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The s witnessed a growing awareness of the extent to which children are vulnerable to physical abuse within their own families. The extent and scale of violence perpetrated by parents on their own children emerged through the work of Henry Kempe in the USA and was brought home forcefully in this country with the case of Maria Colwell, an 8-year-old girl who was returned from care to live with her parents who subsequently beat her to death Howells, No opportunity then existed for her views and concerns to be taken seriously by those responsible for the decision.
During the s, the phenomenon of sexual abuse within families, as a day-to-day reality for many thousands Cleveland of inquiry children, into sexual hit the abuse public of consciousness children Report with of the Inquiry, There was, and probably still is, considerable resistance to the recognition that parents and other adult relatives could and do rape and assault their children.
Particularly shocking has been the realisation that even babies and toddlers are not exempt from such abuse. It also challenges the legitimacy of the powerful cultural desire for protecting the privacy of family life because it undermines the comfortable assumption that parents can always be relied on to promote the welfare of their children. It took until the s to uncover the next scandal in the catalogue of failure on the part of responsible adults to protect and promote the welfare of children.
In a series of public enquiries it became apparent not only that children in public care in a number of local authorities had been subjected to systematic physical and sexual abuse by staff in children's homes, but that these practices had been surrounded by a culture of collusion, neglect, indifference and silence on the part of the officers and elected members within those authorities. It is now acknowledged this experience of abuse was not simply the consequence of a few paedophiles entering the public care system Utting, Rather, it is an endemic problem, affecting children in authorities across the country and symptomatic of a fundamental failure to provide effective protective care towards vulnerable children.
One of the most forceful lessons to emerge from the series of public enquiries into abuse of children in public care has been the extent to which the children involved were denied any opportunity to challenge what was happening Waterhouse, to They were denied access to any advocacy to help them articulate their concerns.
Indeed, if and when they did complain they risked further abuse. In other words, the adults involved could, with impunity, behave in ways entirely contrary to the children's welfare. We can, then, no longer disregard the fact that children can be and are both physically and sexually abused by the very adults who are responsible for their care, both within families and in state institutions. Accordingly, it becomes necessary to move beyond the assumption that simple reliance on adults to promote the well-being of children, because of their biological or professional relationship with the child, is an adequate approach to caring for children.
Adults do not alwa ys act in children's best interests Actions detrimental to the well-being of children do not merely occur when adults deliberately abuse or neglect children. During the course of the last century, adults with responsibility for children across the professional spectrum have been responsible for decisions, policies and actions that have been inappropriate, if not actively harmful, to children, whilst claiming to be acting to promote their welfare. And the existence of public policy, which serves to act against the best interests of children, is not simply a matter of history.
There is serious cause for concern that the current emphasis on attainment targets for preschool children will jeopardise their opportunities for play. And there is growing evidence that the massive expansion in out-of-school clubs to promote work opportunities for mothers is being developed more as a resource for parents than as a service designed to meet the best interests of children Smith and Barker, Protecting Children's Welfare by Respecting Their Rights 43 Parents' rights are protected over those of children Public policy often supports the rights and interests of parents ahead of those of children, even when the consequences of so doing are detrimental to the welfare of children.
There is, for example, a clear conflict of interest between children and parents in the field of assisted reproduction in which both law and practice favour the interests of prospective parents. Present legislation fails to protect the right of children born through assisted reproduction techniques to access to knowledge of their biological identity.
The law actively prohibits children from access to identifying information about their biological parents, and there is no obligation or encouragement from the relevant professionals for parents to be open with their children about the origins of their birth s. The desire for a pretended normality, the fear of children not loving the non-biological parent, the fear of a reduced supply of donors if anonymity were not preserved, the difficulties in confronting children with the truth all play a part in perpetuating the current collusion against a commitment to respecting the fundamental right of the child to knowledge of his or her identity see, for example, Blyth, ; Freeman, It is evident that children's welfare is not the over-riding factor determining legislation and practice in this field, but rather the directly competing interests of parents to maintain secrecy and to have a child.
