In October 2022, Professor Sally Holland, who was previously the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, chaired and hosted an event at the CASCADE Centre at Cardiff University which provided an opportunity for around 50 childhood stakeholders from across policy, research and civil society, and young people themselves, to discuss the findings and principles of the British Academy’s Reframing Childhood report in a Welsh context. Keynote speakers comprised Julie Morgan MS, alongside Baroness Professor Ruth Lister FBA, who chaired the Childhood Policy Programme.
Julie Morgan MS, Deputy Minister for Social Services, described how the principles outlined in the British Academy’s recent report on childhood resonated in a Welsh context, including how children and young people’s participation was firmly embedded during the Covid pandemic, where they contributed towards key decisions taken by the Welsh government on lockdowns and other restrictions.
Reframing Childhood is the final report of the Childhood Policy programme, and it is centred around three themes. First, being a child versus becoming an adult explores where the balance lies in policy between focusing on children as children and on focusing on children as future adults. The second theme investigates children’s rights approaches in relation to policy formation, delivery, and enactment. The final theme is that of children’s voice and participation, focusing on how children’s voices, in their diversity, can be successfully incorporated into policy. The report then outlines seven evidence-informed principles for those working in the policy ecosystem:
- Rebalance perspectives of ‘being’ and ‘becoming’ in policymaking
- Increase awareness and understanding of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and its benefits for existing policy agendas
- Take a pragmatic, evidence-based approach to children’s rights
- Incorporate children’s voices into the development and evaluation of childhood policy, wherever possible
- Join up policymaking across all departments and levels of government
- Communicate policy that has an impact on children in child-friendly ways
- Monitor the impact of existing policies on children
Topics covered by speakers included the progress Wales has made in relation to the principles in Reframing Childhood, and also where there was scope for more to be done. As well as discussing how the report’s principles resonated during the pandemic the Minister also spoke about the children’s rights approach taken in Wales, in relation to the ban on the physical punishment of children, introduced earlier in 2022. However, she acknowledged that the ban is only the first step of the process, and to be effective there now needs to be an emphasis on aspects such as raising awareness of the ban and offering any necessary support to families.
Ruth Lister spoke about how the British Academy launched the childhood programme in 2018 in part because it was struck by the fragmented nature of childhood policy both across government departments and at different levels of government and how this could lead to contradictory policies, or of childhood policy falling between the gaps. Also, how our understanding of childhood and policies affecting it could be enhanced by bringing an interdisciplinary social scientific and humanities evidence-based lens to its study. Ruth discussed how a key theme that emerged very quickly was the importance of understanding variations between the four parts of the UK, and that this was especially the case with regard to children’s rights. Additionally, the very different approaches taken by the different parts of the UK underline the importance of the wider political and policy context when making sense of how children are treated.
The young people who participated emphasised that ‘policies can make or break children’ and so it is vital that children and young people have a genuine say in policies that affect them. They stated that they often felt left out of discussions, and that their lived experiences of issues, for example of childhood poverty or inequality, were not always taken into consideration by decision makers. Also, that children often experience things differently to adults, and so it is essential that their voices are included. They also stressed that policies alone are not enough to improve the lives of children and young people – there is also a need for the impact of policies to be evaluated.
Discussion was wide-ranging and a few of the other topics discussed included:
- The Welsh child participation model demonstrates a commitment to children’s rights, however implementation is not always straightforward. Issues can arise with children’s rights being ‘siphoned off’ to particular departments, rather than being embedded across government.
- The diversity among children and young people, and the challenges this can pose to incorporating their perspectives into policy. For example, how can the voices of pre-school and primary age children, or those of particular groups (such as children with a disability or those who have been excluded from school) be incorporated?
- The transition from childhood to adulthood is sometimes presented as an unproblematic linear process, but the reality can be more complex. Aspects such as physical or mental health challenges, or leaving care, will affect how this transition is experienced by individuals.
Overall, the event provided a valuable opportunity for a thought-provoking discussion on the themes of Reframing Childhood, and to think about potential next steps and challenges associated with moving forward with the principles in a Welsh context.
Nicola Berkley, Senior Policy Adviser, The British Academy
Find out more about the British Academy Childhood Policy Programme.