Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Gary Craig (CP 34)


  An adequate income is probably the most important way of addressing the poverty of children and young people. However, it is important not to see children and young people merely as victims of poverty but as potential participants in action to combat poverty. Community development is the means by which this may be encouraged and there is growing evidence from across the world of success in this area. This work addresses many of the wider dimensions of poverty, such as the poverty of children's environments, their housing conditions, safety, disabilities and discrimination, urban decline and the impacts of economic decline; the evidence suggests there are few areas of social policy—broadly understood—in which children and young people cannot engage as committed political actors.

  The Committee is urged to note the importance of engaging children and young people in the struggle to combat poverty; there are widespread examples of important work in this area within the UK, particularly amongst the major children's charities (eg the Children's Society, Barnardo's and Save the Children), and abroad, and, to a more limited extent in the work of the Local Network Fund, sponsored by the DfES. The submission draws on a recent review of the literature undertaken for one of the children's charities.


  1.1  This paper reviews reported experience of community development with children and ways in which the effectiveness of that work might be assessed. Children and young people have traditionally been, almost as a matter of course, excluded from adult policy debate, being regarded as ill-equipped to contribute effectively. However, as the reviewed evidence shows, this need not be the case and there are many examples world-wide of the ways in which, using the techniques of community development, children and young people can make effective and appropriate contributions to policy issues which affect their lives. Although this evidence covers a range of contexts, and children of mixed backgrounds and experience, much of it focuses on ways in which children and young people from more deprived backgrounds can become important policy actors in their own right.

  1.2  The growth of this work has coincided with a more general revival of interest in community development. The language of "community involvement" and "participation" is again common coinage in political and policy circles, with the 1997 New Labour government locating a central plank of its policy approach to combating deprivation in the "New Deal for Communities" (SEU 1998). Although community development has long been associated with attempts to address poverty and deprivation, "community", as one commentator once so aptly put it, has however yet again become a "spray-on additive", one which frequently obscures as much as it clarifies issues and processes under discussion. Hoggett (1997: 3) observes, "nowhere is the idea of community more ubiquitous than in contemporary social and public policy". This widespread usage however conceals widely differing widely meanings and political orientations. Frazer (1998: 8) suggests there is a danger that the fact that "community has become the dominant political idea of the centre left . . . will obscure the need for serious social analysis." Consequently, it is important initially to clarify what is meant by the notions of community and community development.

  1.3  Community development takes as a key tenet the importance of working with people in a way which starts with their own perceptions of their needs and then organising with them to meet those needs in appropriate ways. In the context of this paper, this raises a number of key ethical and methodological issues, both for children in general and particularly those with disability or impairment, who are doubly impeded from fully participating in society. Some of these issues are addressed elsewhere in this book.

  1.4  In discussing working with children, how far is it possible to work with children as independent actors in their own right, separate from the adults who have kinship, caring and/or legal responsibilities for them? Because of the contemporary legal frameworks which define the state of "childhood" (albeit differently within particular cultures), children can never be seen as entirely autonomous. Childhood is now widely recognised not as a fixed concept but one which is a social and political construct. It is not possible to review this issue here (although I do so in detail elsewhere: see Craig 2000) but the boundaries of the answer to this rather basic question are important in defining what is appropriate, possible and permissible in working with children. It is important to note the strong current of thinking which increasingly defines the child as a semi-independent actor with social and political rights, and provides a policy and political framework for working with children. This framework legitimises the development of work with children but, at the same time, spells out the competing political and legal issues which have to be considered and clarified in the course of such work. Social research has incidentally made a useful contribution to exploring the ethical and methodological questions which need to be addressed in working with children. Research findings have much to offer practitioners and, to a large extent, have led where practice is following (ibid).

  1.5  The practice of community development as a professional occupational form has evolved within the UK over the past 50 years, subject to a number of influences, identified in historical reviews of its growth (eg Thomas 1983; Craig 1989; Popple 1995). Although these reviews differ, sometimes considerably, in their political analysis and in the conclusions which the authors reach, they have in common the understanding that community development is both a way of working, a practice (or more precisely a praxis, a form of social action, which attempts effectively to unite theory and practice: see eg Sayer 1986; CDJ 1997) with a set of techniques and methods; and a broader philosophical approach to working with people.

