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Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing
Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing

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1.5 The status of children

Where children live in the world has a significant influence on their mental health and wellbeing. However, in many countries and within many societies, the value and status of children across the world has changed considerably within the last 100 years.

According to Save the Children’s (2017) Global Childhood Report, millions of children across the world have benefited from the many medical and technological advances that people living in higher income countries often take for granted. Children’s overall wellbeing has improved as a result. These advances have included:

  • development of, and greater access to, vaccines to prevent communicable childhood diseases
  • better healthcare and support for mothers, children and their respective family networks
  • more effective support for vulnerable children within their local communities via charities and other organisations in remote areas of the world
  • efforts made by governments and other agencies across the world to help poorer countries become more economically self-sufficient
  • increased access to clean water.

The first Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted by the League of Nations in 1924, inspired by Eglantyne Jebb, who founded Save the Children in 1919. This important declaration stressed various key rights for all children – such as the right to food, healthcare, education and protection from exploitation – which, at the time, were not seen as a priority in many policy-making decisions. Even though it was not a binding legal document, it meant there was a duty placed on the international community to put children’s rights at the centre of all planning in matters that affected children’s daily lived experiences. This was clearly a major shift in thinking.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, subsequently adopted in 1989, has been approved by all but one nation (the US) (UNICEF, 2017). This Convention has had a further significant effect on the way that children are both viewed and treated. They are now viewed as human beings with their own independent set of rights, and sense of agency, instead of the passive recipients of adult care and charity.

The process of changing attitudes on a global scale has undoubtedly been slow. However, more nations and governments now value access to schooling for all children instead of accepting children toiling in fields and factories or living in vulnerable and unsanitary circumstances on the streets. There are now also more laws to prevent child labour and child marriage, and to make school free and available to all children, regardless of their gender, race, immigration status or special needs.

Activity 1 The UN Convention of the Rights of the Child

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Go to the UNICEF website [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] and find out briefly what this organisation does.

Then scroll down a short way and either follow the link or use this link to read the summary of children’s rights.

Clearly all the rights mentioned are extremely important; however, for the purpose of this activity, choose three particular rights and note down what you think these might mean in terms of adults supporting children in the daily experiences that they might encounter.

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As you read and follow through the activities in the next section ‘Different childhoods’, it would be useful to refer back to the articles within the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and see how different practices are violating these fundamental rights.