By Jenny Wood, PhD Researcher at the Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Environment and Real Estate, Heriot Watt University
Photo of ‘Keep the Kids Out’ in 2014 With Planning Aid Scotland (David McAllister), Jenny Wood, and the comedian Susan Morrison
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child will be holding a Day of General Discussion in September on Children’s Rights and the Environment. Important to the discussion will be engaging children and young people in decisions around their built and natural environment. Together has sent a submission to the Committee outlining the examples of good practice happening in Scotland, including Planning Aid Scotland’s work with children as agents of change in the environmental context. Jenny Wood’s blog article below explores this process in action…
Children have been independent holders of rights in this country since 1991. This was when the UK ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. With this Convention came recognition that all people aged below 18 are entitled to a number of things that are not always recognised socially or politically, and according to many – including official government sources – are still lacking nearly 25 years after the UK Government’s ratification. The overriding principles of this are the rights of children to protection, provision and participation, generally known as the three P’s. It is these three interconnected and driving themes that make up all the rights listed in the Convention, meaning that if one is not met, then none of the rights can be met.
I am a PhD researcher at Heriot-Watt University that has been investigating the phenomena of children’s rights in the Scottish planning system. In my work, I explore how and why children’s rights are often not considered in the built environment. Children may be protected, provided for, and participate in it in some ways, but what are they being protected from? What is being provided and where? And what kind of participation are they being allowed?
On August 10th at 3pm, myself and colleague Anna, representing the community engagement and education charity Planning Aid Scotland (PAS), will be bringing these ideas to the Edinburgh Festival fringe for an open discussion and debate about why we should care about children’s environmental rights, and what we can do to Keep the Kids Out (side), rather than simply keeping them out of public space…
I feel that children are often protected from dangers that are overemphasised or even created by adults. Even though this is done with the best of intentions, this not only constructs the outside world as scarier than it is, but also shields them from risks that need to be learned so that they are protected from some of the bigger dangers and challenges we all inevitably face in life. The built environment is the setting for all human experience, and needs to address some of these challenges if children’s rights are to be met. Particularly concerning to me are the rights of children to play, rest, leisure and access to cultural life – Article 31 – and the right to participate in all matters that affect them – Article 12. This is both children’s participation in space and place, and in the decisions that make them who they are. So far, attention and adherence to children’s rights has been almost entirely through children’s services, but why not in universal services such as planning?
The ideas we would like to share involve a more open way of viewing space and life, and breaking down those barriers that can make adults scared or anxious about talking to children. We wish to spread the message that consulting with children need not be an onerous process, but that the right skills and expertise can be learnt; support exists from children’s practitioners and organisations; and that the discussions really can be as simple as asking a child ‘what do you like and dislike about your area’. PAS and I have been pioneering some techniques and programmes to carry out in both primary and secondary schools to gather children’s views, and we are also happy that an independent review panel recently made the recommendation that the Scottish Government introduce a statutory duty to engage ‘young people’ about planning issues. The Scottish Government are yet to respond, but this is an important time to push hard for recognition of the abilities of children to participate, and the value it can have both to how we manage space, and to the children themselves.
Though we may be two planners seeking to keep the kids out(side), all of us impact on the time, space and support given to children’s views and their outdoor exploration. Will you come and help us work out some of the solutions? We have some dangerous ideas, but we would like to hear yours too!
Jenny and Planning Aid Scotland are valued members of Together. You can see more about children’s participation in planning on the Planning Aid Scotland website here, and ‘Keep the Kids Out!’ tickets are available here.