Bring our children back to where they belong: the centre of our communities

“Some people think children are just there to grow into adults, but they’re actually very important. Maybe adults should listen more to children’s ideas because sometimes a child’s idea can be really good and adults don’t listen.”

Children and young people have an enormous amount to contribute to the development of our communities. They are brimming with ideas, imagination and incredible talents that too often go unheard, unsolicited, and are made to feel unwelcome. It’s as if we’re simply waiting for them to grow into adults in order to have a say and to make a ‘valuable’ contribution.

By which point, it might be too late.

Today, Cormac will be giving the Children 1st Annual Lecture in Scotland, in which he will be pointing to some of the unintended consequences that the increase in professional or supervised ‘care’ has had on the perception of children in our communities, our ability to embrace their gifts and on how safe and welcome they feel on their streets. This is because, Cormac will argue, that we have become far too used to ‘exiling’ our children, especially our most vulnerable, from their neighbourhoods into institutions, and the role of strong communities in meeting the needs of all children has been marginalised. Now is the time to bring them back to the centre of our communities, where they belong.

In his Lecture, Cormac will go onto to say that “this is not just a Scottish issue but as Scotland looks to its future, it’s timely for everyone to stand back and consider what really matters. And what matters to me is how children are perceived in societies. Too often, children – especially our most vulnerable children – are a problem to be fixed, instead of the solution. We don’t ask them enough how they feel and when we do, the response is often heart-rending. They want to feel safe, wanted and welcomed.

“Yet, what we do with the most vulnerable children – and Scotland is no exception – is pay professionals to care for them. But care is not a commodity. It can’t be traded, bought or paid for. We – that’s individuals, communities and society – have effectively outsourced our responsibility to our children. Yet, those responsibilities to nurture and to love our children are fundamental to a healthy society.

“My message to Scotland tonight is that we need to change how we think and what we do. We need to stop perceiving children as a problem and start seeing what they offer. We need to think about what they can contribute not about what they receive. Sometimes, it’s the most vulnerable children who have the greatest gifts to offer, yet how often are they asked to contribute those gifts and share them with others, for the benefit of their communities?

All children need strong, capable, loving communities. We need to stop exiling them to institutions, expecting professionals to unilaterally raise our most marginalised children. A good childhood cannot be created by professional systems, it is simply not within their gift. They can of course contribute, support and facilitate, but there is no substitution for a caring community.

“If we invest in communities to be strong and enable people in our communities to grow, then they will develop the capacity to provide the support and care all our children need.

“It takes a village to raise a child. Just because it’s an old saying doesn’t make it a false one. Instead what we have created is ghettos to deal with people we perceive as problems. Residential institutions for vulnerable members of our society are just wrong. Yet, if we get back to thinking in the old ways, then we can create much brighter futures for vulnerable children, in communities which welcome them for who they are, what they offer and can contribute.”

In a Press Release circulated in advance of tonight’s lecture, Anne Houston, Chief Executive of Children 1st added “We asked Cormac to deliver our Lecture for 2013 because we knew he would set us a challenge. It’s vital that we put children first in thinking about how we shape our future. Our organisation was founded as the RSSPCC almost 130 years ago on the principles Cormac expounds and on the belief that we all have to take responsibility to protect children.

“For some time, we’ve shared Cormac’s concern that we have effectively left protecting children to the professionals. Which is why we are investing in programmes which engage with individuals and communities to think about what they can do to keep children safe. What can they change in their attitudes and behaviour to create more welcoming, nurturing places for children to grow up?

“It’s vital too to make children part of this conversation, to get them thinking about how they can look out for themselves and each other. As our engagement with children around Dr Seuss’s story “Horton Hears a Who” shows, children have great ideas and views to contribute. They want to be part of working out what can make a difference, to their own lives and to everyone in their communities.**

“We cannot leave it to someone else to look out for children. We all have a role to play in that. And if we become a more child-centred society – which not only considers children’s well-being and welfare but thinks about the environment they need in which to thrive safely – then our children will grow up happier, healthier and safer.

“It’s a simple message but a complex one to achieve. But we hope that Cormac’s lecture and activities like ours will give impetus to policy makers and professionals to make a start.”

**Leading up to Cormac’s lecture, volunteers from Children 1st asked several children to read ‘Horton Hears a Who‘ by Dr Seuss and think about the book’s message. The book tells the story of Horton the elephant who – despite ridicule from the other animals – protects the microscopic ‘Whos’. Horton declares, “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

The following examples give a flavour of the thoughtful responses the children gave when asked about the book:

“We’ve got to respect everyone in the world because everyone’s the same as us – just maybe smaller, taller, older, younger, different coloured skin. And we’re also different in loads of ways.”

“Even small people should be cared about and not damaged because they’re the most likely people to get hurt, or for their talents to be destroyed.”

“I would tell my friends’ mummies to read it to their kids.”

“Some people think children are just there to grow into adults, but they’re actually very important. Maybe adults should listen more to children’s ideas because sometimes a child’s idea can be really good and adults don’t listen.”

We’re really pleased to be with Children 1st to deliver this year’s Annual Lecture. We really look forward to being part of the conversation that will develop Scotland’s vision for the future in this area.

Follow #abcdScot on Twitter for instant updates of Cormac’s visit and the Annual Lecture later today.

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