Children placed in the research driving seat to help make a difference
Local and national policies are denying disadvantaged children the rights to the basic things in life. That was a key message heard by delegates young and old who attended a recent conference on the subject of child poverty at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).
Organised by children themselves, the event aimed to engage policy makers, local authorities and social and wellbeing services with the messages from research with children and young people who have experienced poverty, in order to better support those in need. At the event, policy makers, practitioners and academics identified how, in their own services, they can respond to children’s views on how to redress child poverty and made commitments to taking forward key actions at national and international levels.
The research they discussed, conducted by children and young people working with UCLan and young Children’s Poverty Commission members working with The Children’s Society, together with Professor Griet Roets (Ghent University) and Professor Tess Ridge (University of Bath), showed that children’s rights to the basic things in life, and their rights to leisure and education, are not being met due to national and local policies.
The research that we have carried out over the last few years has highlighted the difficulties that many children and young people are facing. But we now have clear evidence of how children and young people are part of the solution.
UCLan’s Cath Larkins, Reader in Children’s Citizenship and Co-Director of The Centre for Children and Young People’s Participation, said: “Children’s rights to social protection have been ignored in many ways since our research first talked about families’ budgets being stretched too far. The research that we have carried out over the last few years has highlighted the difficulties that many children and young people are facing. But we now have clear evidence of how children and young people are part of the solution; they know what benefits and support services can do to make their lives better and they are working hard to make things change.
“That’s why events like these are so important in making sure things are moving in the right direction. We need to listen to children and young people more and start taking some action!”
Tess Ridge, Professor of Social Policy at the University of Bath, said: “Disadvantaged children lead very constrained local lives, therefore it is essential that local authorities and local services respond to children and support their needs.”
Professor Ridge also highlighted the importance of child and poverty proofing policies, services and practices and delivering support to children that is non-stigmatised, child-centred and appropriate. Her research shows that money matters; supporting children means supporting families and adequate social security is a key element in protecting children from poverty.
Closing speakers who took part in frank discussions with young people, students and local professionals included Anne Longfield OBE, the Children’s Commissioner for England; Julie Ward MEP, co-founder of the European Parliamentary Intergroup on Children's Rights; and Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group.
The research findings reveal that poverty is denying disabled children their rights to enjoy leisure activities. Play is an important aspect of childhood but may not be seen as a priority by cash-strapped authorities.
Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, said: “Living in poverty causes a longshadow over the lives of children, affecting every element of their life chances. I want to change the odds for the most vulnerable children to make sure they have the support and opportunities they need to flourish.”
Julie Ward MEP, who has a long history of working directly with children and disabled young people in her previous role as a community arts practitioner, also has a strong connection with the UCLan School of Social Work, Care and Community and the UCan young researcher group.
She said: “I welcome the opportunity to reconnect with this inclusive research community tackling some of the most urgent problems we face as a society, working directly with child experts themselves. As one of the richest nations in the world it is unacceptable that our young people are going hungry or living without adequate heating.
“I have been working on a parliamentary report which addresses poverty and the effects of multiple discrimination. It is clear that children suffer when households fall into poverty and that disabled children suffer disproportionately.
“But poverty is not just about material deprivation. The research findings reveal that poverty is denying disabled children their rights to enjoy leisure activities. Play is an important aspect of childhood but may not be seen as a priority by cash-strapped authorities.
“Putting children in the driving seat of the research means that we cannot and must not ignore the findings and recommendations. It's time to take children seriously - they are after all expert witnesses of their own lived experiences."