Posts Tagged 'children'

JPP Editorial: Why Playwork is about much more than ‘space’

Today’s blog post is an editorial written by Shelly Newstead which featured in the latest issue of Journal of Playwork Practice. If you enjoy this and would like more information about the Journal of Playwork Practice or to take part in a free institutional trial please click here.

ShellyAt the time of this issue going to print, the backbone of the playwork profession in the UK, the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for Playwork, is under review.

Primarily created to qualify the burgeoning out of school childcare workforce the first NOS for Playwork were developed in the early 1990s by a group of playwork experts and the Sector Skills Council for Playwork, now known as SkillsActive (Bonel and Lindon 1996).

NOS for Playwork

The existence of a separate set of NOS for Playwork is crucial to distinguish playwork from other approaches to working with children within what Hughes (2012) called the ‘primeval learning soup‘ of the wider children’s workforce. However the original playwork NOS and subsequent revisions have been criticised by some playwork authors for being too functional and for not describing playwork as a unique profession within its own right (see Davy, 2007; Wilson 2008). The current review has raised some interesting debates, not only about the development of the NOS for Playwork but also about the nature and purpose of playwork itself. Continue reading ‘JPP Editorial: Why Playwork is about much more than ‘space’’

Author interview: Adrian Voce on children’s forgotten right to play

Adrian Voce’s book ‘Policy for Play: Responding to children’s forgotten right‘ publishes today. We caught up with Adrian to find out a little more about the background to the book, what inspired him to write it and why he thinks children’s right to play is ripe for a fresh look from policymakers.

Children’s play is an unlikely subject for a book about policy; what made you want to write it?

Adrian Voce Updated image2

Well, that’s one of its main points. Because play is very important to children, but much less so to the adults who control their environments, it is widely overlooked within child policy. But from a wide range of perspectives playing is crucial, both to children’s wellbeing in the present, and to their on-going development.

When considered next to the growing evidence of constraints on children’s play, it is not difficult to conclude that a broad, strategic and sophisticated response is required at different levels of society. And, because all children need to play, this must be a public realm response, which means a key role for government.

The book looks back at the Play Strategy for England, which was abandoned in 2010. How is this relevant now?

Notwithstanding the Welsh Government policy, which makes play provision a statutory duty on local authorities, the Play Strategy of 2008 was the closest a national government has yet come to a full response to Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).

“because [the Play Strategy] was then scrapped after only 2 years, there is a tendency to dismiss it as failed policy, or to overlook it altogether”

The UN’s own General Comment of 2013 elaborates states’ obligations under the convention to make the plans, provide the funding and legislate as appropriate to ‘respect, protect and fulfil’ all children’s right to play. The UK government set out to do that with a 12-year plan in 2008, but because it was then scrapped after only 2 years, there is a tendency to dismiss it as failed policy, or to overlook it altogether.

My book aims to stimulate a fresh look at what was achieved in terms of policy development; not to resurrect the strategy itself, which was of course particular to its wider context of New Labour’s reforms (universal outcomes and so on), but at its principles and its broad approach: as a detailed case study of what is possible in policy terms.

Wasn’t the Play Strategy mainly about building new playgrounds? Can play advocates really claim that this is a priority when public expenditure is still under so much downward pressure?

The most significant – and longer term – elements of the play strategy were not the new play areas but the measures to effect change in the way public space responded to children’s needs. Traffic, highways, parks, planning, housing, and policing: these are each important areas of public policy that impact on children’s access to the outdoor world for their play.

“One of the ironies of the premature termination of the Play Strategy was that [building new playgrounds] was not expensive in Treasury terms”

The approach I am advocating in the book, and which was begun through the Play Strategy, tackled each of these areas – nationally and locally – aiming to cultivate shared understandings, through professional development and joint planning, of what children need from the public realm.

One of the ironies of the premature termination of the Play Strategy was that this part of the policy was not expensive in Treasury terms. The plan after 2011 was to embed the concept of strategic partnerships for children’s play within the joint planning and commissioning process of local government – with the incentive of a new national indicator for play – and to provide high level training and facilitation to the cross-cutting professional groupings that would be necessary to make this happen.

The decision to scrap this had less to do with finance and more to do with a different concept of the role of central government.

In his foreword to the book, Professor Roger Hart talks about playwork. Where does this fit with your approach to play policy?

