Writing in the FICE Bulletin, Marjatta Bardy of Finland discusses the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as a “Generational Contract"
We may read the Convention as a suggested “contract" between the child and adult generations, as a desired model where children have access to resources, they are protected and they are allowed to participate. The contract is built upon the three hard P's; provision, protection and participation.
These three P's are, actually, universal elements of the organisation of childhood in any society and at any time. Only the social forms of our giving effect to these three P's may vary according to time and place. Children are always nourished, educated and protected to some degree, and they have participated according to the allowances of a particular generational model. The Convention could be seen as an attempt to make these aspects of the generational model explicit.
The reasons are, for sure, several. For instance, it is according to the civilized notion of childhood no longer acceptable to let children suffer or to misuse them. Historically, the newest elements might be concerned with perceiving the child as an individual holder of rights, and the spectrum of rights is widened to take in participation. In many other respects the Convention follows the already culturally established notion of the proper generation relations.
We may therefore conclude that the Convention tries partly to renew the notion of the status of the child, and partly to press for the better satisfaction of the well-known needs of the child. The parties who are signnatories to the Convention assume the role of implementers. Any contradictions will then become apparent, too, if they are allowed to feature on the agenda. The basic elements of the “contract" between children and adults, namely provision, protection and participation, should be encountered not only in the state policy, but in all communication and interaction between adults and children.
In a way, the way we programme and implement the three hard P's will touch upon sharing of material and mental resources, sharing knowledge and experiences, and even affection and power.
1. Provision: distribution of resources
Provision refers to sharing and distribution; it includes the right to possess, receive or have access to certain resources and services. The Convention stresses that state parties shall undertake measures for children “to the maximum extent of their available resources". It suggests that children should get a lot and the best. So, elaborating the idea of provision will call for a lot of work if it is to be implemented.
Provision is a basic general concept, and within it “resource" is a key word. It is involved in a wide variety of things like money, mental and physical space, power, opportunities, knowledge, love, friendship, self-esteem, and nature ...
The second set of key words involves things like possessing, receiving and having access to resources. The process of redistributing some resources, like money and power, is going on in many countries.
There are critical issues like:
which kinds of resources are distributed by policy making, and
what are the explicit and implicit consequences of certain decisions about resources? Moreover, which kinds of resources are produced and shared in everyday communication? Who has resources? Do children have any resources that can be distributed?
What do we know about the distribution of the resources between the child and adult generations? Not very much. This leads us to the complicated field of the nature of knowledge. The national reports of the research project Childhood as a Social Phenomenon (Qvortrup 1990) have indicated again and again that the data on children and childhood are adults – and institution-oriented. Family statistics and “child information" is actually saying more about adulthood than childhood. We need a knowledge policy that also takes the child as a unit of observation. Knowledge is also a resource field where children should get more social space, for instance, as informants.
There is another challenge in this generational contract: our policies should be firmly based on the sustainable choices so that “something" is left to the not-yet-born generations.
2. Protection: parenting and “regression"
Protection stands for the right to be shielded from certain acts and practices (social and individual misuses). It is close to parenting. In our culture the responsibility for parenting is restricted to two adults, the mother and the father. Parenting is perceived as a private issue. However, the components of parenting are complex and specialized. Children are actually parented by several adults “in private parental parenting and in professional parenting. The problem is: what is the interplay between these different aspects of parenting? A suggestion focusing on this very interplay springs from the problems of marginalized families. A study of child protection (Fisher et al, 1986) proposes that the concept of parents should be extended. “All parenting is shared between the family and the wider kinship and friendship network, and between this system and state provision".
Every major reform on children has been implemented through new special groups of experts, and much of childhood is encapsulated in the institutions influenced by professional thinking. Socially shared parenting would involve a lot of rethinking as to children as a social group, as well as children at risk. The redistribution of the economic “burden" due to the maintenance of children is a form of socially shared parenting. Another 'social parenting' concern is how children are parented in child institutions like schools day care centres and children's homes. Are we, as child experts, able to develop means to protect children and adults from negative and growth-denying experiences? Are we able to create environments that actually go beyond the impressive planning illustrated by 'figures, boxes and arrows'?
Children make their acquaintance with the world in these institutions and schools. These are the places where they meet and reflect on the world in their minds, and grasp it in their own way. For these explorations, plenty of room and free space of all kinds are needed. Institutions for children are also socialized forms of mother's breast and father's lap. These are supposed to be feeding and encouraging, not suffocating and imprisoning.
