Turing Institute, held initial workshops with 87 children aged between seven and 11 – known as “the AI team”. Alongside these sessions, a small group of three or four children from each class was also assigned the role of project “investigators”, tasked with taking a deeper dive into the various issues surrounding AI, and attending online sessions alongside the project leads.

During the session, a long list of issues was reduced to a few focus areas. As well as sharing that they felt strongly about AI implementation keeping them safe and protecting their privacy, the project participants also voiced concerns about how effectively AI could be used as a tool for teaching, with worries that it might be relied on too heavily. The children also highlighted inconsistencies in the teaching around AI across different schools and felt it was vital that all children learn about AI.

A group of children interact with an AI robot. They are all wearing blue t-shirts with orange lanyards hanging around their necks. In the background, two smiling adults supervise the children.
During phase two of the project, children have been working with real-life AI systems

However, throughout the first exploratory stage of the project, the partner organisations found that the children tended to focus on the positive uses of AI and the benefits its implementation could bring to their lives.

Children's Parliament's Project Lead, Gregory Metcalfe, said, "Overall, the children have been excited to learn about AI and are broadly optimistic about its potential to affect change in the future. They see a role for AI in supporting children's human rights"

In the project's second phase, the children are applying the themes developed in phase one to real-life AI systems, attending workshops with developers and policymakers, and sharing their views on current AI projects in development.

"What we're working towards is culture change within the sector, " said Gregory. "We're aiming to reach a point where those involved in making decisions about AI developments think about children's rights from the outset of any new innovation."

The rate at which AI is developing, and the changes to legislation that will be required, mean it is hard to know exactly what “child-centred AI” will look like in the future. What is clear, however, is that to ensure AI is implemented in Scotland in a way that will benefit children and their rights, the sector cannot afford to sit back and watch.

"It is important that we continue to collectively hold the AI sector to account," said Gregory, "ensuring children are meaningfully involved in decision-making when it comes to the development, use and regulation of AI, and the UNCRC is recognised by those involved as a baseline for ensuring that children's rights are upheld."

Exploring Children’s Rights and AI is an ongoing project running until 2024.
Click here for more information

 

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Children in Scotland welcomes ban on single use vapes

Following the welcome news of plans to ban single use vapes, Children in Scotland is today calling on the Scottish Government to consider the recommendations of children and young people to further curb the sale and use of tobacco products, including regulating the marketing, display and packaging of e-cigarettes, and implementing better education programmes within primary and secondary schools.

Having identified vaping as a concerning area for discussion, Children in Scotland’s young people’s advisory group, Changing our World (CoW), recently compiled an evidence paper on the use of vapes and other tobacco products in education settings, adding to existing bodies of evidence around the impacts of vaping, while also recommending key areas for policy change.

Over nine group sessions, CoW members, aged 18 to 25, shared first-hand experience of vape use among their peers, expressing concerns about a lack of knowledge around the health impacts of vaping, the marketing of e-cigarettes and vapes, the environmental impact of such plastic products, and how schools are responding to the issue of vaping among pupils.

With members sharing that children and young people now “feel pressure to have a puff” due to the popularity of vapes within social groups – not to mention the “childish flavours” that encourage under-18s to try vaping when they wouldn’t have otherwise tried cigarettes – CoW concluded that more needs to be done within schools to address e-cigarette use.

As well as concluding that a total ban would be the most effective measure for addressing the challenges posed by vapes, CoW also recommended the following:

  • Vaping products should be less visible in shops, similar to the current regulations around displaying cigarettes
  • The packaging of vaping products should be regulated and only permitted to be plain, making the products less eye-catching or appealing to children and young people
  • Personal and Social Education (PSE) in primary and secondary schools should cover vaping, with current resources adapted to become more relevant.

With the Scottish Government committed to reducing youth vaping, Children in Scotland would like to see children and young people invited to be more fully involved in developing future solutions, using recommendations from groups like CoW to put practical, impactful legislation in place.

David Mackay, Children in Scotland’s Head of Policy, Projects and Participation, said: “We wholeheartedly support the government’s plans to ban single use vapes and raise the legal age for the sale of tobacco, especially as research suggests that almost one in five adolescents has tried vaping.

“Changing our World’s evidence paper shows that children are just as worried about the impact of e-cigarettes as adults, and we would now urge decision makers to take further action to curb the harmful impact of vaping by working directly with the young people who are being affected.

“The younger generation can provide vital, fresh perspectives on issues that impact their lives every day, and with The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) now part of Scottish legislation, it’s never been more important to listen to young people’s views and take their recommendations into account.”

Changing our World member, Roderick, said: “It’s a welcome surprise to learn that disposable vapes will be banned. Since disposable vapes are so common amongst young people today, banning them will be a huge step forward in helping young people across the country to avoid the dangers of nicotine use.”

Click here to access the Changing our World and Children in Scotland Vaping Evidence paper

For further information, interviews and all media requests please contact Alice Hinds: ahinds@childreninscotland.org.uk or press@childreninscotland.org.uk

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