  1.6  This broader view of the community development approach to working with people is critical to understanding its contemporary importance because it recognises that it is possible for the principles of community development to inform work with people in a variety of policy settings (such as housing, education, planning, urban regeneration and health) or to influence other professions and social movements (Thomas 1995). For example, community development principles have informed a significant body of work which has attempted to give greater control over, and participation in, the work of social services to their consumers (Croft and Beresford 1993), and are increasingly used within primary health initiatives (Jones 1999).

  1.7  At the same time, those working within communities have increasingly recognised the importance of approaches built as much on difference and diversity as on common interests and goals. Early sociological discussions about the meaning of "community" identified the term (from a multiplicity of definitions) as not only referring to a set of social relations within a defined geographical area (community as place), but also, or alternatively, as "a sense of belonging to a group" (Stacey 1969: 135) (community as identity) (see also Hillery 1955; Bell and Newby 1971). The Community Development Project (whose origins, ironically, lay in the changing legislative and policy framework for children and young people; see eg CDP 1997, 1998), working within neighbourhoods and using a strong class analysis, was rightly criticised for the underdeveloped gender dimension in its analysis. In the last twenty years, both community development practice and theorising have been informed by an understanding of the importance of incorporating the dimensions of gender, race, disability and sexuality, for example (Flynn et al. 1986; Jacobs and Popple 1994). This has led to different strands of practice, for example so-called "separatist work" with specific population groups, such as members of minority ethnic communities or people with disabilities, or work which has a specific rural focus (Henderson 1999) as opposed to the urban settings in which most community development work had previously taken place. One important issue emerging from practice has been the recognition that conflict is as likely to be a motive or context for organising (Hoggett 1997) as is the consensus often associated with the romantic "myth" of community. Increasingly, across the world, community development practice has had to develop quite explicitly in situations of (at times, extreme) conflict (CDJ 1998). These insights are relevant to work with children as we shall see.

  1.8  Community development practice was undermined during the 1980s and 1990s in the UK by a combination of a centralising national state and considerable fiscal and political pressure on the capacity of publicly-controlled institutions to support it, leading in some commentators' views to it now being at something of a "cross-roads" (Miller and Ahmad 1997). Ironically, at the same time, its salience outside the UK apparently has become correspondingly greater. As argued elsewhere, (Craig 1998: 4) `The Brundtland Commission (WCED 1987) argued that one of the main prerequisites of sustainable development is "securing effective citizens' participation" and the Human Development Report (UNDP 1993) commented that, in the face of current challenges for development, "people's participation is becoming the central issue of our time". Even the World Bank, better known for its fiscal conservatism than for its social and political risk-taking, has argued that community participation can be a means for ensuring that . . . projects reach the poorest in the most efficient and cost-effective way."

  1.9  This interest in community development outside the UK has been important in offering a framework for some imaginative work with children and young people, which is now increasingly mirrored within the UK. However, this apparent enthusiasm for community development and community participation reflects continuing political and ideological confusion about the goals of community development, this time on a global scale. In what follows, community development is taken to be a way of working with people which starts with the needs and aspirations of groups of disadvantaged people in poor and deprived communities (whether socially or geographically defined). It seeks to articulate and organise politically (in the broadest sense) around these needs and aspirations, placing them at the front rather than at the end of political and policy debate. It strives to give ordinary people a voice for expressing and acting on their needs and desires and, through the process of participating in this approach to social change, offers people (again often the most powerless and deprived) support for their empowerment.

  1.10  Empowerment is another of the terms associated with community development which has become part of the common political lexicon but equally open to the charge of meaning everything and nothing. Here, the term empowerment is taken to mean the creation of sustainable structures, processes and mechanisms, over which communities have an increased degree of control, and which themselves have a measurable impact on public and social policy affecting those communities: this definition incorporates both outcome and process goals. These definitions have been used as a yardstick against which potential evidence has been assessed.

