Exploring the utility of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child for children with social, emotional and mental health needs

  • Joanne Williams

Student thesis: Doctor of Educational and Child Psychology


The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (UN, 1989) is the most widely ratified treaty in history and promotes the rights of children from birth to 18 years in 54 articles. A child's right to education and an education that promotes the development of respect for human rights is outlined in Articles 28 and 29 of the CRC (UN, 1989). Schooling is a universal service that is likely to impact upon the majority of children in nations across the world. It is therefore beneficial to consider the evidence for full implementation of right-based approaches in schools. Paper One of this thesis presents a systematic literature review (SLR) of the available evidence to identify the outcomes of such an approach and the facilitators and barriers to its implementation. The SLR finds that a number of primary and secondary schools have successfully implemented children's rights-based approaches. A number of positive outcomes for students, teachers and communities were identified. It also outlines facilitators and barriers to the implementation of rights-based approaches that are useful for planning to introduce rights-based approaches in schools. The paper concludes that rights-based approaches in schools have potential implications in the areas of: realisation of rights, safer and more cohesive communities, school inclusion and mental health. The SLR found no research which looked at the impact of rights-based approaches for children and young people (CYP) with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) including those with SEMH needs. The findings of the SLR however, did indicate that CYP with SEMH needs would potentially benefit from rights-based approaches. Paper Two therefore concerns the relevance of rights-based approaches in schools for CYP with SEMH needs. An empirical exploratory study was carried out in a pupil referral unit (PRU), gathering teaching staff's views across three focus groups. Eight themes arose: values, education, communication, relationships, individual needs, parents, society and rights. The study found a need for further research and support in schools and PRUs to develop rights-based practice for children with SEMH needs. Paper Three discusses the researcher's dissemination strategy and implications of the research at different levels.
Date of Award31 Dec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorKevin Woods (Supervisor) & Catherine Kelly (Supervisor)


  • education
  • pupil referral unit (PRU).
  • secondary school
  • primary school
  • SEMH
  • Children's rights
  • CRC
  • United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • CR
  • social, emotional and mental health

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