During 2018 and 2019, the British Academy’s Childhood policy programme explored the role of the state in childhood over the past 100 years, across the four nations of the UK, and from the point of view of different policy areas. Bringing together all the evidence and insights from the wide range of stakeholders involved has been a massive undertaking, and it plays an essential role in breaking down academic, policy and professional silos in order to reframe debates over childhood and explore new conceptualisations of children in policymaking.

As we begin our activities in the second phase of the programme, we are able to share our synthesis of evidence so far that has done so much to inform the current direction of our work. Our Phase I synthesis report explores the recurring and underlying perspectives from our research reports, case studies, and, most importantly, our workshops and interactions with researchers, policymakers, practitioners and other key stakeholders in the childhood policy space.

The three key perspectives identified in the synthesis report are:

1) Exploring the assumptions which underpin the experience of childhood and the development of childhood policy, but are not explicit or visible in the policy making process; 

2) Exploring the impact of policy decisions on children’s outcomes, in particular across the four UK nations, noting that it is not only policy about children that has an impact on children; 

3) Exploring the way in which the experience of children is valued in policy making, and ways in which this can be articulated in the policy process.   

The first of these – Underpinning Assumptions includes a consideration of the extent to which childhood is valued in its own right, in contrast with viewing childhood as simply preparation for adulthood. Another angle considered is the role of children’s rights – in particular, how a more explicit focus on children’s rights might lead to changes in how policy is made, in outcomes for children, and in the experience of childhood more generally. Additionally, assumptions are often made in policy as to when childhood ends, but there are varying and sometimes conflicting differences across different parts of the state (such as criminal justice, employment, social care) and between the different nations of the UK.

The second perspective – Understanding the impact of policy on children’s outcomes – explores the fragmented nature of childhood policy and the difficulty in linking different outcomes for children to specific policy decisions. The experience of childhood is affected not only by the policies that focus directly on children, but by policy across a much wider canvas. For example, the effect of policies relating to tax, benefits and incentives will have implications for many children. A further aspect considered is the impact of policy divergence across the four UK nations on childhood-related policy.

The final area – Understanding children’s experiences, and hearing their voicesfocuses on how children’s voices, and their own views on aspects of childhood, are ‘heard’ by policymakers, and how this feeds through into policy. There can be difficulties in ensuring that children’s perspectives are accurately represented; for example, there may be differences between how children perceive well-being compared to well-being as perceived by adults.  

Drawing on the synthesis above, three analytical areas have been identified as the central themes of Phase II of the programme. These themes are:

  • ‘Being a child versus becoming an adult’: we will investigate how children are positioned in policy and explore whether improvements could be made through altering the balance between the two perspectives of ‘being’ and ‘becoming’.  
  • Building the voice of the child into policy: our focus will be on how children’s voices can most effectively be heard and acted upon by policymakers. Activities will discuss and attempt to address the barriers to bringing the child’s perspective into policy debates.  
  • Rights-based approaches to policy coherence: we aim to develop a deeper understanding of what childhood policy could look like were a rights-based approach to be more central to policy formation, delivery, and enactment across all countries of the UK.  

We are now busy planning activities within all three of these themes to take place throughout autumn 2020 and into 2021.

Keep in touch

You can read the full synthesis report, available on the British Academy’s website, subscribe to the Childhood policy programme monthly newsletter, and contact the programme team at childhood@thebritishacademy.ac.uk.