The Best Place in the World to be a Child? (#PAS12)

On Wednesday this week the Scottish Government launches its National Parenting Strategy, and over the next few days tweeting parents across Scotland and beyond are invited to comment on the #PAS12 hashtag about what we think should be in such a strategy. What support is needed for parents to make Scotland the  best place in the world to be a child? 

At the risk of being controversial or unhelpful, my first thought is to wonder whether we're hanging rather too many hopes and expectations off the peg marked "parenthood". Sometimes as a parent, I feel like the donkey in Buckaroo. Loaded with ever more requirements and rules, criticisms and exhortations. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Where the hell did the rest of my village go? 

Of course for any child our parent(s) – whether present or absent – are a huge and powerful influence, shining a light or casting a shadow over our lives. But children are children in a wider family context – siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and the helpful-hangers-on-that-no-one-can-quite-categorise are all part of that context and shape us too. As do kindly neighbours, inspirational schoolteachers, chatty lollipop-people, eagle-eyed shopkeepers, reassuring nurses, creative playworkers….

You get the picture. 

If I wanted to make a country the best place in the world to grow up, I might not start with a Parenting Strategy at all. I might start with a Strategy for Rediscovering Childhood. I'd start by remembering the thing that the DCSF policy team chose to ignore when they developed the Every Child Matters outcomes nearly a decade ago. 

Here's their publication of young people's input into the consultation: 

https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/CYPUECM.pdf

On page 5 you'll see that where the Government wanted to prioritise "having enough money" within the Every Child Matters framework, children and young people thought "family and friends were more important". Naturally this vital childhood perspective was omitted from the finished framework in favour of the adults' priority "Economic Wellbeing". 

In the same way that I understand that parents are obviously important to childhood, I understand that having enough money is important too. But there's a risk that this knowledge plays out in ways which mean that we prioritise getting parents into the workplace sooner, and working them ever longer and harder, in order to provide economic security for their children at the expense of what really matters – building good, loving relationships with family and friends which create the stability that children need; the safe base from which our children can learn and grow. 

In my "Rediscovering Childhood Strategy" I would want to prioritise:

Keeping all children safe. Everything from keeping toddler fingers out of open fires to keeping teenage sex consensual and protected. With a role for those working in every service to recognise AND RESPOND TO children and young people at risk of harm through abuse and neglect.

Enabling all children to learn. From picture books in every baby's home to great early years settings; inclusive schools which value diversity in their students and their curriculum; out of school activities which create opportunities for children of every class and income level to find the talent at which they will shine; opportunities to learn through work without being exploited. 

Helping all children to stay well. Making the community a place where breastfeeding is welcomed and encouraged everywhere, but bottle-feeding mums aren't made to feel inadequate; vaccination programmes that come out to babies and children, enabling primary care providers to see how their home environment may impact on their health; links between health and housing strategies so damp, overcrowded, unsanitary facilities don't expose children to ill-health; swift counselling responses to bereavement, separation and other trauma to rebuild chuldren's damaged resilience; professional recognition of the multiple mental health conditions that can affect children. 

Creating space that belongs to childhood. Ball games on the green instead of "NO BALLGAMES ON THE GREEN". Streets that close for games in the long summer holidays (I'd keep those). Play equipment which doesnt separate children by age group so that siblings can play together, and older children can practice the vital skill of taking responsibility. Benches and shelters in parks and playgrounds so young people with no money can gather together in a space that costs nothing and where they aren't chased off by people who fear them, but engaged by youth workers who haven't forgotten what it's like to be young.

Sharing pride in customs and cultures from acros the globe (so long as they don't cause harm to children), so that children don't have to conform in order to fit in. "Mother tongues" are so-called for a reason. Our basic nurturing is steeped in the language and lullabies, the games and traditions, the smells and sensations of our own childhood. Where parents sadly find that the "best place to grow up" is a land that's now lost to them – they need support to create and maintain elements of that lost land in their new home. 

Listening to children about the things that matter to them – like when they say friends and family are more important to them than having enough money – and shaping our policy to accommodate both adults and children's wisdom.

Believing that ALL children deserve to grow up in "the best place in the world to be a child" and understanding that that means not their country, not their city, but their home, their family, their neighbourhood. And that our Parenting Strategy needs find ways to close the gap for those children for whom this is not yet true. 

<takes a deep breath>

But that's just a few of my ideas.

What would you do?

Get on the #PAS12 hashtag and let us know.
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3 thoughts on “The Best Place in the World to be a Child? (#PAS12)

  1. I love this post. The Buckaroo notion is just brilliant, and so true. Closing streets during the holidays (weekends too?) so kids can play would be fantastic plus I’d never thought about the age restrictions on play areas and the implications.

  2. Spot on. So many good and relevant ideas. You’re right we do peg an awful lot on parents. The Strategy does/will look at how they (and the wider community of carers, family etc) can be supported to be the best they can be. A lot of the issues you talk about are addressed in the Strategy – post natal depression, play, enabling learning, children’s wellbeing. As you say when parents don’t have enough money, being a parent is so much harder. It needs more than a Parenting Strategy to tackle this, particularly with the UK Government’s welfare reform agenda. Keep an idea out tomorrow for #pas12 to see what the Strategy says.

  3. http://rethinkingchildhood.com/ has a similar feel to it – I know the writer if you’d like an introduction. ECM was a real problem for me when I first saw it; I assume it was aimed at "practitioners" rather than families, but it didn’t help. I like what you say, I’ll watch out for the # and see what happens. The money issue is very important – poor parents seem to get labelled as not good parents, which is unfair at best! – govt needs to understand that. as you say, children don’t need to be interested in money.

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