Playwork is synonymous, for many people, with childcare for older children but, when practiced properly, it is a new approach to working with children, less wedded to the dominant discourse that informs more established practices and underpins so much child policy.

Playwork resists the assumption made throughout the world of education and children’s services – and much of society – that adult responsibilities for children’s future ‘life chances’ override their own designs on their time and space: that ‘we know best’.

“Playwork serves only children’s play and their opportunity and capacity to enjoy it to the full”

Playwork serves only children’s play and their opportunity and capacity to enjoy it to the full. In so doing, its theory and practice has assimilated a wide, trans-disciplinary perspective on children’s play, which makes playworkers some of the best – and best informed – advocates for an enlightened approach to play policy that you will find anywhere.

If policymakers want to engender a healthy, active child population they really should engage with vocational playworkers, as they know what constitutes playable space. If our residential areas became, once again, daily places for children to play – outside in the common spaces of their streets and neighbourhoods – we would see a rapid reversal of childhood obesity, to mention just one of the benefits.

Isn’t there a contradiction in your recommendations to improve the playability of public space at the same time as expanding the number of staffed adventure playgrounds?

Yes, playwork has always been aware of the paradox of its approach. It’s a profession that aims ultimately to be unnecessary, at least in its direct provider role; but then you could probably say the same about social work and even medicine! Ideally we wouldn’t need playworkers or adventure playgrounds, but that utopia isn’t coming any time soon.

Playwork emerged on adventure playgrounds and one of the most exciting elements of the Play Strategy was the Pathfinder programme to expand their number and to develop playwork as a profession. Instead, we are seeing probably the steepest reduction in real (staffed) adventure playgrounds that we have ever had, and a corresponding decline in playwork.

What are the current prospects for play policy?

Well, the book relates how play provision – let alone strategic planning for more playable public space – has been a big casualty of austerity; but it also touches on the green shoots of new policy emerging, with an All Party Parliamentary Group, the new Children’s Commissioner, the Children’s Rights Alliance for England and even the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, all calling for the Government to reinstate children’s play as a ministerial responsibility and to rethink its decision to abandon policy for play.

In more general terms, I think play will become a bigger issue as long as public space is perceived as unsafe and unwelcoming to children. Whether it is out of concern about the consequences of sedentary lifestyles, or out of a realisation that the futures we anxiously anticipate for them are maybe less important than the quality of their lives now – no society (to paraphrase Lloyd George) can neglect the need of its children to play.

Adrian Voce OBE is a writer and consultant on public provision for children’s play. As Chair, then Director of the Children’s Play Council (2003-6), and founding director of Play England (2006-11), he had a key role in the UK Government’s Play Strategy of 2008-11. A former playworker, Adrian was the first director of London Play (1998-2004), working with the Mayor to establish a play policy for the capital city.

Policy for play [FC]Policy for Play: Responding to children’s forgotten right is available to purchase here  from the Policy Press website for £14.99. Remember that Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – if you’re not a member of our community why not sign up here today?

If you would like to read an extract from Adrian’s book you can do so here.

Why not also check out the Policy for Play website and follow Adrian on Twitter @adevoce

If you liked this you might also like….

Remaking the case for government action on play

We also publish the Journal of Playwork Practice – please check out our website if you are interested in finding out more about this journal, including the free 3 month online trial for libraries

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.


Can childcare markets deliver?

Chilcare markets book cover By Eva Lloyd, co-editor of Childcare markets: Can they deliver an equitable service?

At first glance it may seem far-fetched, if not downright distasteful, to draw parallels between developments in childcare markets and emerging findings in the recent disturbing report from the deputy Children’s Commission’s Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups, with a special focus on children in care (Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 2012). But both cases highlight risks attached to private-for-profit agencies delivering social welfare services on behalf of public bodies.

Modern states traditionally have varied in the amount of public support provided for early childhood education and care systems and other types of social welfare provision. Compared to commodity markets, childcare markets tend to form part of a mixed economy, in parallel with developments in social welfare markets such as the residential childcare market. In this mixed economy, the state, private-for-profit and private-not-for-profit providers all play a role in its provision, funding and regulation. The conclusion becomes almost inescapable that prioritising business interests, including profit or surplus, may underlie the geographical clustering of private sector care homes which was identified in this report. Almost half of all children in care were living outside the local authority with primary responsibility for their welfare, thus promoting their vulnerability, in particular to sexual exploitation (Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 2012, p 8).

There is growing evidence that marketisation and privatisation – including corporatisation – risk deepening, consolidating or widening inequalities of access to social welfare services. They may also drive up costs and promote qualitative differences between provider types. That this also applies to childcare markets, a distinctive and rapidly growing phenomenon in the present global economic climate, is shown from a range of disciplinary perspectives in a new edited book from the Policy Press, Childcare markets: Can they deliver an equitable service?

This book documents the economic and policy backdrops of eight current childcare market systems, allowing comparisons between privatisation and marketisation processes of early childhood services within their national policy and political contexts. It examines their consequences for parents, children, providers and the systems themselves. Alongside this it offers material about ‘raw’ and ‘emerging’ childcare markets operating with a minimum of government input, mostly in low income countries or post-transition economies in the process of adopting a market model. Finally, it explores alternative approaches and interrogates the case for government intervention.

Those authors writing from an education or childcare background emphasise the position of children, especially vulnerable children, and consider the detail of the care and education they are likely to receive within a market system. The economists’ contributions, on the other hand, consider the childcare market from the perspective of wider economic analysis and prediction, and they view childcare as a more or less well-functioning sector of the market. But despite these contrasting starting points, evidence presented challenges the expectation that the market will create incentives for providers to offer consumers more choice and competitive pricing, leading to a better balance between service supply and demand. Instead, all chapters in their own individual way demonstrate the case for increased attention to the ethical demands inherent in negotiating the interplay between social, political and economic issues and tensions within childcare markets.

This position is cogently argued by Jennifer Sumsion on the basis of her case study of the rise and fall of ABC Learning, the Australian childcare corporation which briefly became the world’s largest for-profit childcare provider, and virtually monopolized the Australian childcare market before its spectacular collapse in 2008. From her analysis of the current Dutch childcare system, Janneke Plantenga concludes that local providers and loyal parents do not by definition generate efficient markets, but that their atypical nature may generate additional market regulation, aiming at steering and perhaps limiting the choices of providers and parents. Even in New Zealand, according to Linda Mitchell, a state and community partnership model can build early childhood services more responsive to the wider context of children’s lives and supporting a stronger local sense of community than a market approach, while the Norwegian childcare system as described by Jacobsen and Vollset, does indeed operate on a non-profit basis, while still offering parents choice, by using a wide-reaching regulatory approach and judiciously targeted – and generous – public funding.

Rather than primarily ideologically driven conclusions, the book presents a balanced and pragmatic case for reform and outlines constraints needed to ensure that mixed economies of childcare can deliver equitable services.

Eva Lloyd, Reader in Early Childhood at the University of East London, UK, and Co-director of the International Centre for the Study of the Mixed Economy of Childcare (ICMEC), has extensive childhood policy research experience. Childcare markets: Can they deliver an equitable service? is edited by Eva Lloyd and Helen Penn and is available now at 20% discount from the Policy Press website.

Community Care Live 2010

Just back from a busy Community Care Live 2010 – it was great to meet lots of social workers and students and to network with delegates and other exhibitors. I attended a very interesting keynote from Dr Maggie Atkinson – the Children’s Commissioner for England only two months in post – on Wednesday morning. She seems genuinely committed to being a “champion for children” and was an engaging speaker to a sadly limited number of delegates (10am too early perhaps?!).

She outlined her current priorities, which included working with ‘resistant’ families and gaining children’s perspectives on safeguarding. She also said that she accepted the need of the children’s workforce (including social work) for training and development to be able to provide more effective services for children.

Dr Atkinson was able to report that on Tuesday she had met officially for the first time with the new Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP. Several delegates at CC Live had grumbled concern that the change of department title from Children, Schools and Families back to Education signalled the new government’s intention to deprioritise the wider range work with children and families, including social work. Dr Atkinson said that she felt the Secretary of State was equally committed to children and families, that there was no apparent change to the remit of the department and that there was no intention to rescind Every Child Matters (so get to grips with it if you need to by reading Making sense of Every Child Matters!). She also said that she was impressed with the new government’s early commitment to ending detention for refugee and asylum seeking children.

In line with what other experienced practitioners were saying at the conference, when asked what one priority she would encourage Michael Gove to take on board it was (appropriately) to “not to throw the baby out with the bathwater”. Perhaps we should send him a package of Policy Press books so he can swot up on some evidence of good and not so good policy and practice!

Karen Bowler, Senior Commissioning Editor, The Policy Press

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