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CREDPRO: The Child: Development Needs & Rights

Introduction to the unit

This unit begins by introducing the concepts of childhood and child development, followed by an exploration of children’s universal needs and potentials. Needs are then related to the international standards outlined in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (adopted by UN General Assembly on 20 November 1989, and entered into force on 2 September 1990. To view the Convention in its entirety, visit: Child Rights Information Network). The unit explores why these rights are important in promoting the optimal health and development of all children in all societies, together with the important roles that adults, families, communities, institutions governments and children themselves play in protecting and supporting the fulfillment of those rights.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit the learner should be able to understand:

  • The concepts of childhood and child development

  • The needs of children

  • The relationship between a child’s needs and his/her rights

  • The important roles adults, families, communities, institutions, governments, and child health professionals play in protecting and supporting the fulfillment of children’s rights.

1. The Universal needs of children

1.1 Activities and discussion

The following two Activities are designed to help you develop an understanding of the “universal needs of children,” and their relationship to children’s rights. The material that follows each of the activities will encourage you to think about ideas that are different from the way you have previously conceptualized children’s needs.

Activity 1.1 Create a List of Children’s Needs

Activity 1.1 focuses on the development of an understanding of the needs of children to ensure their optimal health and well being.

Objective

To gain an understanding of the range of children’s needs.

Instructions

For each of the four broad domains below identify what a child needs in order to fulfill his or her full potential for health and well-being:

  • Physical needs
  • Social and cultural needs
  • Psychological needs (including intellectual, emotional, and volitional needs)
  • Spiritual needs

How would you define lower and upper age limits of childhood as they relate to the children’s needs you identified?

Approach this task in general terms. It is not necessary to define the exact detail of the needs that you are describing.

Discussion
Discussion on Activity 1.1

Children’s needs define the prerequisites for their optimal growth, development, health and well being. Handout 1.1 provided below provides a suggested framework for considering and categorizing children’s needs.

Click 'View document' below to open Handout 1.1 A Framework of Children's Needs

Activity 1.2 Discuss the Characteristics of Children’s Needs

Activity 1.2 moves the discussion from listing and categorizing needs to develop an understanding of the characteristics of these needs and their relationship with rights.

Objective

To build an understanding of the relationship between needs and rights.

Instructions

Respond to these questions, in relation to children in your practice, your community, nation and the world:

  1. Which needs apply to all aspects of a child’s development?
  2. What inter-relationships exist between different needs?
  3. How do children’s needs change at different stages of their development? What influences children’s capacities as they grow up?
  4. Do these needs extend to all children in all societies, irrespective of the country’s wealth or stage of development?
  5. What is the relationship between needs and rights?
Discussion
Discussion on Activity 1.2

The following responses to the questions posed in Activity 1.2 may stimulate further thinking and/or discussion related to the characteristics of children’s needs

1. Which needs apply to all aspects of a child’s development?

Shelter is a physical need, but it does not fulfill psychological needs (intellectual, emotional and volitional needs), whereas education is needed for fulfillment of social and cultural needs, AND for the satisfaction of psychological needs. Is there a set of fundamental needs that are essential for the well being of children, as differentiated from more “trivial” needs of children?

2. What inter-relationships exist between needs?

A child’s need for health care will be influenced by whether or not s/he has access to an adequate standard of living. A child’s mental health and well-being will be influenced by access to a secure family life; by understanding and respect for his or her identity and culture; and by being listened to and taken seriously; as well as by access to appropriate mental health services.

3. How do the needs of children change through their various stages of development?

Privacy and respect for confidentiality are issues that are of increasing concern for older children, as is respect for their increased capacity for decision-making. However, physical needs endure throughout childhood, as do needs for protection from violence and discrimination. Children’s evolving capacities do not take place at pre-determined or specific ages. Children’s talents, their environments, the level of support they are given, opportunities for active engagement, as well as cultural expectations will all influence their capacities for decision-making and taking responsibility for their needs.

