Mother and father with their young son

Children and the law: knowing your rights and how to use them

Our researchers are working to make children's lives better by influencing policy, developing guidance for researchers and training legal professionals.

"Nothing about us without us" reminds us that people shouldn't make decisions - especially policy and legal ones - without consulting and involving the people who will be affected by such choices.

The slogan was born in the disability rights movement but has been adopted by other campaigns, including those promoting children’s rights to participate meaningfully in decisions and legal processes relating, for instance, to their immigration status, their education, their healthcare or their family life.

Developing effective policy for children

“We need to engage with children about legal discussions,” says Professor Helen Stalford from the University of Liverpool who has worked with the Council of Europe, the EU, UNICEF and the UK Government and Parliament on a range of child friendly justice and child protection issues. “You get better guidance and unique insights by working directly with younger people. Adults aren’t necessarily qualified to develop effective policy and processes on behalf of children simply because they were children once.”

Liverpool is working towards being recognised as a UNICEF-recognised child-friendly city by embedding children’s rights within a range of the city’s activities, from local budgets to urban space planning and the designs of children’s services. Stalford’s and others’ work at the university is at the forefront of these actions to make children’s lives matter at grassroots level.

The University offers vital resources and intelligence to assist this initiative. With over 150 researchers across the University working in the area, Liverpool is steadily becoming a sector-leader for research and impact relating to children and childhood.

Children and the law: knowing your rights and how to use them

Involving children in research

To support this work, Stalford has led a team of academics based in The European Children’s Rights Unit (ECRU) in developing bespoke ethical guidance and best practice tools for use by researchers at all stages of research to support ethics planning and applications.

She has also established a young persons’ advisory group where university academics can consult a group of young people about their proposed research questions and methods. “That really makes Liverpool quite unique to engage children and young people so directly in helping not only to answer our research questions (as participants in research) but to actually identify the questions and set the research agenda,” says Stalford.

Achieving meaningful change

At the heart of this work is fact that children have rights too: they are not optional choices and they legally enforceable.

The challenge is how children can learn about and enforce those rights in practice in ways that are relevant and useful to their lives. Stalford says this approach is inherently high impact because it’s concerned with how rights and other procedural, policy and legal mechanisms can achieve meaningful change.

Stalford’s research, for instance, involves working with NGOs, parliamentarians, practitioners and the UK Government to minimise the impact of Brexit on children’s rights. Currently, she is leading a project on behalf of the Home Office to evaluate migrant children and young people’s understanding of the EU settlement scheme, and to engage them in co-creating a child friendly communications strategy.

Much of her work also involves training and upskilling lawyers and judges on how to bring children’s rights to bear on their cases involving children. As part of this, she has collaborated with Liverpool Law Clinic, and other children’s rights organisations across the UK to develop an online training tool TALE (Training Activities for Legal Experts). This is a modular programme for legal practitioners that is heavily informed by the Council of Europe Guidelines on child friendly justice. She is also co-convenor (with Professor Kathryn Hollingsworth of Newcastle University of the internationally celebrated Children’s Rights Judgments Project.

You get better guidance and unique insights by working directly with younger people.

Professor Helen Stalford