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How Can we Meaningfully Engage with Children to Create Safe and Inclusive Schools?

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

by dr kate mcalpine

Citizens 4 Change addresses the collective action problem of violence against children by learning from the wisdom of a crowd of Child Protectors. Following our initial study which explored children’s experience of harm in schools, we reflected on how best to engage with students to seed a child led movement for safe and inclusive schools.

Our reflections drew on three frameworks that helped us to identify the power shifts needed for the meaningful inclusion of children in social change processes. We hope in this blog post to offer some food for thought to practitioners who are endeavouring to engage meaningfully with children as part of their own efforts to create safe and inclusive schools.

Reminds us that children are a part of our communities but are at the bottom of social hierarchies. Therefore we need to address power dynamics that prevent children from engaging in a meaningful way. The framework is structured around the 3 S’s:

  1. Create SPACE for our children to engage

  2. Provide consistent SUPPORT to children

  3. Facilitate SYSTEM CHANGE

Including children in a meaningful way to create safe and inclusive schools requires practitioners to do three things that address 7 different challenges.

7 challenges that need to be resolved if children are to be meaningfully engaged as social change actors.

Framework #2: Powershift

Responding to these seven challenges requires a shift in personal, political, and relational power.

Personal: Providing space and support to a child builds their confidence as social actors, supporting them to become self-disciplined and cooperative. When teachers become motivated to do the right thing they listen to, encourage, and cooperate with students. When parents begin to tap into the Ujasiri mindset that triggers their intrinsic motivation to do the right thing, they provide for, encourage, and communicate with their children and teachers. They become more involved in their children’s school life and know what action to take when their child experiences harm.

Political: Schools need to become accountable for their teachers’ behaviour and sanction them professionally and criminally when they harm children.

Relational: When we look at how our collective powers are used to oppress and emancipate, we can unlearn those behaviours and grow. This leads to the relationship between adults and children evolving as children become more visible and valued as community members.

Framework #3: Theorising about change

Finally, in a situation as complex as violence against children, there are 8 elements that need to be managed to realise change.

  1. Involvement of all: Are all the people included that need to be involved, including minority voices?

  2. Urgency for change: Do people feel that change is both important and urgent?

  3. Shared ambition: Are all parties willing to come together to co-create the future?

  4. Backbone: Who or what provides the structure and the energy to hold all the different elements together?

  5. Vital connections: Is there an effective communications structure within the system that allows information to flow?

  6. Responsive leadership: Are there enough motivated leaders in the system to champion change?

  7. Reinforcing actions: Do the varying actions that need to be implemented to realise system change reinforce each other or do they undermine each other?

  8. Adaptive learning: Are we learning as we act and are we changing our behaviour accordingly?

The Impact chain helps us to explore the relationships between the different changes that are anticipated to occur as the program unfolds.

A triple line return on investing in engaging children as social actors in their own development and that of their own communities.

It is through meaningful engagement with children that programme designers and practitioners have an opportunity to influence deep change in an individual’s self-understanding and behaviour while simultaneously influencing the institution’s behaviour and how collective relationships function. When this is done concurrently, systems do change, and the impact of interventions achieve scale.

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