  1.11  One distinction which needs to be made is between community development work targeted at adults but which claims to bring indirect benefits to children; and work directly with children themselves. This is an important distinction because community development strategies are being turned to again as a potential panacea for dealing with a range of social issues such as the "youth problem". There is some evidence in recent literature of the indirect benefits which children derive from community development (eg Alexander 1992; Henderson 1995; Barr et al 1995; and see below) and much basic community development work with adults—such as work with residents campaigning for better housing or clean water—brings fairly obvious benefits to children and adults alike. Much of this work is premised partly however on the assumption that it will bring benefits to children by a form of "trickle-down" process. For example, community development-oriented public health, housing or employment programmes to reduce smoking, address dampness or disrepair, or improve labour market skills, should, it is claimed, impact on children in terms of health gains or improvements in their self-esteem. However, there has been very little attention to evaluating the extent to which these assumptions are valid and indeed the "trickle-down" theory of economic and social development is now thoroughly discredited within social development literature (Craig and Mayo 1995). It is important that these claims should be the focus of careful evaluative work.

  1.12  Community development is, as we have noted, a highly complex organic process, in which it is not always possible to trace a definitive causal line between "input" and "outcome". Most of this discussion in this paper examines the impact of community development with children, but it has often been tentatively suggested that being part of a community, and therefore also being involved in community development, has a beneficial impact on the life and well-being of the child, even when children do not form the direct focus of the intervention. Gaffikin and Morrissey (1994), reviewing one of the major UK interventions forming part of the European Third Poverty Programme (Geddes 1997), draw some cautious conclusions on the effects of the Brownlow Community Trust on the lives of the residents—including children—of Brownlow, Northern Ireland. They focus on tangible outputs, from which assumptions about lasting value are drawn. These outputs include the establishment of a women's centre and activities focusing on family support, a health centre users group, cre"che facilities and child play facilities, and the raising of awareness on policies as they affect young people.

  1.13  The model employed within this programme has subsequently been applied to Barnardo's Anti-Poverty Strategy, Traynor, Smith and Hughes (1998) suggesting that such an approach is promising in affecting the lives of children but that it is too early to assert that the change will be sustained. Much early effort in this strategy went into the development of an infrastructure, without which long-term outcomes were unlikely to be achieved. Apart from these and other isolated examples, little reference is made in the literature to the impacts of an impoverished community on the child, nor on the impacts on the child of an improved or sound community. One notable exception to date is Henderson (1997) which notes in a discussion of general community development work with children that:

    Other projects do not necessarily aim at children and young people but nevertheless involve and benefit them. A post-war council estate included a street where the houses had not been modernised like those in the surrounding streets. Part of the problem was the fact that kitchens and bathrooms were not properly separated, a situation which was seen as basic to the whole family's health (p 171).

  1.14  What also remains largely untested, and this discussion is intended to advance the debate, is the extent to which community development directly with children offers benefits to the children themselves.


    —  Community development is being promoted energetically across the world but differing groups understand it in different ways.

    —  The language of community development and empowerment often masks different values and practices.

    —  It is important to distinguish between community development with communities in general and work targeted specifically on particular groups, including children.


  2.1  As much community development literature and practice now acknowledges (eg Craig and Mayo 1995), the distinction between "developed" and "developing" countries is often a misleading and unhelpful one. The processes which impact on local communities, resulting in poverty and deprivation, social and economic dislocation, are increasingly global in their origins and similar in their effects in disparate national contexts. Despite important local differences (in terms of social, economic, cultural and political contexts and differing understandings of the meaning of childhood in differing countries), the local impacts of these global processes, local analyses of these processes, and community responses to them, are increasingly following parallel paths.

  2.2  Community development in the "developed" world is increasingly recognising the nature of these connections and how much it has to learn from the insights and practice of those in the "developing" world: this has been, for example, the critical insight which has led Oxfam, the UK-based development aid Non-Governmental Organisation, to develop an anti-poverty programme within the UK, in parallel with its extensive work in other countries, and which has informed the cross-country comparative thinking within organisations such as Save the Children. The need for these connections is increasingly reflected in practice and the evidence drawn on here correspondingly comes from a very wide range of contexts from both the "North" and the "South".