4. Do these needs extend to children in all societies, irrespective of wealth or stages of development?

These needs are universal to the health and well being of all children, whether or not they are all currently being met in the US, UK and in other developed countries, as well as in developing countries around the world.

5. What is the relationship between needs and rights

Children’s youth, vulnerability and lack of power mean that they are dependent on the adult world to ensure that their needs are met. This places obligations on adults to create the necessary conditions that will ensure this happens. This obligation extends not only to the fulfillment of needs for individual children, such as family life, access to health care or education, but also the consideration of public policies that potentially influence children’s health and development – housing, transport, environment, macroeconomics and poverty. Acceptance of the premise that adults have responsibilities or obligations to meet children’s needs is de facto acceptance that children are entitled to have their needs met. In other words, children have rights. These rights have been codified into the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Activity 1.3 Child rights ecology in practice

Objective

To identify the circles of influence on children and to examine their respective roles and responsibilities for children’s rights, wellbeing and development.

Instructions

Review the diagram of the child rights ecology in Figure 1.2.

The precise structure of the Child Rights Ecology will depend on the individual country, the child’s socio-cultural environment within it, and how the child interacts with and is situated within each system. Considering your country context, sketch out how children’s wellbeing and development is promoted within each system below:

  • Government
  • Family
  • Community
  • Civil Society
Discussion
Discussion on Activity 1.2

The following points may be explored in the activity:

Government

Does the government give a high priority to children in its policies? Does a commitment to promoting the best interests of children inform government policy? Does it engage/consult with the other systems in building a positive environment for children? Does it support parents and communities to promote children’s well-being?

Family

Do families generally promote the best interests of children? What are the strengths/weaknesses within prevailing cultural family practices which enhance/inhibit children’s development, (e.g. attitudes towards girls, children with disabilities, physical punishment, health and safety, education)? Do families have the resources and support needed to care adequately for their children? Does the wider family provide a supportive role? Do both mothers and fathers play an active part in child care and development?

Community

Is there a strong community to support the role of parents? What role does the community play in children’s lives? What is the role of community and religious leaders in children’s lives?

Civil society

Does civil society play an active role in supporting children, providing services or advocating for children’s rights and well-being? How do children relate to civil society organisations? Are they actively involved in those organisations themselves? What responsibilities does civil society take for the well-being of children?

1.2 Conclusion

The needs of children form the basis for a universal set of standards by which all children should be treated in order for them to achieve their full potential for health and development. The Convention on the Rights of the Child codifies these needs and acknowledges them as human rights which all children are entitled to have fulfilled. Children’s rights cannot be realized unless adults with responsibilities for children take the necessary action to make them a reality. Accordingly, the Convention places responsibilities on governments and other adults to take all necessary action to ensure the realization of all rights for all children. In summary:

  • All children have rights that emanate from their humanity. In addition, all children have basic universal needs.
  • These needs form a basic set of common standards necessary for optimal health and development.
  • Children are entitled to be treated according to these common standards.
  • These standards impose obligations on adults to ensure their fulfillment.
  • A commitment to fulfilling these obligations creates rights for children to have their needs met.
  • These rights have been codified into an international human rights treaty, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which introduces obligations on governments, and other responsible adults and agencies, to protect and promote the rights of children necessary to fulfill their needs.

2. Key Reading

2.1 Understanding childhood and child development

In order to work with children, it is important to understand what we mean by childhood. In fact, it is a more complex issue than is commonly recognised.

The understanding of childhood varies significantly around the world. No universal consensus can be found as to what children need for their optimum development, what environments best provide for those needs, and what form and level of protection is appropriate for children at a specific age. Indeed, there is no agreement on the nature of childhood, when children become adults, or the goals that families aspire for their children.