In , the government issued a consultation paper setting out proposals to change the law on physical punishment of children in order to comply with the findings of the European Court of Human Rights that the law in the UK failed to protect a child from inhuman and degrading treatment under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights A v. The consultation sets out three questions for consideration.
Should the defence cease to be available against a charge of actual bodily harm? And should the defence be restricted to those with parental responsibility Department of Health, a? The absence of this question is not accidental.
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The government Policy 44 refused to do so. It is clearly recognised under international law that the continued practice of hitting children represents a breach of their human rights Article 19 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Committee on the Rights of the Child the international body established to monitor government progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has already criticised the UK government for its failure to introduce legislation to protect children from physical punishment by parents, and recommended a review of the law to introduce appropriate protection CRC, When the government appears before the committee again in , it will be censored if it has failed to act on this recommendation.
The reality is that the government is not willing even to consult on a proposal to end all physical punishment of children because to do so would be seen to interfere with the rights of parents. There is considerable evidence that physical punishment of children is not an effective form of discipline, that it can and does cause harm, and that as a form of punishment it can and does escalate Leach, And almost every professional body working with children is unanimous we should change the law to protect children better and to give parents a positive message that hitting children is both wrong and unnecessary see Barnardo's, b.
Their eloquent accounts contrast starkly with the widely promulgated view from parents that such punishment is delivered with love, does not cause real hurt and is only applied in extremis Willow and Hyder, It can also be seen from the experience of the eight countries that have banned it, that it does not lead to a rise in prosecutions of parents, it does change parental behaviour in favour of more positive forms of discipline and it does not lead to worse behaved or ill-disciplined children see Durrant, Again, then, it is not the welfare of children that informs the law and its proposed reform, but the need to assuage adult public opinion.
Children's interests are often disregarded in public policy Children's interests are frequently disregarded in the public policy sphere in favour of more powerful interest groups. It is not necessarily the case that Protecting Children's Welfare by Respecting Their Rights 45 children's welfare is deliberately disregarded, but rather that children, and the impact of public policy on their lives, are not visible in decision-making forums and, accordingly, never reach the top of the political agenda.
Just consider, for example, the impact of public policy on children during the s and s. In , one in ten children were living in poverty. By , the proportion had increased to one in three DSS, That alone is sufficient indictment of our neglect of children. But even more significant is that it was the children who bore the disproportionate burden of the increase in poverty during that period.
No other group in society experienced a growth in poverty on a comparable scale. At a collective level, our society failed to promote and protect the welfare of children over two decades. There is little analysis of public expenditure to assess whether the proportion spent on children and their well-being reflects either their levels of need or their representation within the community. What little we do know indicates the lack of data is likely to cover very significant inadequacies in spending on children, indicating their weak position in the lobbies that influence public agendas and expenditure.
Of course, it is likely that services for older people will necessitate a disproportionate claim on these budgets, but no systematic assessment has been made as to whether the current balance in any way reflects comparative levels of assessed needs. And as long as children lack powerful advocates in the field of health, such discrepancies will not be effectively challenged.
And we have grown increasingly intolerant of children in the public arena. Far from developing towns and cities which are designed with children in mind, which are childfriendly as befits a society that has the welfare of children at its heart, we now tend to view children as undesirable in streets and shops, particularly when they are in groups.
The introduction of powers to impose child curfews on children under 10 years of age and the refusal of many shops to et al Policy 46 allow unaccompanied children in are all testimony to a perception of children as threatening, hostile and outside the legitimate bounds of society. Too little attention has been paid to developments such as safe routes to school and home zones, which allow opportunities for younger children to play and move within their local communities although now, belatedly, the government is beginning to invest in such schemes.
Yet these are the adults on whom children rely to promote their best interests. These are the adults who are responsible for protecting children's welfare. Indeed, the welfare model has failed children. The Convention, which now has almost universal acceptance having been ratified by countries throughout the world, is a comprehensive human rights treaty that encompasses social, economic and cultural as well as civil and political rights.
