Universal Children's Day – November 20 2019 Investing in children’s rights today means creating a better future for society Zule Reyes is a 23-year old law student from Spain. She grew up in care and now advocates for the rights of children and young people who live in alternative care. By Zule Reyes Children are among the most valuable people in our society. It is important to ensure they develop under the best possible conditions and to give them an opportunity to speak out and be heard. They are the future, so investing in children rights today helps create a better tomorrow. On Universal Children’s Day, we all must raise our voices to say that every child has the right to have a childhood with everything this implies. It means growing up in a supportive environment that allows the child to understand the world. It also means to be able to speak up and have a real voice. I have been in different care placements myself, and no one ever asked me what my needs are. Every child faces different circumstances and has different needs. The person who takes care of them and the environment need to meet these individual needs. For this reason, there should be a range of options for care if they cannot live with their parents. You cannot give a child five apples and tell them to be happy. One child might just need one, another three, and another eight to be fine. The approach can therefore not be that one solution fits all. For instance, for some children and young people, it might not be in their best interest to be placed in another family. It could confuse them and make them think they have to accept a ‘new’ family now. I know children who were placed in another family and faced more hardship than before wondering if they had to leave their own family behind. In my case, I was reunified with my own family and it turned out to be a living hell. It might sometimes be better to have several adults as caregivers to allow the child or young person to choose with whom they create a closer bond and whom they feel they can trust. The Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children were adopted to make sure the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child becomes a reality for children in alternative care and at risk of losing parental care everywhere in the world. The Guidelines have to be implemented in every country, regardless of the child’s origin, their beliefs etc. so all children can count on their rights. However, we still have a long way to go to meet every child’s needs and best interest. Governments have to create mechanisms for monitoring and educating each and every service provider who cares for children. From teachers to doctors, everyone needs to have a sense of what these rights are, and what they can do in their daily life to contribute to the implementation of these rights. Governments should also consider investing in youth living in care by providing assistance for leaving formal care. They should implement new measures to increase youth employment and make sure that the voices of children are not only listened to but also included in actions. Organisations such as SOS Children’s Villages can help amplify the voices of children and young people and support governments in achieving their goals. There needs to be more education about the situation of children growing up without their parents and mechanisms for young people to raise their voices. Young people need meaningful chances to speak out, to defend their rights and demand quality services. Families need to get support when they face difficulties, and if a child is separated from the family, there should be a range of alternative care options to find a solution which meets the child’s needs. On Universal Children’s Day, let us remember that every child has the right to a childhood free from neglect, abuse, abandonment or any other hardship. All of us together can make this happen. Learn more: Know your rights – find out more about the rights of children and young people here.