Children’s Rights and Crises: A Child-Centred Perspective
Alex Bidmead, University of Bristol (United Kingdom) will be joining us online to discuss her current research work around considering the impact of ‘crises’ on children and exploring the possibilities for better supporting these children.
There will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions, maybe in response to some general queries around how this work speaks to questions and concerns around Children’s agency and rights in our current global context (further information is in the Research section below).
Alex is currently an assistant psychologist working with the University of Bristol in South West England. She is a strong advocate for children’s rights and participation in education.
This research-focused seminar event will take place on Thursday 7 December from 12 – 1pm, with a presentation from Alex, followed by an Q&A session.
This will be a hybrid session. Alex will be joining us online, or people are welcome to join the session in person in Room 0.18 in the Piazza Building at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk.
This event is organised with the Faculty of Education (Secondary and Further Education) and the Children’s Agency and Rights in Education (CARE) Network.Discover more about our CARE Network
‘Crisis’ is a broadly used term referring to an exceedingly dangerous or difficult situation where something of value is under threat and requires urgent addressing (Boin et al., 2020; MacNeil Vroomen et al., 2013). Early conceptualisations of crisis theory explained intense psychological distress as emerging when individuals face a problem which is both meaningfully threatening to their life goals and cannot be resolved through the application of normal problem-solving mechanisms (Caplan, 1964; Parad & Caplan, 1960; Rapoport, 1962).
What remains unclear is how crisis theory applies to children, a social group who are frequently labelled as being ‘in crisis’ within literature. This includes issues such as increasingly poor mental health amongst youths (Mind, 2020), child homelessness (Rhoades et al., 2018) or cyberbullying (Zaborskis et al., 2019). Additionally, children are among the most vulnerable social group affected by disasters, due to their need for a safe and stable environment to promote healthy development (Agrawal & Kelley, 2020). They are often disproportionately impacted during times of economic depravity (Lawrence et al., 2019), political conflict (Jones, 2008) and natural disasters (Curtis et al., 2000) due to infringements placed on their rights to access education and to participate in decisions which affect their lives (Harper et al., 2010). Despite this, therapeutic interventions specifically designed to support children in the aftermath of a crisis situation have been shown to fail at improving their mental health symptoms (Thabet et al., 2005) or suffer from a high drop-off rate (Hendricks-Ferguson, 2000; Rhoades et al., 2018), suggesting they may be limited in their accessibility for children and young people. A possible explanation for the ineffectiveness of these services is that they are often targeted at the family system and may overlook the specific needs of the child (O’Connor et al., 2014). As a result, judgements about children’s needs may primarily represent what adults perceive them to be and fail to capture the child’s unique experience (Oakley, 2002). Therefore, improving the effectiveness of these intervention programmes may require a reconceptualization of crisis from the perspective of children.
Children are often limited or even discouraged from taking action in managing crisis, presumably due to their socialization within power-imbalanced institutions such as school (Hohti & Karlsson, 2014). Despite this, research has found that children often have a unique interpretation of policy which affects them and can feel that their voices are disregarded within decision-making (Perry-Hazan & Lambrozo, 2018).
The relevant research is adult oriented and very little research intends to make links between conceptualisations of crisis and children’s rights. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (United Nations, 1989), and its near universal ratification by state parties of the United Nations (UN), has promoted developmental, survival, protection and participation rights as fundamental for children. Subsequently, the UNCRC, and children’s right to participation has gained recognition in education systems and curricula. Educational contexts work within a wide range of legislative requirements, adhering to regulatory standards and curriculum documents. These may be designed with reference to the requirements of the UNCRC to promote the best interests of children and uphold their rights to provision and protection. However, when it comes to crisis, the obligation of adults to protect children “overwrites” children’s participatory rights.
Thus, this study aimed to investigate how children attribute meaning to the term, ‘crisis’ through their narrative discourse. Two secondary aims were, firstly, to encourage children to evaluate the support systems which may provide aid to them during a crisis and, secondly, to delineate what children perceive to be their role within crisis management.
Methodology, Methods and Research Instruments
As the most reliable accounts of children’s experiences and views were likely to be gained directly through interaction with this social group (Bryman et al., 2008), this study aimed to collect qualitative data with an exploratory research design. Focus groups were used as children’s ideas may emerge and be constructed most effectively through reciprocal interaction with peers (Hohti & Karlsson, 2014). A bipartite aim of this study was to advocate for child voices in social research, by placing the discursive power in the children’s hands. Consequently, participants were encouraged to explore different themes as they arose in discussion, giving children a high level of autonomy over which topics they valued as most important to discuss and in what depth (Bryman, 2012).
Primary school children were recruited through a mixture of purposive and convenience sampling through a mainstream UK primary school. As it was reasoned that children at a similar age were likely to share experiences and thus have a more homogenous understanding on certain topics (Ryan et al., 2014), children were sampled only from year 5 and 6 (typically aged 9-11 years old) due to their presumed higher maturity in discussing sensitive topics like crisis.
All students who return valid consent forms from parents/guardians were deemed eligible for inclusion to promote children’s right to participation and no specialist criterion for sampling was included. As such, the final sample was seven groups of 37 children [aged 9 years 10 months – 11 years 9 months old, Mean (M) = 10 years 10 months, standard deviation (SD) = 7.32 months] of which N = 25 were female.
