The Scottish planning system is undergoing reform. Following an independent review, the Scottish government are now considering changes, and amidst their proposals is increasing recognition that children are often excluded from considerations of place. Having previously given evidence to this review, Dr Jenny Wood presents below some practical policy-oriented steps for the Scottish Government to improve children’s participation in the planning process, and environments it shapes and manages.
- Encourage and endorse specific children’s rights training for planners at both degree and professional practice level.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) sets out 42 mutually reinforcing and interdependent rights for all people below the age of 18. The UK ratified this in 1991, setting out a commitment to further children’s rights in all of their functions. Paramount to the UNCRC is a recognition that children are entitled in equal parts to protection, provision, and participation. These rights are not designed to be an added extra to the work of governments, but an integral part of all they do. As modern society has progressed however, the physical space children are permitted to participate in has declined, and a culture of fear has grown around children that often pits their extensive protection above all else.
My research showed that planners are often under confident with involving children and young people in the process, and even less so in creating child-friendly policies. Planning authorities that have taken proactive steps generally contain at least one member of staff that has prior experience of working with children. Thus, rights-based training is a vital first step to enable planners to fulfil their commitments.
- Produce guidelines, and suggested methods for engagement with children and young people.
Such guidelines should emphasise the differences amongst the age-group and other characteristics in terms of detail and time, but not in emphasising only older children’s participation. This should link with a methodology that can consider real change in place so as to link with Article 31 of the UNCRC (a right to play, rest, leisure and access to cultural life). There are a variety of tools that already exist for this purpose that could be adapted. For instance, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland has Seven Golden Rules that were developed in conjunction with children and young people. These set out that adults should understand children’s rights, and give children a chance to be involved, whilst remembering it is their choice whether or not to give a view. Adults should value and support the child participants; work together with them; and keep in touch after the process. This forces adults to think not only what they want in the process, but also what the children may want. Indeed, the methods that have already been developed by some planning authorities and organisations in Scotland and beyond can be shared to compare experiences, and develop best practice. However, it is also vital for adults to be critical of the true purpose for some methods, recognising that there is a difference between informing children about planning, and genuinely seeking their participation in the here and now.
- Create a robust and routine feedback mechanism between planners and child participants.
Children and young people, perhaps more than other communities, will expect outcomes from their participation. Some of these may be easy to bring about in the short-term, while some may be long-term plans incorporated into far-reaching policy where outcomes are uncertain. Despite this, recognising a need for open and honest dialogue opens up opportunities for critical thinking about the methods employed, and how to communicate with children about what is and is not possible. Feeding back ensures planners have impetus to act on issues reported by children, and reduces the likelihood of children becoming disillusioned. With this, the value of the participation can be increased if there is a framework through which local authorities share the insights of children across the range of services in their jurisdiction. In speaking to planning authorities, this is perhaps one of the most difficult points to commit to, however it has great value in raising the integrity and transparency of what planners do.
- Encourage networking, collaboration, and skills exchange between planners, playworkers, and youth workers.
There is wealth of expertise already available within public bodies and NGOs. The approach of playworkers and youth workers is inherently child-centred, rights-based, and practitioners regularly work directly with a range of children and young people. With this, there are a range of opportunities for planners to shadow and learn how others seek children and young people’s participation.
- Collate an accessible evidence base on children, young people and their relationship to, and use of the built environment.
Whilst the prospect of direct participation of children might be daunting for planners, there exists much evidence on children and young people’s views and use of space. Whether, and how much of this information is readily available to planners and other policymakers is an important point to address. The public sector equality duty already requires planning authorities to produce Equalities Impact Assessments (EQIAs), yet some EQIAs I have read state there is little evidence on this topic, or state basic statistics about how many children live in an area. With this lack of evidence, it is difficult to make conclusions about the effect policy will have on children, and can lead the authors to conclude that there is unlikely to be a substantial impact.
Compounding this issue, The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act has introduced a duty on all Scottish ministers to consider how their work, and that of public bodies, is contributing to children’s rights. As part of this, policymakers are encouraged to produce a Children’s Rights and Well-being Impact Assessment (CRWIAs) on all new policy. These require an even more in-depth understanding of children’s issues. Thus, a robust and accessible evidence base is paramount to creating a system that understands and values children.
To conclude, there is a long way to go in making children’s rights a reality in society, but children’s right to the environment and in the decision-making process are a key step in helping us get there. I hope that in the near future children’s rights are part of the everyday work of planners and other practitioners. Get in touch if you’d like to be part of the movement for inclusive, child-friendly places.
This blog was originally published at i-sphere.org