Marta Santos Pais

There is no universal definition of childhood. Yet many assumptions exist about what childhood is, how children develop, and the presumed capabilities and capacities of children. Traditional stage theories, which understood child development as a series of discrete stages each associated with an approximate age range, have tended to influence how we understand development through childhood. These theories, although now increasingly being challenged, continue to influence our thinking. There continue to be five significant assumptions about childhood deriving from these theories:

  • Child development is a universal process: All children develop along the same trajectory or path towards adulthood and implies that a set of ‘rules’ are followed throughout the process of child development. Differentiating factors such as cultural, temporal, contextual and individual are largely ignored.
  • Adulthood has normative status: Once a child reaches adulthood s/he has full human status. Until adulthood, the child is considered to be in a state of immaturity characterized by irrationality, incompetence, weakness, naivety, and innocence. In other words, everything a child does is basically a preparation for adulthood. Childhood is not valued for and of itself, only as a developmental process.
  • Goals of child development are universal: All cultures have the same ultimate goals for development. Yet in reality, different cultures have significantly different aspirations for their children, and these differences influence the goals for their development. For instance, in most Western societies, the ultimate goals for development include the attainment of personal, social, and political autonomy, independence and self-sufficiency, whereas in many other cultures, inter-dependence and integration are more highly valued. The goals of development also differ within community contexts and cultures, whereby education may be emphasized for a boy-child living in a middle class family, and marriage and employment may be considered to be of high priority for a girl-child from an impoverished circumstance, or one where girl education is not highly valued.
  • Deviations from the norm indicates risk for the child: There are assumptions about what constitutes normal behaviour and activity at each stage of development and any deviations from these normal behaviours are deemed to be potentially harmful for the child. These assumptions are largely drawn from a Western model of childhood, and fail to reflect the differences and realities of childhood experience in other cultural environments. It assumes, for example, that all forms of work are harmful for young children, thus effectively pathologising the many millions of children for whom work is a necessity, or indeed, recognising the potential benefits for children associated with work.
  • Children are passive players: Childhood is seen to be a process of acquisition of competencies and skills according to pre-determined biological or psychological forces. It fails to acknowledge the extent to which children have agency to influence their own lives and development, and can make an active contribution to their social environments.

Adapted from Lansdown, G. The Evolving Capacities of the Child, UNICEF, Florence, 2005, p 10-13, originally amended from Boyden, J., B. Ling and W. Myers. What Works for Working Children, Radda Barnen/UNICEF, Florence, 1998.

Many of these assumptions of childhood feed into a standard or universal model of childhood where:

“childhood is a period of time for nurturing, care, play and learning in the family and the school, and free from the demands of responsibility or employment. However, this is not the reality for many millions of children throughout the world.”

Lansdown, G. p. 10.

A growing critique of this universal, western-centric view of childhood and child development has evolved in recent years, replacing it with cultural theories which understand childhood as a cultural process, deeply rooted in the social, economic and culture contexts of the child and the various systems that influence and are influenced by the child’s life.

Woodhead M, Reconstructing developmental psychology: Some first steps, Children and Society, 1999, Vol 13, p3-19

Within these approaches, three key elements within children’s environments are seen to be influential to their development::

  • Context: the physical and social settings children inhabit - the family, peers, social patterns and the organization of their daily lives
  • Culture: the culturally regulated customs and child-rearing practices - arrangements for care and education, attitudes towards play, training and discipline
  • Social Constructions: the interpretation of childhood and development from the perspective of the child’s parents and other influential adults in their lives - goals and priorities for the development of children and views on how these can be achieved

Super C and Harkness S, Cultural perspectives on child development , in Cultural perspectives on child development, Wagner D and Stevenson H (eds) W H freeman, San Francisco, 1982, pp 172-198

An additional, critical factor contributing to the development of the child is the acknowledgement of children as active contributors in their own development and in the development of society. Children are not simply recipients of adult protection, but are social actors who demonstrate capacity to be involved. Children should be active participants and partners in actions and decisions affecting them and their lives.

The recognition that children are social actors cannot be understated: they must be involved.

