1 Defining childhood
Before you look at the law relating to children, you need to know how the law provides for what a child can do and can’t do. This often varies according to the particular decision or issue in question. This is referred to as ‘childhood’.
In Activity 1, you will start to think about what ‘childhood’ means to you.
Activity 1 Childhood
This activity was designed to get you thinking about what the term ‘childhood’ means to you, and to look at some of the key legal milestones in a person’s life, such as when they can get a job or get married.
Although the law often uses age to determine when a child is capable of taking on certain responsibilities or making certain decisions, it sometimes adopts a more flexible approach. For example, case law has established in respect of certain decisions children are able to make the decision in question depending on their competence to do so (sometimes referred to as ‘Gillick competence’).
It is important to remember that from a young age and irrespective of their competence, children will have views about their own lives and what is important to them. Therefore, children should not simply be seen as vulnerable, and it should not be assumed that they are unable to recognise what is in their own best interests or when they are in need of protection. Professionals should also consider the children they work with as social actors who engage in the complexities of their world in specific ways, and who are entitled to respect and choice.
In this course, you will look at the ways in which different perspectives on childhood may influence how children’s views are heard, and how far they can participate in making decisions about matters that affect them. First, however, you will look at how trends in society have influenced the way the law and practice have developed and changed over time.