3. Participation: progression and “occupying" the world
Participation stands for the right to do things, express oneself and have an effective voice as an individual child and as a larger group. The rights to freedom are considered so vital to adults. What happens when minors have access to them too? Children's rights to protection and welfare do not touch upon the power relationship between adults and children, but the rights to freedom do (Franklin 1986).
Will these rights and freedoms become everyday practice in schools and communities? If miners are given new chances of participation and co-determination, they too will become social subjects (rather than objects) of the politics of childhood alongside adults. A genuine transformation between the generations can take place only if all the parties involved are allotted the status of subject.
When children themselves have a chance to study life, they can participate in analyzing the major issues affecting them. As they examine the rights of the child, they may explore what these mean in practice, and they can also participate in advocating and implementing them. This calls for arenas in which there is a shift from adult domination to social partnership. Children are members of their families, schools or day care and other institutions, but also of the specific generation into which they happen to be born.
We need to know and understand the child generation which we are dealing with, and not to imagine that our adult-oriented knowledge of childhood reflects adequately their reality. We need to be available to them with our experiences and skills; social arenas and practices are needed in which the miners may in turn express their experiences. These partnerships with children might help us as adults better to understand the fantasies hidden in words and experience and to avoid empty rhetoric.
Helping marginalized children in practice
I would like to highlight this thinking by an example. What would shared parenting and participation of children mean, particularly with regard to children at risk or in special dangers?
Kuttula is a Finnish non-governmental organization dedicated to child care dealing especially with children in difficult situations who have been deserted and abandoned not only by their families but also by diverse helping services. They have complex family backgrounds as well as complex “careers" in the helping services. Some of these children are mentally ill, some of them come from prison. Kuttula serves these children by providing them with “homely atmosphere, with affection and love, which they were deprived of in their previous lives" “as they like to state themselves.
Qualities of the community
Some of the essential features of the community's activity are the following:
1. No one is rejected. Nobody will be sent from the community with an accompanying note which reads “Beyond help by means at our disposal". The children usually spend a long period living at Kuttula which thus becomes a stable part of a child's family.
2. “The extended joint parenthood" means that the relations between adults and children in this community, together with previous important human relations (whenever possible, at least on the mental level) make up the network of primary relationships.
3. The child is helped to realize his position as a link in the chain of generations. The people previously important to the child are associated with the activities whenever possible. The children are relieved of any responsibility for their parents and supported (for instance, by permitting their negative feelings) in taking responsibility for themselves, and also in integrating their previous, however chaotic, experiences in their life history (see Hansen 1991).
4. The children's problems are investigated and treated in the order they appear in everyday life. In community meetings topics like death, violence, or abuse are discussed – and not avoided to protect the child from discussing such things which are so characteristic of their previous lives. Simultaneously, positive resources are made available and the children prepared for these.
5. The children participate in the maintenance of the community, which is not served to them “ready-made" by the adults. Control of the community is firmly in the hands of the adults, but the children clearly feel that they are participants necessary in the management of the organisation. At present the community is visiting Nepal. The children, having experienced themselves as “social problems" and troublemakers, are now doing their share in development aid. They also are taking responsibility for their own school attendance, which in many cases had suffered over long intervals.
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A major issue for us is the way we plan to cross several kinds of boundaries – which may be administrative or professional – the boundaries between open and residential care, between public and private services, between this or that kind of parents, between expert and lay support, between child and adult service.
Alanen, L. and Bardy, M. (1990). Lap-suuden aika ja lasten paikka. SH 1 2/1 990. Vapk. Helsinki. And: Childhood as a Social Phenomenon National Report for Finland. Eurosocial 36,1.
Daenzer, P.M. (1991).Towards a Multicultural Society. Presented at SOS '91 : National Agency for Health and Welfare. Lahti/Finland 2224.5.
Fisher, M., Marsh, P.and Phillis, D. (1986). In and Out of Care. B.T. Batsford Ltd. London.
Franklin, B. (ed.) (1986). The Rights of Children. Basil Blackwell. Oxford 1986.
Hautam–ki, S. Ydintrauma. (1988). Pohjoinen.
Qvortrup, J. (1990). Childhood as a Social Phenomenon. Eurosocial 36,0. (And the national reports of the research project in the same serial.)