In November 2019, the British Academy published its work from the first phase of its Childhood Policy Programme. What we found from our first phase is a collection of fragmented, inconsistent, and uneven policies that produce wildly different outcomes for children depending on their location and background.
The British Academy’s Childhood Policy Programme was set up to reframe debates around childhood in both the public and policy spaces, and to break down academic, policy and professional silos in order to explore new conceptualisations of children in policymaking.
In Phase I, the programme investigated the evolution of childhood policy through a number of research activities, including policymaking landscape reviews for each of the four UK nations; case studies on approaches across the four UK nations towards children leaving care and childhood poverty; and a series of stakeholder workshops with policymakers, practitioners and academics.
The publication of our Phase I materials coincided with the 60th International Children’s Day and 30 years since the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The fact that the UK has ratified the UNCRC but that it has not been fully incorporated into domestic law, and that it has been regarded differently in each of the four UK nations, is one of many inconsistencies that has led to a lack of coherence in childhood policy across the UK.
The Academy’s four country case studies, and the two policy case studies, highlight clearly the way in which policy is diverging across the four nations in a range of areas. Whether it is the different ages across the UK for starting school, leaving care, and being held criminally responsible, or the varying strategies and priorities for tackling child poverty, there is a real lack of coherence in our policies relating to children.
In our discussions with stakeholders during the first phase, the lack of policy coherence was clearly identified as a barrier to achieving better outcomes for children. How might a more coherent approach lead to better outcomes for children? What form might that approach take? These are key questions for the Academy to take forward and to try and address in the next phase of its work.
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Professor the Baroness (Ruth) Lister of Burtersett CBE FBA
Chair, British Academy Childhood Policy Programme