Every day in England, adults sit down to discuss and solve the challenges faced by children, without ever speaking to them. In her outgoing speech, England’s Children’s Commissioner, Annie Longfield highlighted the lack of agency and participation children have in decisions that affect them,
“I’ve been shocked to discover how many officials have never met any of the children they are responsible for…to often they people in charge of the systems they need, simply don’t see them and try to understand their world.” Feb, 2021
It Impacts Us All When We Ignore Children
Culturally, we frame children as lacking in competence, knowledge and judgment and use this to justify their exclusion from conversations that affect them. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds have to fight even harder to be heard and included. They do not have the same opportunities as other children their age, which can negatively impact their confidence and their beliefs about ‘fitting in’ (Social Mobility Report, 2019). When a child lacks confidence and believes they don’t fit in, they are effectively silenced. A silenced child cannot challenge injustices against them or hold those in power to account.
There are other consequences to not giving children an opportunity to influence decisions, including:
1) Organisations/policy-makers are much more likely to create policies and services for children that are poorly matched to their actual needs (Aubrey & Dahl, 2006, Näsman & Palme, 2017).
2) Children are not effectively equipped to participate in democracy. Supporting children’s right to be heard in early years is integral to nurturing their citizenship in the longer-term. Turning 18 does not automatically ignite an interest in the democratic process.
Children Are Natural Change-Makers
Time and again, experience demonstrates that young children, given the opportunity, can contribute positively to decisions that realise their own and others’ rights. That’s why Clowns Without Borders UK is championing children’s participation by listening to their ideas and turning them into action.
We will achieve this by setting up a Children’s Board. We know that supporting children’s agency creates powerful outcomes. Clowns Without Borders, for examples, exists because the ideas of children were taken seriously. A collaboration between Spanish and Bosnian children in 1993 resulted in performers visiting refugee camps in Croatia to support the wellbeing of children. Twenty-seven years later, Clowns Without Borders International shares laughter and play with hundreds of thousands of children each year in over twenty countries.
Our Children’s Board
Over the next year, we will put in place the necessary systems and process to create our first Children’s Board. Our youngest participant is six years old. Working with Mayflower Primary School, we will co-create the project together with children. We will create time and space for children to advocate for themselves, their communities and wider society.
Our planning and activities will be informed by what we hear and observe from the children. Using Lundy’s Model of Participation and of course play we will create a process that enables children contribute their views and ideas safely.
This approach will ultimately inform how children’s unique perspectives and lived experience can shape the governance of Clowns Without Borders UK.
We are so excited to be taking this new step. We know our our policies and decision making will change in ways we never imagined possible.