Acknowledgement of children as rights-bearers rather than merely recipients of adult protective care introduces a new dimension in adult relationships towards children. It does not negate the fact that children have needs but argues that, accordingly, children have rights to have those needs met. Implications of respecting children's human rights One of the underlying principles of the Convention is that the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration in all actions concerning the child see Article 3.
But this principle does not merely take us back to a welfare approach. A commitment to respecting the human rights of children requires an acceptance that promoting children's welfare or best interests requires more than the good will or professional judgement of adults. It injects two fundamental challenges to traditional practices in respect of children. Protecting Children's Welfare by Respecting Their Rights 47 First, the means by which the best interests of children are assessed must be the extent to which all their human rights are respected in any particular policy, action or legislation.
In other words, the rights embodied in the Convention must provide a framework through which to analyse the extent to which proposals promote the best interests of children see Hodgkin and Newell, And this approach extends both to matters affecting the rights of an individual child and children as a body. For example, in providing child protection services, do interventions that seek to protect the child from abuse also respect the child's right to privacy, respect for the child's views and evolving capacities, to continuity in family life, to contact with immediate and extended family?
In a proposed local housing development, have the rights of children to adequate play facilities and to safe road crossings been fully considered? Likewise, one can apply a comparable analysis to decisions taken within families. Many parents currently drive their children to school and justify doing so in terms of the potential dangers of both traffic and abduction or assault to which children might otherwise be exposed.
A rights-based approach would necessitate a broader analysis children to of school the have rights on of their children. In all these examples, it can be argued that, unless a comprehensive rights-based approach is taken, there is a risk that a decision or intervention is made that responds to one aspect of the child's life and, in so doing, fails to acknowledge other rights or needs. Indeed, it may inadvertently impact adversely on the child.
Secondly, if children are subjects of rights, then they themselves must have the opportunity to exercise those rights and be afforded means of seeking redress when rights are violated. In other words, they must have opportunities to be heard. Article 12 of the Convention embodies the principle that children have the right to express their views on matters of concern to them and to have those views taken seriously in accordance with their age and maturity. It is a procedural right, which has increasingly been recognised as necessary if children are to move beyond their traditional status as recipients of adult care and protection and become social actors entitled to influence decisions that affect their lives see, for example, Lansdown, ; Willow, And it applies to all children capable of expressing their views, however young.
Listening to children and taking them seriously is important because children have a body of experience and views relevant 48 Policy to the development of public policy, will improve the quality of decisionmaking and will render it more accountable. And beyond this, it is an essential element in their protection.
Children who from an early age experience respect for their views and are encouraged to take responsibility for those decisions they are competent to make will acquire the confidence to challenge abuses of their rights. The welfare model of childcare has perpetuated the view that children lack the capacity to contribute to their own well-being or that they have a valid and valuable contribution to make.
Yet failure to involve children in decisions that affect their own lives is the common thread that underpins many of the mistakes and poor judgements exercised by adults when acting on children's behalf. There is now a growing body of evidence that children, both in respect of individual decisions that affect their lives or as a body in the broader public policy arena, have a considerable contribution to make to decision-makers see Alderson, ; John, ; Marshall; For example, the Stepney Community Nursing Development Unit research and development programme undertook a consultation with 4and 5-year-olds living in East London on their local environment.
The children extent highlighted more effectively to which their lives were than adults dominated by could have fear of done the traffic, drugs, cockroaches and violence. Whilst anxious for more trees and greenery, they rejected the idea of grass-covered play space as this would prevent them seeing abandoned needles and dog excrement.
Children, even when very young, can act, for example as peer counsellors, mediators or mentors for other children. At Highfield Primary School in Plymouth, members of the school council are involved, for example, in recruitment of staff, development of all school policies and the anti-bullying strategy. Local and health authorities have successfully involved very young children in the development of new hospitals, anti-poverty strategies, advice services and planning for real initiatives.
