Public value through the eyes of a four year old
This week is National Children’s Week, celebrating the right of children to enjoy childhood. Each year at this time, Australia recognises the talents, skills, achievements and rights of children. The focus of Children’s Week in 2015 is celebrating 25 years since Australia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children, and the obligations of governments to fulfil those rights.
The Importance of Childhood
Undoubtedly, society values safe, happy and thriving childhoods that provide a stepping-stone to a healthy and prosperous life. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child identifies several features of childhood as critical for laying the foundation for human rights and potential. Included in these features is that children:
- Experience the most rapid period of growth and change during the human lifespan, in terms of their maturing bodies and nervous systems, increasing mobility, communication skills and intellectual capacities, and rapid shifts in their interests and abilities.
- Form strong emotional attachments to their parents and other caregivers, from whom they seek and require nurturance, care, guidance and protection, in ways that are respectful of their individuality and growing capacities.
- Establish relationships with children of the same age, as well as younger and older children. Through these relationships they learn to negotiate and coordinate shared activities; resolve conflicts, keep agreements and accept responsibility for others; actively make sense of the physical, social and cultural dimensions of the world they inhabit; and learn progressively from their activities and their interactions with others children and adults.
- Form the basis for their physical and mental health, emotional security, cultural and personal identity and developing competencies in their earliest years
(Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 7 – Implementing Child Rights in Early Childhood, 2006)
Evidence suggests that the ability of adults to participate fully in society is largely shaped by their childhood experiences. Investing in positive early childhood experience has a wealth of benefits, not only for children themselves, but also for the community through future economic participation and positive impacts on employment and costs of health and human services.
Of course, we know that a great many children around the world and closer to home miss out on the best possible childhood. In Australia, governments of all levels, alongside community organisations and the broader community are invested in addressing poor outcomes for children, and seeking to ensure that all children in Australia have the best start in life.
Three Ps for thinking about public value through the eyes of a child
This week presents a fantastic opportunity for all of us to reflect on and take up the challenge of championing the public value of children’s rights. Here are three Ps for thinking about public value through the eyes of a four year old:
How can we best ensure that children have a say in issues affecting them? Let’s take seriously the principle of ‘no decision about me, without me’ when it comes to children. Upholding the right of children to have their voices heard is a gateway to all other rights. Next time you are planning community or stakeholder engagement, take time to reflect on whether it is appropriate to include the voices of children, especially where the work may have a direct impact on their lives. If the answer is yes, then make the effort to tailor your engagement approach for children to ensure they can participate and be heard.
It takes a village to raise a child. We need to make sure that all children have the things they need to enjoy childhood – including personal safety, a secure home, care and support, nutrition, education and a chance to play. However, beyond protection and satisfaction of these fundamental needs, let’s think about public facilities and services from the perspective of a child. For instance, children are more likely to be pedestrians than adults, and what’s more (because of their height!) they are a lot closer to the ground. This requires careful thinking about the provision of infrastructure and services – they need to meet the needs of children and must be appropriate in terms of accessibility and safety. Perhaps when seen through the eyes of a four year old we might feel differently about things in the street like rubbish, broken glass, dog mess, and needles.
Sometimes there are trade-offs to be made between serving and protecting current versus future generations. Electoral cycles and human nature mean that political ‘presentism’ – uncritical adherence to present day attitudes – is not going anywhere fast. Examples where presentism is clearly an issue include the management of long-term environmental risks and problems associated with population growth. Presentism can also be seen in policies, laws and allocation of resources that favour the short-term benefit of older generations today over younger generations, such as funding for maternal and child health, schools, and provision for children who will need the out of home care system. Many of today’s policies cannot be sustained so that children can enjoy the same benefits as their parents and grandparents did. Perhaps National Children’s Week also presents us the opportunity to seriously focus on our role as public value trustees for future generations.
This National Children’s Week, we are giving extra thought to childhood and public value. We’d love to hear what you think.