  2.3  I noted earlier that social research has offered considerable methodological and ethical insights into working with children; it also demonstrates that there are few policy areas now where research has not sought their views. Social research and community development share common values, in particular the importance of listening carefully to what people have to say, the need to synthesise and/or analyse a range of data (both qualitative and quantitative), and the over-riding importance of respect for the views of those with whom the professional is working. Research is, however, not the same thing as community development although it is not uncommon that community development workers find that they need to draw on research findings to inform their activities. It is, in part, the process of moving across the threshold from research into action alongside individuals and community groups, that differentiates the community development worker from the researcher. This raises further important issues about the capacity of children to be the subjects of community development work, not least because initiatives arising from community development work take these subjects into the world of political and social action, a world largely controlled and shaped by adults. The crucial question for those concerned with community development with children is therefore to what extent can groups of children defined geographically or on the basis of some common interest, organise to change their world?

  2.4  Given the relatively recent development of both a general awareness of children's rights, and the growing understanding of the need to offer children means to having a voice of their own, it is not surprising to find that the literature regarding community development with children is itself both relatively recent—though growing rapidly—and "thin", much of it in the form not of books or journal articles but published in "grey" sources such as magazines, house journals and monographs. In reading this literature, as suggested above, a clear interpretation of the use of language remains crucial to understanding what is happening: the boundaries between manipulation, consulting young people (eg Kealy 1993) and full-blown community development with children are often ill-defined, even within given cultural circumstances. This issue is considered again below when thinking about measures of effectiveness.

  2.5  Although the accounts below demonstrate the encouragingly wide range of actions which children and young people have been helped to take to promote their own interests in policy development, it is important to remember that this work operates against a context of the many structural inhibitors to effective child or young person participation, such as dominant rural and urban planning trends, or generalist community approaches, for example, which do not recognise the need for children to have a separate voice.

  2.6  General political and social arguments in favour of the participation of children and young people, particularly within a "Northern" context, are explored in Lansdown (1995), Goodman (1997), Treseder (1997), Wellard et al (1997) and NEF (1998). Most of these also provide a range of case studies, including pictures of a variety of structures and mechanisms which have been developed at local levels. Willow (1997) classifies initiatives into six approaches: corporate strategies to promote participation; permanent structures and mechanisms; long-term projects; time-limited projects; national initiatives; and European developments.

  2.7  It is perhaps hardly surprising that the main foci of accounts of policy development work with children within the UK and other "Northern" countries, are in relation to regeneration, frequently to do with policy issues such as the environment, play and leisure with which children can apparently engage more easily. Henderson (1995) provides a number of detailed examples, organised into policy themes (such as environment, education, care and protection, and the neighbourhood), describing case studies of such work such as work with children over traffic calming measures, planning play provision and the involvement of children in neighbourhood action. French experience is cited where local children's councils have become an accepted part of civic life in more than 700 towns. Willow (1997) reviews both the experience of French children's councils and German Children's Parliaments. Reviews of regeneration work are also provided by Fitzpatrick et al (1998), who note that the intensity of support required for working with children is much greater than for working with adults; by SCF (1998), which aimed to involve young people and children (age range 9-25) in forming mechanisms for their inclusion in the seven-year regeneration programme in Leeds; and in Robinson's (1997) review of Salford's regeneration strategy, premised on the involvement of local communities, including children and young people. Cannan and Warren (1997), covering experience in France, Germany and the UK, unusually include case studies of the ways in which it is possible to integrate both a child protection and a community development approach to working with children, illustrations of work such as involvement in a Festival on the Rights of the Child and attempts to encourage the participation of children within long-term neighbourhood work.

  2.8  Adams and Ingham (1998) provide accounts of children's involvement in wider environmental issues and programmes, drawing on a range of local projects. These include case studies under six major headings, Local Agenda 21 groups; research; local plans; urban regeneration; art, design and the environment; and school grounds (see also Davis and Jones [1996] on play provision; Woolley et al, [1996] on shopping issues; and Nieuwenhuys [1997] on Dutch experience in relation to the built environment). Hart et al (1997) provide a comprehensive review of experience of children's participation in environmental issues, drawing largely on experience from "Southern" settings such as Ecuador, Brazil, Nicaragua and the Philippines. The scope of "the environment" and planning is widely-defined, covering such issues as conservation, monitoring of school grounds, the conditions of working children, and health hazards. Hart et al, defining childhood as up to 14, attempt to identify ways in which the experience they report could be used within differing cultures. The focus on environmental issues arises because, as they note, "people's relationship to nature is the greatest issue facing the world at the turn of the century . . . [and] . . . the planning, design, monitoring and management of the physical environment is an ideal domain for the practice of children's participation; it seems to be clearer for children to see and understand than many social problems". This is perhaps the case because children can approach the environment in an holistic fashion, not subject to departmental or functional boundaries. In incorporating a community development approach to working with children on environmental issues, the authors challenge the increasingly-discredited idea that development is essentially about growth (Korten 1990), arguing that an appropriate response to the over-exploitation of the world's resources requires a strategy which links the local to the global, an approach to which children can contribute strongly.

  2.9  Pearce (1998) reviews the experience of involving children in the life of museums, especially from the USA. He demonstrates that through involving young people and older children as volunteers and through consultative exercises, "the target age-groups of a children's museum could acquire both the right to influence and the means of influencing the organisation and the governance of the institution."

  2.10  A growing body of writing nevertheless reports the involvement of children and young people in more "difficult" policy areas, or with more "hard-to-reach" groups. These reports include work on health (de Groot 1996) which provides examples such as young people's health forums, in large housing estates and small markets towns, and working with young people with learning disabilities; anti-poverty work (Wilkinson 2000) which reviews ways in which children and young people have been involved in the development of strategic anti-poverty initiatives; residential care (Ward 1995), evaluating the development of regular community meetings within a residential care home; housing and homelessness amongst "at risk" American children and young people (Good 1992). A study of community safety in France and England (Pearce 1995) explores the link between bullying within schools and violence outside it, shows the value of comparative study. Students from East London, visiting French counterparts, came to appreciate the ways in which older youths took responsibility, including managing a school radio station, becoming involved in school management tasks and school-community relations. The English students developed in their own school ideas for working with local immigrant communities, a school safety committee, and a school mentoring scheme.

  2.11  Work with the most excluded street children is described by West (1997), who analysed participatory research undertaken by street children in Bangladesh to establish a policy framework for change. Other examples of work with profoundly deprived children includes Dallape and Gilbert (1994), on working with street children in Kenya, Munene and Nambi (1996) on similar work in Uganda; and Ennew (1994), who includes short case studies of the Metro Manila Street Children's Conference, in the Philippines, children's responses to a research project in India, campaigning around health issues near a waste tip in Peru, and an investigation into the deaths of working children (carried out with help from adults) by children in India.

  2.12  Other more sensitive policy areas where children and young people have effectively been engaged include work on race relations (Treppte 1993) which describes a community developmental approach to working with Turkish mothers and children in a German town. Similar community-focused approaches to pre-school children are reported from the Netherlands in Kieneker and Maas (1997) and, drawing on the example of the Head Start programme of the US 1960s War on Poverty, from Ireland in Kellaghan and Greaney (1993); and in the field of disability, where CIS (1998) describes work to promote the involvement of children with special needs in Scotland. Russell (1998) and Beecher (1998) have analysed the work of the Council for Disabled Children and other agencies promoting the views of disabled children, including minority ethnic disabled children, and McIvor (1995) provides examples of ways in which disabled Moroccan children have been encouraged to challenge their dependent status and others' oppressive perceptions of them.

  2.13  A UNESCO-funded study (MOST nd) includes accounts of work in eight countries, including Argentina and India, covering such disparate activities as dialoguing with local government representatives, planning resettlement from squatter camps, the creation of a young person's radio station, and the use of modelling techniques as a way of designing safe play environments (involving children as young as three or four; see also Miller 1997). Johnson et al. (1998) review case study material from many countries, including instances of children participating in situations of crisis, war and exploitation, within a number of settings (including school, the labour market, public services, the neighbourhood and in cultural activities). SCF (1995a) provides brief accounts of children's participation including an example of education and organisation by village health workers who are themselves also children; a children's parliament in India; and children's involvement in participatory research in Kampuchea.


  3.1  Defining the characteristics of effective policy development work with children is an urgent political task. Whilst there is, on the one hand, growing concern about the ways of involving children and young people as a prelude to effective citizenship, increasing numbers of young people have been driven further from participating in the life of their societies indirectly and directly by the impact of government policy, not least in the UK (Craig 1991; Coles and Craig 1999); in many countries children are predominantly seen only as units of labour. The literature reviewed briefly above suggests that there are few policy arenas, contexts, or approaches, where the involvement of children and young people in decision-making is not possible or appropriate. This review encompasses work with children in situations of war, with children who are profoundly disabled, and those whose entire life has been spent on the streets, disengaged from any of the normal trappings of citizenship. The scope of this work and the literature will doubtless continue to develop. Similarly, the techniques for engaging with children and young people, incorporating a range of innovative means of promoting such work, for example, the use of video and film, drama, narrative, fictionalised accounts and tape and, for very young children, through play, will grow.

  3.2  This review of the literature draws on others' accounts of work, accounts which may be partial or limited and were not, in any case, written with wider evaluative goals in mind. It is therefore not appropriate to attempt to evaluate the range of work described here in detail. From these accounts, on more general accounts of community development, analyses of the boundaries of childhood, and on the increasingly wide literature on the evaluation of qualitative social policy and community development interventions (eg Feuerstein 1986; Craig 1988; Harding 1991; Breitenbach and Erskine 1994; Carley 1995; Barr et al 1995, 1996a, 1996b; McKendrick et al 1996; Connell and Kubisch 1998; Sanderson et al 1998; Alcock et al 1999), it is nonetheless possible both to draw out some general lessons from the literature and to provide a framework against which future policy development work with children might be assessed.

  3.3  The literature suggests that there is no doubt that it is possible for children and young people to have an effect on the policy process. Bringing young people together—and supporting them with adequate resources—has enabled their views to be elicited on policies and services, which have been adapted to suit their needs better. Children can be helped to become organised, to undertake research, and to marshall findings to present to policy actors. The literature shows many differing types of structure, some of them developed specifically by children and young people themselves, through which this process of policy influence has been conducted. However, there remains much work to be done.

  3.4  One clear area which needs to be explored, as noted above, is the nature of the relationship between programmes which are developed for all members of a community, and those developed specifically for children and young people. As with the marginalisation of black and minority ethnic groups in, for example, regeneration programmes (Alcock et al 1998) or within voluntary sector development work (Craig et al 1999), there remains a real danger that children's interests may be marginalised within general community programmes. We still know relatively little about involving children effectively within community life but the evidence reviewed above and from the general community work literature suggests it is better to explore this separately from work with adults.

  3.5  Another area for further work is to explore the appropriate balance between seeing the child as a person with needs and a person with rights. At present, and driven by the language and practice of the UK Children's Acts and similar legislation elsewhere, there tends to be an overemphasis on children's needs—for protection and care—rather than seeing them as political actors, with a desire to become involved in discussions affecting them. The evidence suggests that, despite a number of barriers—cultural, political, attitudinal and resource barriers—the democratic participation of children and young people can function well, albeit still largely within paradigms shaped by adult expectations. Such participation needs to be linked to the total context in which the child lives; otherwise it cannot succeed. Most children and young people do not feel constrained by the increasing compartmentalism of policy and ideas with which adults are familiar. This participation needs to be seen not only as an end but also as a means, of helping children and young people explore ways in which they can most effectively express their ideas and needs. The task for those working with children and young people is a particularly difficult one since it requires them effectively to empower children in ways which may be challenging to adult ideas and power, and to take social and political risks in a context of physical and emotional safety.

  3.6  Exploring the characteristics of effective community development work with children connects this discussion to wider discussion of the evaluation of policy interventions. Again, it is not possible to review these debates in depth here (but see eg Alcock et al 1999; Craig 2000). Although the language and practice of evaluation has developed considerably in the past fifteen years in particular, and has challenged the dominant obsession of quantitative "value-for-money" approaches of governments as largely irrelevant to the complex, multi-sectoral and qualitative approaches characteristic of community development, very little of this evaluative practice has yet found its way into the arena of work with children. A review of the evaluation literature (Craig 2000) highlights a number of key elements which can be regarded as the most important building blocks for the evaluation of community development. These building blocks could, in general, equally be applied in relation to community development work with children. The key elements identified in this review are:

    —  the importance of qualitative indicators, used in a way which complement quantitative ones;

    —  the need to observe process goals as well as output and outcome goals;

    —  the stress on participation (which is not tokenistic) in all stages of programmes; and

    —  the importance of sustainability in thinking about empowerment.

  3.7  To this list of basic criteria should be added a particular concern in relation to work with children, that is that it should attempt to meet the competing goals of being, on the one hand, age-appropriate (a consideration which runs the risk of being shaped entirely by adult views of what is appropriate, particularly given the continuing emphasis on child protection work with children); and, perhaps contradictorily, liberating rather than controlling. It is, incidentally, an important research task to see if the criteria developed by children match this, unavoidably, very adult formulation.

  3.8  I observed above that there will always be contradictions and tensions in working with children within what is essentially an adult-driven framework. These tensions are apparent when assessing the extent of participation. For example, Arnstein's (1969) famous ladder of participation has been adapted by others to apply specifically to the issue of participation by children: Wellard et al (1997:10), drawing on Hart (1992), suggest that the eight rungs might be: manipulation, decoration, tokenism, assigned but informed, consulted and informed, adult initiated, child/young person initiated, and equal partnership. The highest level of participation in their view is where "children and young people come up with the ideas for a project, they set it up and then involve adults as equal partners in taking decisions and implementing them" (ibid). This view, however, still incorporates an understanding of children as inevitably dependent on the participation of adults in their lives to some degree. This tension is apparent too when involving children in evaluation where the goals of evaluation are not shaped by children themselves.

  3.9  A long timescale may be needed to see through effective evaluations of human service programmes and this is particularly the case with long-term interventions such as community development work, which should work at a pace determined by the capacity and the needs of those who are the subjects of the programme. Unfortunately it remains the case that most public policy interventions which fund community development still expect it to produce results within relatively short timescales, "results" which are frequently in the form of relatively meaningless quantitative outputs rather than qualitative long-term outcomes. Where the subjects of community development work are children, long timescales may be even more important.

  3.10  The issue of sustainability is also critical to all community development work, to ensure that the mode of work encourages local communities to take control of initiatives as community development resources are withdrawn. The definition of empowerment outlined earlier involves the creation of structures, processes and mechanisms which contribute to the goals of community development work with children beyond the initial impetus which establishes them. Given the domination of most structures by adults, it is hardly surprising that the evaluation of community development work with children has particularly to be seen as a long-term process (perhaps ending only as children cease being children). In this vein, Ennew (1994: 125-6) suggests that evaluation should be an integral part of project work, a process of continuous learning in which the range of evaluative questions asked in work with children might be open to frequent review and revision. One tension apparent here is that children's interests change as they grow up through "youth-hood" into adulthood and that timescales in work with children, contradictorily, may sometimes have to be limited. There are also tensions derived from particular cultural contexts, for example in social development work in the "South", where the drive for participation may be overriden by the imperatives of meeting basic needs, such as ensuring the supply of adequate drinking water or food.

  3.11  Those promoting the development of policy with children and young people, and its evaluation, also have to accept that the outcome of such work may be, not simply that the aims or methods of certain interventions are challenged, but that that challenge extends also to the organisational context within which such interventions are made: local input to evaluation may have knock-on effects in terms of local power structures. Put most simply, effective work with children may challenge the power of adults.

  3.12  Notwithstanding the relative lack of proper evaluation in most cases, this discussion begins to show the enormous potential for consulting and encouraging the participation of children and the potential benefits that it can bring, not least of all in ensuring that children become active and participating citizens as they grow into adulthood. Children cannot, and in general should not, be treated as "little adults": their intellectual and emotional sophistication and understanding of the adult world is limited by the very fact that they are partly or even largely dependent on others for the maintenance of their lives. Adults, however, have often been guilty of over-exaggerating the extent of that dependence, particularly perhaps in relation to children's ability to think critically.

  3.13  Many of the lessons—and techniques—of research and community development are relevant, appropriately and sensitively used, to work with children and the role of adults has to be to liberate their abilities and creativity, within a negotiated framework of rights and responsibilities. The boundary of this framework will continue to be a subject of discussion and a source of tension, not least between children and young people, and adults themselves, and the power of adults and the boundary between childhood and adulthood will continue to be tested through this process. Adults cannot, of course, absolve themselves from their legal and other responsibilities for the overall direction of children's lives and community development with children will always have to be seen within this overarching framework of responsibility. Similarly, governments need to ensure that their frameworks of legislation and policy do not, directly or indirectly, create obstacles to involving children and young people in important policy arenas. Despite all these caveats, there is much more that can be done to encourage children to take control of important aspects of their lives or of policies which affect them. The benefits of this will be seen in their increasing engagement as they grow to adulthood.


  4.1 What works, then, in community development with children? The literature referred to in this paper is perhaps surprisingly large and illustrates a growing range of work setting out to engage the participation of children and young people in a very wide spectrum of settings, and from many different cultural contexts. The sophistication with which the effectiveness of this work is evaluated remains, however, relatively crude.

  4.2  This is hardly surprising. The complex social, political and legal context for work with children has been developing rapidly in the past few years and, taken together with the relatively recent emergence of theoretical and political challenges to dominant evaluative currents, it would perhaps have been more surprising if a strong body of evaluative outcomes had been reported. This clearly remains a major task for the next few years. Much of the literature exhorts the reader to accept that community development work with children is a "good thing": politically, socially, educationally and developmentally. However, this is not enough. It has to be seen to work, to bring the benefits for children claimed of it and to do so as a result of the interventions described. We can also observe that the more general literature on community development generally fails to address the issue of its impacts on children. A review of the community development literature, both radical and more pluralistic, suggests that the relationship between community work in general and the lives of children is under-represented. Whilst it may be reasonable to assume that a healthy community will be of advantage to the child, it does not appear that it has been considered important to make this explicit, or, with a few exceptions, to explain the relationship in depth. This is a task which remains for those writing about community development to address.

  4.3  We cannot therefore at the moment be sure of what works, except in a relatively few instances, although there is fairly convincing evidence drawn from all over the world that direct engagement with children in a community development context is possible and brings benefits to them. The extent to which those benefits can be attributed directly to the nature of that engagement remains to be tested in most cases. The evaluative literature, however, now provides more than adequate tools to make progress on this front. The literature on work with children also now provides a wide enough range of examples to test approaches in many differing contexts. Where more work also needs to be done is in exploring more fully the boundaries of childhood and the appropriateness of differing interventions to work with children or young people of differing ages in these various cultural contexts. This is an area where research with children (as opposed to research on children) has offered and can continue to offer much. Some of the interventions described have in fact attempted to engage with children through a variety of methods: one useful further advance would be for the value of these different approaches to be assessed separately.

  4.4  In facilitating this developing understanding, what might be encouraged is the development of more good quality, critical but accessible literature. Until recently, the choice for those searching literature has been between formal texts which had to meet certain perceived publishing standards (and therefore became increasingly inaccessible to a mass audience) or the "grey literature" of project reports and monographs, much of which has never formally been published and has been difficult to access. Virtually all of this literature of course is more or less totally inaccessible (for reasons of cost or style) to the subjects of the writing, the children themselves, and this is an important task for the future too, to engage children and young people in the process of disseminating the findings of their own work, using a variety of age-appropriate means. Most of all, it is important to build effective evaluative work into the growing body of direct work with children and young people, work which seeks the views of the subjects themselves as to "what works".


    —  There is a wide range of practice of community development with children, in differing contexts and policy areas and using differing methods.

    —  The development of evaluative tools for this work is at an early stage and needs to involve children in the creation of appropriate measures.

    —  There are tensions between approaches which focus on children's rights and those focusing on children's needs.

    —  Empowering children challenges the power of adults and work with children needs to be set within an emancipatory framework.

Gary Craig

29 November 2003


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