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The paper examines conceptual barriers to incorporation of children’s rights – understood in the context of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 – in the law of England and Wales. It identifies traditions in law and policy on children and young people, and competing political imperatives which militate against effective implementation of children’s rights to protection and provision, but suggests that participative rights pose fewer problems. It argues that the scope for further judicial development is limited in the absence of substantial changes in the legislative framework. It then examines rights-based reasoning in administrative practice and considers the impact here of ideological differences between the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government. It considers the scope for differential implementation within the evolving devolution settlement, and the potential impact of such difference on child law and practice in the ‘single jurisdiction’ of England and Wales. It concludes by arguing for greater attention to executive as well as legislative and judicial functions, and to extra-judicial mechanisms, for promoting rights-based decision making.