(In reference to the Impact of public policy on children and young people.) There are few public services or policy agencies whose work has no impact on children. Yet children and young people have little or no say in public policy. Successive Governments have clearly shown willingness to seek the voices of young people through initiatives such as the UK Youth Parliament and campaigns like Make Your Mark. However, there does not seem to be a systematic approach to listening to children and young people. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child monitors implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on a five-year cycle and the UK is due shortly to report its work on the implementation of the UNCRC. Sadly, the UK is very likely to come up short.
A simple initiative to begin to address this deficit would be to place a duty on all government departments and local government to conduct a Child-Impact Assessment to assess whether policy proposals and/or legislation will safeguard and improve the wellbeing of children and young people. The hope would be that if a government department or agency involved children as a core stakeholder group then children would be valued both as consumers of services, but as citizens with rights to have their voices heard and their needs met.
This is neither a new nor an original idea. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly promoted the use of children’s rights impact assessments as a general measure of the implementation of children’s rights. Several European countries as well as New Zealand, Australia and Canada, already use children’s rights impact assessment tools to help ensure children are active rights holders rather than passive recipients of adult actions. Children’s rights impact assessments are carried out when beginning policy development, so policymakers can identify and avoid where possible inadvertent negative consequences, and can increase the beneficial impacts. Evidence has shown that policymakers gain from access to young people’s unique ideas, skills and perspectives and that engagement with young people results in more relevant and responsive policies, and better services.
As the experience of Covid-19 shows, decisions that negatively impact children and young people not only harm them but also result in high costs to society in the future. Such costs could be avoided by making decisions that avoid any inadvertent, negative consequences on children in the first place, or by mitigating potential negative effects on children.
To ensure that child-impact assessments were not simply yet another tick-box-exercise there would need to be effective feedback mechanisms that children could use easily, to allow children’s perspectives of impacts on them. The structures to support such mechanisms already exist, such as school councils, the UK Youth Parliament, children’s charities and the children’s commissioners.
Despite having some common experiences of universal public services and policies, not all children are the same and policies will have different impacts on different individuals and groups. Any child-impact assessment tool could consider differential impacts on different groups of children such as differences among younger versus older children, special needs, ethnicities, socioeconomic groups, urban or rural regions, and family size or parental characteristics.
When they are provided opportunities to engage in decisions that affect them, children and young people develop a sense of inclusion, civic participation, and agency. Listening to young children and showing their views have been considered in decision-making makes them feel valued. It improves their self-esteem, confidence and capability to respond to enquiries and give constructive feedback on an on-going basis.
Children have the right to express their views freely and for their views to be given due weight; they should be provided opportunities to be heard in matters that affect them. Children should be at the heart of public policy to rebuild the country post-pandemic and there is much to be gained from their involvement and engagement.