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UN Professors Launch Joint Programme on Children and Young People in Ireland

23 October 2011

Ireland’s two UNESCO Chair holders come together on Monday to launch an innovative and exciting programme dedicated to improving the rights and well being of children and young people across Ireland.

The Children and Youth Programme is an independent academic collaboration between Professor Alan Smith (pictured) at the University of Ulster and Professor Pat Dolan from NUI Galway.

In the coming months the Programme will initiate a debate on two key points – the value of a rights-based approach to the planning and provision of children’s services in both parts of the island, and the need for both governments to incorporate a stronger commitment to children’s rights in legislation.

Speaking today on United Nations Day, Professor Alan Smith, UNESCO Chair in Education for Pluralism, Human Rights and Democracy at the University of Ulster said: “As the two UNESCO Chairs on the island of Ireland we believe that the academic programme we are launching today will help to reinforce the notion that a strong commitment to children’s rights will have better outcomes for children and families across the island.

"As we see on a daily basis the most difficult part of any economic downturn is the fact that it is the poorest and the vulnerable who are usually most affected by financial cut backs. Consequently it is the children of those hardest hit by job losses and cutbacks to children and family services who suffer most.

"We only need to look at the stark predictions being made by those who work in the front line services to see that this is the case. For example,  the impact of welfare and budget cuts on increased poverty levels in Northern Ireland or the fact that today in Ireland, 18.6% of children now live in risk of poverty, and 8.7% already live in consistent poverty.

"A rights based approach provides stability and certainty of resource allocation and protection for the most vulnerable in times of financial constraint and cutback. As a constant it also requires that all government decisions take account of the rights of children, ensuring that no one falls through the gaps in monitoring processes or becomes a victim of shifting political priorities.”

Professor Dolan is Director of the Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, and hold the UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagements: “We believe that there are clear signals the administrations on both sides of the border can send, not only to the international community, but to the next generation on this island, that they will be protected and nurtured, with certainty in policy making and reliability in service provision.

"The Northern Ireland Assembly has the power to pass legislation which will require every government department to take account of children’s rights in all policy decisions, as the Welsh Assembly has already done. Incorporating the UNCRC and developing a rights-based approach to policy development could be one of the greatest single legislative acts undertaken by the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive since its formation.

"Likewise, the prospect of a referendum in Ireland to include a clear and binding commitment to children’s rights in the constitution is a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity.  Common sense concern for children and families should encourage everyone to support such a referendum.

“Over the next year we want to initiate a debate on how services for children and young people can be provided on the basis of rights.  We hope to show that it is an approach underpinned by clear and consistent obligations that will cherish all children equally”.


24 October 2011

Notes to Editors The Children and Youth Programme is an independent, academic collaboration between the two UNESCO Chairs in Ireland at the University of Ulster and NUI Galway.  Using a multidisciplinary framework the Programme will draw upon the knowledge and expertise of researchers from a wide range of disciplines on issues affecting children and youth.The first output of the Programme will comprise a series of Special Reports and corresponding Briefing Papers to be disseminated at regular intervals during 2011 and 2012.  The first report released today, A rights-based approach to monitoring children and young people’s well-being will be followed by five reports addressing issues such as policy development and implementation, youth justice, educational achievement, mental health, and civic engagement.The Children and Youth Programme is based in the UNESCO Centre at the University of Ulster and in the Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway.  The Programme is headed by Professor Alan Smith, holder of the UNESCO Chair in Education for Pluralism, Human Rights and Democracy, and Professor Pat Dolan, holder of the UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement.Professor Alan Smith is currently an advisor to the UNESCO Education for All, Global Monitoring Report and is also currently undertaking research for UNICEF on education and the protection of children in conflict affected countries. In September 2011, Professor Pat Dolan was appointed as a member of a new Government Task Force, named by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald, TD. The Task Force has been established to advise the Government on the necessary transition programme in establishing a dedicated Child & Family Support Agency.  Both Professor Smith and Professor Dolan are members of a research group to support the Children and Young People's Strategic Partnership in Ireland (North and South).As members of the UNESCO International education network, UNESCO Chair holders are encouraged to act as ‘bridge builders’ by establishing and sustaining dynamic links between the academic world, civil society, local communities and policy makers.