Challenging times for all – but how are our children doing?

In these uncertain times, Children’s Parliament blogs for PINS

“We don’t have carpets yet, we don’t have internet and the TV doesn’t work all the time”

Member of Children’s Parliament

All our lives have changed very quickly. A lot of adults are in the news and online saying what it is like for them – at Children’s Parliament we want to share how it is for children too. As we try to establish new ways of being in touch with our Members of Children’s Parliament (MCPs) we have been reflecting with them on changing circumstances – the sudden ending of school, loss of contact with friends, for those with care-experience a potential loss of contact with family, for every child the experience of being mostly indoors. So, how are they doing?

For many children there is an immediate sense of loss of the rhythm and security of school life. Children who were nearing the end of primary and secondary school have felt this most keenly. As one MCP parent told us: “She missed her final p7 send off, she was so upset about it, it’s like she didn’t really finish primary school”. Children are also feeling cut adrift from friends, and as one MCP told us: “I’m ok, just really bored”.

“She missed her final p7 send off, she was so upset about it, it’s like she didn’t really finish primary school”

Parent of Member of Children’s Parliament

For children living with foster or kinship carers there has been a loss of planned contact with parents or other family members. In these circumstances, there can also be concerns about children’s welfare. As one carer told us: “I’m really worried about him, he is so down in his spirits. He’s not been seeing his mum; we are trying to facetime her tomorrow”. From another concerned carer: “She’s stressed though…it happens if she gets out of her routine”.  And as another carer has told us: “They missed out on their contact time because it was cancelled, but we’ve managed to set up WhatsApp and they had some facetime with their mum the other day. They usually have supervised contact with dad, but it needs to be supervised, I’m not that great with technology though”.

“They missed out on their contact time because it was cancelled, but we’ve managed to set up WhatsApp and they had some facetime with their mum the other day.

Carer of Member of Children’s Parliament

Of course, much of the ‘new’ ways we need to do things will be with technology. At Children’s Parliament we are exploring the access needs for our children in order to keep in touch with us, but also of course to connect with learning, friends and fun activities. The reality is that some children do not have what they need. For one child whose family circumstances have changed the reality is: “We don’t have carpets yet, we don’t have internet and the TV doesn’t work all the time”.

Children’s Parliament workers are being told by parents and carers that they have real concerns about their child’s health, access to exercise and worries about keeping to routines, especially when it comes to sleep and access to gaming. Many families do not have access to gardens that are safe and secure and are struggling to put in place boundaries around their child being online. These struggles are particularly acute for families with a child with additional support needs or disabilities.

We also hear about parents and carers and children doing their best – and mucking in together. From one carer: “I’ve the cleanest cupboards in the world!  He’s been cleaning everything, and if he gets too bored, he asks for another cupboard to clean”. 

Finally, with school closures comes the need to address how children can access education. Local Authorities are working out how best to staff and organise learning, but for many of our MCPs – who were possibly already struggling to engage with school and learning – there are real concerns about how they will engage with any new model of educational delivery. Having said that, what is becoming ever clearer to Children’s Parliament staff is that our teaching colleagues, who have love and nurture at the heart of their practice, are tireless in their efforts to make sure the children they care about are happy, healthy and safe. These are just some early reflections. In the coming days we will launch a blog space where children will talk about their experience of the pandemic. With our How are you doing? ( survey and the reflections from our team of MCP bloggers, we will be capturing and sharing experiences and insights from children. It is vital at this time that we acknowledge and learn from children and work together to best understand and continue to consciously do our best to protect and enhance their human rights and wellbeing. Now, more than ever, we need to make children’s rights real.

Stay safe and keep well,
Children’s Parliament

Twitter: @Creative_Voices

Inclusion and Children Who Sexually Harm Other Children

Stuart Allardyce, National Manager of the child protection charity Stop It Now! Scotland, describes his experience of working with children who display harmful sexual behaviour and discusses why appropriate responses, that assess the risks and respect children’s rights, must be found.

The last year has seen increasing public attention around sexual harassment, violence and abuse perpetrated by children in school. The Young Women Lead Committee recently completed a report on this difficult subject that was debated in the Scottish Parliament. It confirmed what many of us have known for some time: the issue is widespread and serious in schools across Scotland, we don’t have the right kinds of measures in place to prevent sexual abuse happening in the first place, and we often don’t respond to it effectively after it comes to light.

Most UK and international surveys looking at maltreatment in childhood find that around one-third of sexual abuse is perpetrated by children and young people themselves. In my 15 years of working with children and young people who display harmful and problematic sexual behaviour, I’ve seen many young people who have abused others in schools, as well as in family contexts and other situations. Sometimes the victims are peers, sometimes much younger children, and sometimes even adults. Some children who abuse have intellectual impairments, while others would be described as high performing members of the school community. There is no one type of adolescent who abuses; it’s a strikingly varied group.

I’ve learnt a few key things in those 15 years. Firstly, these are children, not mini-adult sex offenders. The vast majority don’t persist with such behaviours into adulthood, but grow out of it with the right support. Few children abuse because of issues around sexual deviance. Some have had negative childhood experiences themselves, or are influenced by peers or online experiences. Many are opportunistic, immature, or curious, lacking in inhibition and empathy, and misunderstanding what is acceptable, age-appropriate behaviour.

In my experience, the vast majority are temporarily or permanently excluded from school because of their behaviour. Sometimes that’s the right decision. But sometimes it’s disproportionate, and not linked to an assessment of risk. I once worked with a young person who abused small children in the community and was immediately excluded from high school when he was charged. There was no evidence he presented a risk to peers, but with both parents working, he was left unsupervised in the community where he did pose a risk.

Clearly, when the abuse is of a pupil in the school, difficult decisions must be made and the safety and views of the victim are paramount. But often for adolescents charged with sexual offences, the abuse will be of a younger child not at their school – a family member or child in the community. Most young people I have worked with in this situation are struggling with peers and often have difficulties with social interactions. Removing them from the routine of school and labeling them as a sex offender can go against the support we need to offer.

We must recognise that these perpetrators are also children first and foremost, who have a right to protection, nurture, learning, and peer interaction. Clearly, they need the right support and restrictions to ensure that these rights are realised in a safe way; keeping a child in school where possible and appropriate can be of huge benefit.

Sexually abusive behaviour perpetrated by children is an emotive and difficult subject. We urgently need more training for teachers and school staff so that they understand how education and school life can contribute to prevention. But most of all, if we are to get things right for everyone after abuse has happened, we need decisions about inclusion to be made by schools in partnership with social workers, health colleagues, police and other relevant organisations.

Stuart Allardyce is National Manager of the child protection charity Stop It Now! Scotland. He is the co-author of ‘Working with Children and Young People who have Displayed Harmful Sexual Behaviour’ (Dunedin Press) and is a member of the Scottish Government’s Expert Working Group on Preventing Sexual Offending Amongst Children and Young People. 

Twitter: @StopItNowScot

Young Women Lead Committee 2018 report on Sexual Harassment in Schools can be accessed here: