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Young people at residential school: rights, communications and 'complaints'

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  • Hm Sociology
  • Hv Social Pathology. Social And Public Welfare
  • H Social Sciences (General)
  • Education
  • Law


Children and young people at residential schools are among the most vulnerable and marginalized of societal groups. While increasingly research has focused upon the everyday worlds of these children and young people, there has been an absence of research in Scotland that has examined the complex matrix of children’s human rights, complaints processes and advocacy, exploring children and young people’s understandings about those key themes and the institutional relations affecting their daily lives. Situated within a theoretical and contextual framework informed by institutional ethnography and children’s human rights, this thesis provides an account of young people’s understandings about rights, ‘complaints’ and advocacy, illustrating key textual constituents of adult dominated institutional relations influencing those understandings. The thesis begins from the standpoint of young people at residential school, acknowledging young people as expert knowers of their own experiences and claiming that these experiences are located within multifarious intersections of social, generational and institutional relations. Young people revealed in the research that they had little or no knowledge about their rights and that they preferred to discuss their concerns - their ‘complaints’ - with people they know and trust. Young people also disclosed that they had little contact with formal advocates and a poor understanding about advocacy services and the residential school’s internal complaint process. By mapping institutional factors affecting young people’s knowledge and understanding, this research has illuminated the multifaceted complaints process environments located within social care, health, education and legal contexts, explicating the systemic barriers to hearing the concerns of young people about possible rights violations. As researcher, I argue that it is essential for young people at residential school to understand their rights to claim rights violations and seek resolutions to possible rights infringements. Secondly, complaints process definitions need to be informed from a rights-based perspective and coordinate with young people’s own understandings about what constitutes a ‘complaint’. Defining complaints and implementing complaints processes from a human rights perspective, together with ensuring young people have trusting relationships with known advocates in their everyday worlds, is imperative for determining young people’s access to complaint processes and ensuring young people fully realize their entitlements. This research shows how institutional texts – unseen and unknown to young people – exist in ways that may actually interfere with this objective and prohibit the implementation of young people’s participation, protection and provisions rights. By extending our knowledge of young people’s everyday worlds beyond the scope of what is readily apparent in the ordinary ways in which we live our lives, this research has identified sites of potential change within the system of institutional texts, making it possible to effect change that will facilitate, rather than obfuscate, the implementation of young people’s human rights.

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