Changing Children's Lives: Risks and Opportunities

Changing Children's Lives: Risks and Opportunities
  • Date: 18 Feb 2014
  • Series: Young Lives Policy Paper
  • Author: Kirrily Pells and Martin Woodhead
  • Download the file ( English, 1865 KB, PDF document )

Children’s development and well-being are significantly influenced by their family and community environment, with poor and marginalised children facing a heavier burden of risk. This paper summarises emerging findings from Young Lives to show how children’s development is shaped by different environmental influences, highlighting the changes that are taking place in children’s daily lives during the first decade of the twenty-first century, including the changing nature of risks and opportunities.

We show how poverty reduction and improved access to services and schooling have reduced some risks and created new opportunities for many children. However, we also see three core areas in which the poorest children are being left behind against the backdrop of generally rising living standards.

First, expanding education systems and the high aspirations that both children and their parents hold need to be capitalised on through improvements in school quality, effectiveness and relevance. Not all children have benefitted from increased enrolment, given the clear variations in quality and the school environment that exist and which can either compound or mitigate any disadvantage children already experience.

Second, children living in the poorest communities are likely to experience multiple disadvantages, including remote location in rural areas, weak infrastructure and services, poor-quality education and less access to modern technology. Tackling uneven development processes necessitates area-based policies which are targeted at geographical areas rather than individual households.

Third, processes of social change in attitudes and aspirations are bringing new opportunities for children, as well as changing expectations for future roles and responsibilities. At the same time there are new tensions and social risks, especially for girls and young women. Policies addressing social norms need to take account of the broader structures, such as poverty and gender, that shape children’s and families’ experiences. Ensuring that young people can access good-quality schooling, health services and employment opportunities is an important part of reducing attachment to traditional practices.

We argue that creating a supportive environment for children’s development requires tackling the structural causes of disadvantage with a particular focus on communities where children experience multiple disadvantages. This is the context for the post-2015 environment, and for the development of effective social policies to ensure that ‘no-one is left behind’.

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