Thus based on the above reflections, child development is:

  • Dynamic, Interrelated and continuous
  • Influenced by a wide variety of internal (physical, psychological, socio-cultural and spiritual) and external (family, peers, community, society, government, environment, and culture) factors and contexts
  • Highly dependent upon and influenced by the child’s individual capacities, context and culture, and his/her active involvement and partnership in decisions affecting his/her life
In Garbarino, J. (1999). Lost boys. (NY: Free Press), Garbarino indicates that psychological, social and spiritual anchors are essential to healthy development and overcoming adversity. Spiritual rights are explicitly mentioned in the CRC and include the right to freedom from discrimination in respect of status or beliefs; the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

2.2 Needs, Potentials, and Rights of Children

The ultimate aim of development is to promote and enhance the health, well-being and capacities of children. This requires that certain needs of children are supported and fulfilled, both in terms of their well being at the present time and in terms of their future potentials. Potentials are the possibilities for a person’s further growth and development in both a general sense and in areas of special talents and gifts. These can be common to all children, for example fulfilling the potential to grow taller, stronger; to understand oral and written communication, or can be individualistic and unique to the child, for example, realization of artistic talent, creative intellect, and/or interpersonal acuity . Realizing potentials is in itself a human need.

Genuine respect for human dignity brings the additional expectation to support the development of the unique potentials of each person and, thereby, to fulfill the need of all persons to be true to their selves and the special added value they bring to life (e.g., realization of artistic talent, creative intellect, and/or interpersonal acuity). The Convention on the Rights of the Child addresses all these needs and potentials, as exemplified in its articles 5 and 29. For background and further clarification see the work of Maslow, A. (1970). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper and Row; Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 1, 68-78; and Sheldon, K.M., Elliot, A.J., Kim, Y., & Kasser, T. (2001). What's satisfying about satisfying events? Comparing ten candidate psychological needs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 325-339.

For our consideration, needs can be grouped into four broad categories:

  • Physical needs: Shelter, health care, water and sanitation, protection from environmental pollution, adequate food, adequate clothing, and protection from violence, exploitation and abuse, exercise for strength-endurance-coordination, opportunities for development of athletic potentials
  • Social, economic and cultural needs: Knowledge of and respect for one’s own language, religion and culture, stable social and economic environment, access to appropriate guidance and support, access to quality education, play and friendships, freedom from discrimination and prejudice, meaningful empowering work, and opportunities for service
  • Psychological, including Intellectual, emotional, and volitional needs: A stable and loving family environment, a sense of belonging and identity, age appropriate information, stimulation, and opportunities to be listened to and taken seriously, models for problem solving and critical thinking, a sense of worth, being valued by others, being able to contribute to or positively affect your world, opportunities to make choices and develop cognitive talents and creative potentials. [Volitional needs and potentials refer to abilities and skills to make a conscious choice or decision]
  • Spiritual needs: Exploration, understanding and appreciation of the nature of life, human kind and the universe -- of what lies beyond time and material world, and the possibilities to connect with the infinite and ultimate.

2.3 The relationship between rights and needs

The animation and conclusions below follow from an understanding of children’s needs:

An animation that shows an understanding of children’s needs.