A series of 6-10 open-ended questions, initially developed from outstanding questions in youth crisis research highlighted by Grimm et al. (2020), were put to children in a semi-structured format. During the pilot session, these questions were reorganised into 20 questions covering the four research questions which each other at times, depending on what the children chose to discuss. They were asked to imagine if they were the school crisis management team, what crisis they could tackle and how they would go about this. Children were encouraged to draw mind-maps and charts throughout their discussion to act as visual foci to aid conversation. These techniques help children to generate and sort ideas and consolidate their understanding of these whilst promoting the ownership of the information they relay (Peterson & Barron, 2007).
Findings and Conclusions
Data was analysed through a mixture of thematic analysis and narrative inquiry, with particular focus on how meaning about crisis is co-constructed in children through discussing individual narratives (Savin-Baden & Niekerk, 2007).
Findings showed that children built a collectivist understanding of crisis as a scalable and deeply personally affecting event. Specifically, children emphasised that the phenomenon of a crisis can be distinguishable based on several distinct markers. These included the number of deaths caused, the publicity an event received, its personal significance and the length of time the crisis lasted. These factors were described to have variable and intermingling effects upon how easy a crisis was to overcome, with the most severe examples, such as war, terrorist attacks and health epidemics being characterised as resistant to recovery and something which is learned to be lived with.
Children also showed disillusionment with the authorities who they viewed as disregarding the needs of children in times of crisis. However, these feelings did not translate into a desire for more involvement within organising crisis management. Instead, children primarily sought greater inclusion within discussions about difficult events as they played out.
These findings paint the picture of children as active social beings, desperately seeking out reasons to attribute meaning to the difficult events they have experienced. Rather than protecting the ‘best interests of the child’ by perpetuating their ignorance, adults may in fact be eliciting unnecessary stress in children by avoiding these troubling, yet important conversations about topical crises.
To conclude, children are disempowered to become active participants in resolving crises which may reflect propagated narratives that children are unknowledgeable, vulnerable and incompetent. Subsequently, policy which campaigns for children’s rights, especially participatory ones, is being compromised and requires reform to better actualise children’s ability to contribute their perspective on decisions which impact their lives.
- Agrawal, N., & Kelley, M. (2020). Child Abuse in Times of Crises: Lessons Learned. Clinical Pediatric Emergency Medicine, 21(3), 100801.
- Boin, A., Ekengren, M., & Rhinard, M. (2020). Hiding in plain sight: Conceptualizing the creeping crisis. Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy, 11(2), 116-138.
- Brady, L.-M., & Davey, C. (2011). NCB Guidelines for Research With Children and Young People.
- Curtis, T., Miller, B. C., & Berry, E. H. (2000). Changes in reports and incidence of child abuse following natural disasters. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24(9), 1151-1162.
- Harmey, S., & Moss, G. (2021). Learning disruption or learning loss: using evidence from unplanned closures to inform returning to school after COVID-19. Educational Review, 1-20.
- Harper, C., Jones, N., & McKay, A. (2010). Including children in Policy responses to economic crises.
- Hendricks-Ferguson, V. L. (2000). Crisis intervention strategies when caring for families of children with cancer. J Pediatr Oncol Nurs, 17(1), 3-11.
- Hohti, R., & Karlsson, L. (2014). Lollipop stories: Listening to children’s voices in the classroom and narrative ethnographical research. Childhood, 21(4), 548-562.
- Jones, L. (2008). Responding to the needs of children in crisis. Int Rev Psychiatry, 20(3), 291-303.
- Lawrence, J. A., Dodds, A. E., Kaplan, I., & Tucci, M. M. (2019). The Rights of Refugee Children and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Laws, 8(3), Article 20.
- MacNeil Vroomen, J., Bosmans, J. E., van Hout, H. P., & de Rooij, S. E. (2013). Reviewing the definition of crisis in dementia care. BMC Geriatr, 13, 10.
- Merriman, B., & Guerin, S. (2006). Using children’s drawings as data in child-centred research. The Irish journal of psychology, 27(1-2), 48-57.
- Mutch, C. (2011). Crisis, curriculum and citizenship. Curriculum Matters, 7, 1-7.
- Oakley, A. (2002). Women and children first and last: Parallels and differences between children’s and women’s studies. In Children’s Childhoods (pp. 19-38). Routledge.
- Perry-Hazan, L., & Lambrozo, N. (2018). Young children’s perceptions of due process in schools’ disciplinary procedures. British Educational Research Journal, 44(5), 827-846.
- Rhoades, H., Rusow, J. A., Bond, D., Lanteigne, A., Fulginiti, A., & Goldbach, J. T. (2018). Homelessness, Mental Health and Suicidality Among LGBTQ Youth Accessing Crisis Services. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev, 49(4), 643-651.
- Roberts, A. R., & Ottens, A. J. (2005). The seven-stage crisis intervention model: A road map to goal attainment, problem solving, and crisis resolution. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 5(4), 329.
- Savin-Baden, M., & Niekerk, L. V. (2007). Narrative inquiry: Theory and practice. Journal of geography in higher education, 31(3), 459-472.
Who is this event for?
For enquiries about this event, please get in touch with Dr Clare Woolhouse, Co-Convenor of Children’s Agency and Rights in Education.