The project views the young child as an active player in his or her Protecting Children's Welfare by Respecting Their Rights 49 environment and has been shaped to reveal and promote the diversity inherent in young children. The primary aim of the project is to identify different creative methods that enable young children to articulate their feelings, experiences, concerns and anxieties. It is rooted in an acknowledgement that young children have something worthwhile to say about their lives, that they are capable of sharing their viewpoint and, when provided with information, that they are competent to make informed decisions.
It seeks to move from a model of promoting young children's welfare to an approach that is rights-based. Although a rights-based approach addresses traditional power relations it is not advocating young children should hold all or the majority of power. It is an approach that views young children as active and competent participants within their environment. Addressing power relations is about advocating for the young child's views to be tabled along with the views of all the other active players.
Inclusion to decision-making processes is not premised on the exclusion of another parents, carers and significant others. It is rather about pulling up another chair alongside those already present. In recent years, there have been numerous developments in listening to older children. An ethical package: Central to the project is the respect Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child affords young children. The project identifies the following three stages to develop and implement a rights-based ethical package from which to undertake its investigation:.
Respecting involve, children's for right example, to ensuring appropriate all information children that participating in will the project are fully informed about its rationale and methods, their. Methodology: The methodology of the project is multi-layered, working simultaneously with young children, older children, parents and professionals. They are neither homogeneous chronologically or emotionally, but nor is there consensus amongst them in terms of what they think is important or how they prefer to articulate their views.
Children as consultants: Children older than those selected in the case studies are included in the project to participate as consultants. The format of the consultancy is primarily focus-group discussions. Once children have registered their interest, a plan is made to meet regularly. Initially, children are ask ed about what might be important to young children, what questions would be appropriate, the obstacles that might exist and the methods that might be useful.
Further meetings provide opportunities to continue to gather advice as the project proceeds and to involve these children in gathering the views of the documented younger creatively, children such as themselves. Parent focus-group discussions: The project is interested in facilitating parents' involvement through focus-group discussions, which can be organised during the year, each month focusing on a particular issue. Parent focus-group discussions involve parents as participants in evaluating the research methodology and seek to enhance their understanding of young children's competency.
Professional forums: The professionals at each setting represent social workers and teachers from nursery and primary schools. This wider professional network provides a platform for professionals to Protecting Children's Welfare by Respecting Their Rights ask questions and exchange their ideas about 51 issues around listening to young children. Summary The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has played a significant role in calling for children's views to be taken seriously.
Article 12 details the importance of children being given opportunities to express their opinion about issues that are important to them. It is a resistance shared by many parents, politicians, policy-makers and the media.
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It derives, at least in part, from a fear that children represent a threat to stability and order if not kept under control. Attempts by the state to act to protect children are viewed with suspicion and hostility. But promoting the rights of children is not about giving a licence to children to take complete control of their lives irrespective of their levels of competence.
It is not about allowing children to ride roughshod over the rights of others, any more than adult rights permit such abuses. It is, rather, about moving away from the discredited assumption that adults alone can determine what happens in children's lives without regard for children's own views, experiences and aspirations. It means accepting that children, even very small children, are entitled to be listened to and taken seriously. It means acknowledging that as children grow older they can take greater responsibility for exercising their own rights.
It involves recognising that the state has explicit obligations towards children, for which it should be held accountable. A commitment to respecting children's rights does not mean abandoning their welfare. It means promoting their welfare by 52 Policy adherence to the human rights standards defined by international law. Points for discussion. Could you consider undertaking an audit of your work to assess what children's rights are at stake and how well existing policy and practice serve to promote and protect those rights?
Further reading Alderson, P. Flekkoy, M.
Contemporary Issues in the Early Years: Working Collaboratively for Children
London: Jessica Kingsley. Miller, J. Willow, C. London: Local Government Information Unit. In a way, the advent of the National Curriculum for children from the age 5 to 16 years in England, following the Education Reform Act , may have confirmed the fear that, ultimately, the content of what young children should learn would be prescribed like a GCSE syllabus.
