Children’s voices must be heard when developing policies that affect them, says the British Academy

20 Jul 2022

Overlooking children’s voices hinders the development of effective childhood policies and leads to poorer outcomes for their wellbeing, a new British Academy report has found. The report calls for children to be more involved in the development of policies affecting them to address this.

Reframing Childhood summarises the key findings of a unique four-year policy programme that has brought together researchers, policymakers and those working professionally with children, to reframe debates about childhood policy across the UK. Where possible, the Academy has included children themselves in the programme.

The final report has three key themes. The first, ‘being a child versus becoming an adult’, explores the balance of focusing on children’s present needs and on focusing on what is best for their future adulthood. The second theme investigates approaching policymaking with reference to children’s rights. The third explores how children’s voices can be successfully incorporated into policymaking and implementation.

The report underscores several ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic represents an important case study for how current policymaking discussions can often overlook children’s present needs by placing a disproportionate emphasis on their future prospects.

Because focus throughout the pandemic has been on formal education, especially disruptions to academic progress and attainment, the ways in which COVID-19 has hugely affected key elements of a child’s autonomy and independence, such as the ability to play, explore nature, and socialise with peers, has been neglected.

The report notes how, as a result, there has been much less emphasis in policymaking during the pandemic on ‘the whole child’ and what their social and emotional needs are in the present.

The report sets out seven evidence-based principles that can help put children's voices at the heart of childhood policy discussions:

  1. Rebalance perspectives of ‘being’ and ‘becoming’ in policymaking
  2. Increase awareness and understanding of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and its benefits for existing policy agendas
  3. Take a pragmatic, evidence-based approach to children’s rights
  4. Incorporate children’s voices into the development and evaluation of childhood policy, wherever possible
  5. Join up policymaking across all departments and levels of government
  6. Communicate policy that has an impact on children in child-friendly ways
  7. Monitor the impact of existing policies on children.

Baroness Ruth Lister FBA, project lead for the Childhood Policy Programme, said: 

“Children’s policy is fragmented and inconsistent. Cutting across different government departments, without any real coordination and varying between the four parts of the UK, it leads to wildly different outcomes for children across the country. Crucially, it suffers from failing to consider the very people it affects most. Yet, as Reframing Childhood shows, involving children in the development, implementation and evaluation of policy could improve outcomes for them both in the present and the future. By considering and valuing the needs and rights of children as they are, rather than viewing them simply as fledgling adults, childhood policies can be more effective and help overcome the many inequalities facing children across the UK.”

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