United Nations Universal Children’s Day

 Fiona Smith 20 Nov 2018

Today is the United Nations universal children’s day. This day recognises the importance of educating children of their rights as set out in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

While the UK became a signatory to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1989, organisations such as the Children’s Rights Alliance for England continue to report that the UK has some way to go to meet all of the commitments outlined in the 45 articles.

From a health perspective Article 24 concerns health and health services, stating that ‘Every child has the right to the best possible health’ requiring the Government to ‘…provide good quality health care, clean water, nutritious food and a clean environment and education on health and well-being so that children can stay healthy’. 

In a recent Royal College of Nursing survey members reported that children and young people’s mental health and emotional wellbeing was their number one priority. This is no surprise when one in ten young people are affected by mental health problems including depression, anxiety, self-harm and eating disorder. 

Historically children and young people’s mental health services have been under-resourced. Despite the commitment to invest additional resources we believe there are significant gaps in service provision, including a focus on prevention and early intervention initiatives. 

School nurses and health visitors have an important role in promoting emotional health and well-being, supporting parents and families and other professionals, as well as caring for those that have identified mental health needs. 

In particular school nurses have a key role in working with teachers to build emotional resilience amongst children and young people, promoting a positive culture across schools, educating staff and participating in the delivery of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) programmes .

And yet, now is the time that the numbers of health visitors and school nurses are falling fast. It shouldn't be pot luck whether a child has access to the right services, there needs to be far greater equity than is currently the case. 

Financial decisions are the cause for the drop in these vital services. Cuts to public health funding are likely to have long term consequences for the overall health of our future population. 

As schools and other educational institutions use Universal Children’s Day to teach young children about rights and differences, there is a need to reflect on whether children across the UK have the level of access they need to a school nurse and health visitor to promote their health and wellbeing. 

A recent study by the National Children’s Bureau found that three out of every ten teachers were teaching PSHE including sex and relationships education, without having had any specific training to do so – this cannot be right and is what leads to myths and misconceptions percolating around a range of health issues.

Prevention is much cheaper than cure, with falling health outcomes for children and young people, greater health disparities and predictions on child poverty set to rise – children need all the help they can get – and yet it is universal  services that are being cut. 

That's why the RCN will be responding to the Inquiry into the funding and provision of local authorities children’s services and calling on the Government to reverse public health funding cuts and to protect the crucial contribution health visitors and school nurses make to the health of children, young people and their families.

[1] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/fundamental-facts-about-mental-health-2015
[2] Royal College of Nursing (2017) School Nurse Toolkit, London: RCN

Silhouette of a woman

Fiona Smith

RCN Professional Lead for Children and Young People