That understanding of young children's learning and development still underpins the work of early years practitioners in England David et al. So, following the downward pressure caused by the implementation of the National Curriculum for children in primary schools, curriculum theorists such as Blenkin and Kelly have called for a reappraisal of what is considered appropriate for inclusion in an early years curriculum. In their own way they are attempting to acquire those skills, concepts and facts given high status by their social group. At the same time they will acquire the attitudes of the group, even if they may consciously discard or challenge them later.
Young children seek a place in their society, they are born to be social characteristics and they can recognise that attract acceptance and those achievements and status. Each cultural group holds particular expectations of both children and adults at different stages Curriculum in the Early Years 57 in their lives and so, in effect, a curriculum is being imposed on young children, even in societies, families and settings where none of the expectations are written down or made explicit.
In both pieces of research it is reported the curricula the children experience unintentionally preserves social stratification, by either preparing children for a particular kind of future or by denying them access to knowledge, or cultural capital, which other children gain at home. Everything a child experiences is a learning opportunity and each child will try to make sense of that experience in the light of earlier learning. The very delineation of babyhood, early childhood and the ways in which the agegroup is thought of forms part of a child's learning experiences and is thus part of his or her curriculum.
Once we become aware of the ways in which childhood itself is constructed in different societies or at different times we begin to ask ourselves why children are treated in certain ways, why particular curricula are considered appropriate for children at different stages in their lives and what all this tells us about that society.
Bruner and Haste, ; Trevarthen, Practice 58 The main implication of this, then, is that the curriculum we decide on for young children, both its content and its teaching approaches, may have crucial long-term consequences for our society. In addition to an increased acknowledgement for the ways in which children co-construct their understandings about the world through socially based learning interactions alongside more knowledgeable others Vygotsky, , research about brain development has also been enlisted to help governments recognise the need for investment in early years provision for example, Bill and Hillary Clinton attended a White House seminar on the brain in and a government-initiated working party about early brain development was formed in the UK at around the same time.
Perhaps the most important messages for curriculum planners to come out of all the discussion on brain research are as follows:. Babies and young children are fully human beings in their own right, as they are now, so our curriculum should take account of this and not be geared only to their future as adults see, for example, Diamond and Hopson, ; Bruer, ; Gopnik et al. Further, Gardner has added another dimension to the questioning of assumptions about childhood, by questioning assumptions about Curriculum in the Early Years 59 what kinds of achievements we nurture through our education systems.
Gardner proposes ibid. Thus, while bearing in mind ideas about child development theory and constructions of childhood, we need to consider different curriculum models and their aims. They are underpinned by different values and principles and are informed by different assumptions and beliefs about children.
At the time when the National Curriculum was being implemented and the Education Reform Act formulated, so that for the first time the UK was to have a national curriculum, there was much debate about curriculum construction. Applying the typology to different models of early years provision can highlight the importance of exploring the philosophy underpinning a model. It can also demonstrate the mix of curriculum models which may be operating in a society or setting.
For example, the feted nurseries of Reggio Emilia are deemed to have no curriculum according with to planned Loris nurseries Edwards lessons Malaguzzi, one based of the on behaviourist founders of this outcomes, system of et al. In addition to this the staff achievements team in is their not hierarchical; they community for celebrate example, by certain inviting kinds of recognised artists to work with the children in the ateliers ; they celebrate knowledge about children's development and learning by employing advisers called pedagogistas ; the staff document the children's processes of learning and exhibit their products in fact using them to raise funds to support the nurseries ; and they use aspects of their civic surroundings as stimuli for the children's learning.
So we can see that even though there may be no formal laid-down curriculum, there are elements of the classical humanist, developmental, social imperatives and progressive curriculum models in their approaches. In a similar way, we can interrogate the curriculum models proposed by government bodies in different countries and draw out the priorities set for young children as a result.
Her aim was to show how early years curricula may or may not bear a close resemblance to a secondary sector subject-orientated curriculum. Although many of the documents produced as guidelines by different European countries appear to use similar areas of learning, the emphases, language used and the overall interpretations can be very disparate. This was not intended to be taken as a curriculum statement, but as guidance. Staff teams of each setting were expected to reflect on the document's contents, especially the learning outcomes for the six areas, and define their own curriculum which would then be interpreted into a kind of syllabus of experiences and learning opportunities.
What was particularly interesting about this document was the fact that a different version appeared in England from that issued in Wales. Thus the appeared to English be curriculum negating the framework importance document of play SCAA, and the holistic, interconnected nature of learning in these earliest years.
Meanwhile an umbrella group of early years organisations had come together to become the Early Childhood Education Forum and, as their first initiative, they instigated a curriculum project, Quality in Diversity, which was to encompass the ideas of as many early childhood educators and parents as possible throughout the country to develop curriculum guidelines for children from birth to 7 years ECEF, Four main principles underpin Te Whariki's aims and goals: 1 Whakamana empowerment : the early childhood curriculum empow- ers the child to learn and grow.
In their account of the New Zealand curriculum's development, Carr and May ibid. While using the Te Whariki as a model, with similar strands which were called foundations, the UK's Quality in Diversity project adopted the principles of the Early Childhood Education Forum, many having echoes of New Zealand's principles above but, as a result of the historical legacy, these also include statements about learning beginning at birth; the inseparable nature of care and education; careful observation as the key to helping children learn; the importance of a proactive anti-bias approach; and the need for well trained educators.
The new framework and the guidelines have been seen as more acceptable to early years practitioners partly as a result of this recognition Curriculum in the Early Years 63 for play, partly because the Foundation stage covers the reception year in primary school, thus addressing practitioners' anxieties about the increasing formalisation of provision for 4-year-olds in school.
Some, however, express fears that teachers of Years 1 and 2 will feel they are under even greater pressure as a result because there will be only two years to cover a great deal of Key Stage 1 National Curriculum content. The counter to this view reflects that of several other European countries, where there is a belief that the laying of real foundations in the years before 6, through appropriate, meaningful learning experiences, will help children actually to achieve more than they would when taught inappropriately and formally during this early stage.
PLAY AND LEARNING Although not claiming play as the exclusive mode of learning in early childhood, there is much research evidence to demonstrate that childdirected, playful experiences are important because they allow children to co-construct knowledge with other children and with adults who scaffold their experiences see, for example, Weinberger, ; Bennett et al. The potential for subversion inherent in playful activities places children in powerful positions Grainger and Goouch, Children are, during this phase of life, exploring and experimenting with social relations and who they themselves are.
Play provides a means for such explorations. However, while it seems important to promote the adoption of play approaches to learning and teaching in the early years, it must also be Practice 64 recognised that many early years practitioners have limited training, and the imposition of learning goals and inspection regimes can often lead to a retreat into more formal methods owing to a lack of confidence in et al. A similar effect was found practitioners' own abilities David in New Zealand Cullen, However, there remain some who question any curricula that set defined outcomes for children's learning.
My own view is that few, if any, societies have no expectations of young children and the adults from whom they learn. There is also recent evidence that the quality of premises impacts on children's availability of achievements equipment et Sylva and al. The former government minister responsible for early years provision, Margaret Hodge, has argued that all children should have access to the kinds of opportunities for learning afforded by affluent families. The constant reminders that the UK education system is failing our children always seem to omit the fact that we do not, as a society, pay enough attention to the very earliest years.
Opening up discussion on such issues would highlight the fact that they impinge upon the curriculum, that all curricula are based upon sets of values. One area that has received little attention is that of young children's spiritual development.
The danger is that spirituality, morality and religiosity are often confused. In an age when some Curriculum in the Early Years 65 parents may have plenty of time but no resources and others no time and a sufficiency of resources Handy, , we need to debate the issues of working hours and other aspects of social justice as they impact upon children, who do not leave their home experiences at the door of the nursery. As a result, these factors too have implications for the QCA's a, p. Further reading Cousins, J. London: NEYN. Miller, L. In Drury, R. Looking at Early Years Education and Care.
London: David Fulton, pp. Pollard, A. London: Cassell especially Chapter 9.
Scott, W. In Nutbrown, C. London: Paul Chapman Publishing, pp. Siraj-Blatchford, I.