  • Children’s needs are universal: They apply to children in all socio-economic and cultural environments. It does not matter whether a child lives in sub-Saharan Africa, Tajikistan or Sweden, he or she has needs for a stable family life, adequate food, education, and respect for his or her abilities. The way in which needs are met will vary in different cultures and for different children. For example, family structures differ, children start education at different ages, opportunities for play may be more or less formal, the relationship of children to work varies, and disabled children may need additional support, but fulfillment of needs remains essential for optimal health and well being.
  • The fulfillment of all needs is essential for children’s optimal health and development: There is often a tendency to view physical needs as having priority. Clearly at one level, it is true that without food, children will die. However, it is also true that without education or play, children’s potential cannot be realized. And, without respect and freedom from discrimination, their psychological and emotional well being will be impaired. Children’s needs are mutually inter-dependent: none take precedence over another.
  • Children cannot fulfill their needs without adult support: Their youth, vulnerability and lack of power mean that they are dependent on the adult world to ensure that their needs are met. This places obligations on adults to create the necessary conditions that will ensure this happens. This obligation extends not only to the fulfillment of needs for individual children, such as family life, access to health care or education, but also the consideration of public policies that potentially impact on children’s health and development – housing, transport, environment, macroeconomics and poverty. This means that government policy at all levels must take active and consistent account of children’s needs.
  • Acceptance of the premise that adults have responsibilities or obligations to meet children’s needs is de facto acceptance that children are entitled to have their needs met. In other words, children have rights: Needs become rights when they are recognized as imperatives for protection and quality of life and are established as obligations through human rights instruments. In respect of children, these rights have been endorsed and codified by the international community in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. They are based on the collective appreciation of the human condition and are universal and applicable to all individuals, contexts and cultures. Rights cannot be revoked or be discriminatory in their application. They all have equal importance and are fundamental to guarantee the health, development, and well-being of the individual. The Convention requires governments to introduce the necessary measures to ensure that these rights are respected for all children. It asserts that: a) they are universal, indivisible and inter-dependent, and b) their fulfillment must be grounded in a commitment to an understanding that children, as subjects of rights, must be respected, listened to and taken seriously in the exercise of their rights.
Needs Rights
Universal but vary in priority and/or form at any particular time and place Universal- apply to every child at all times
No obligation or responsibility Imply obligations and responsibilities
Cannot be demanded Entitlements which can be demanded

Health professionals tend to prioritize physical needs, yet all needs are important (physical, psychological, social, economic, cultural, and spiritual). Clearly, at one level, it is true that without food, children will die; however without education or play, a child’s potential cannot be realized, and without respect and freedom from discrimination their psychological well-being will be impaired. Thus, to maximize the developmental potential of children, needs and fulfillment of potentials must not be considered in isolation, but rather as rights, and holistically, wherein the physical, psychological, social, cultural, and environmental factors interact and interrelate, forming synergies amongst themselves.

2.4 Child Rights Ecology Model

Throughout this unit we have repeatedly referred to the contextual factors, both internal and external, that affect, and are influenced by the holistic development of the child and his/her realization of child rights:

  • Children’s inner world (cognitive, emotional and spiritual)
  • Children’s outer world (physical, social, behavioural)
  • Peers (other children and youth)
  • Family
  • Community, natural and built environment
  • Civil Society, government and non-governmental
  • Cultural, social, economic, civic and political

The Child Rights Ecology Model helps to bring this conceptualization to life. It demonstrates how the child contributes to his/her social environment while simultaneously being affected and served by it; thus highlighting the interconnectedness of child development and societal well-being.

Research indicates that stronger links between each system of circles result in children having healthier connections through positive relationships with their human and natural environment, which in turn leads to greater resilience and healthier individual and community development outcomes. Conversely, in situations of social and political breakdown in which these supportive and protective mechanisms are eroded or damaged, children’s developmental outcomes will be negatively impacted (Jessor, 1993; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000; Werner & Smith, 1982).

The precise structure of the Child Rights Ecology will be determined by the child’s socio-cultural environment. Thus representations of family, community, civil society and government will vary for each child in the context of their unique social configuration and their culture. This interpretation also demonstrates how the child contributes to his/her social environment, while also being affected and served by it.

Not only does the Child Ecology Model highlight the various contextual factors that interact with the child and his/her development, it also serves as a guiding framework to help identify how responsible adults can support the holistic development of children and embed child rights in their approaches and practices.

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3. Optional Handouts

3.1 A Framework of Children's Needs

There is significant inter-relationship between these needs and many could therefore be listed under more than one heading.

Table 3.1: A Framework of Children's Needs
Physical needs Social, Economic and Cultural needs Psychological Needs (Intellectual, Emotional & Volitional) Spiritual needs
Shelter Opportunities for play and friendships A stable and loving family environment, whether the biological or a substitute family Exploration and appreciation of the nature of life
Water and sanitation Access to quality education and stimulation Access to appropriate guidance and support Understanding of what lies beyond the immediate world
Protection from environ mental pollution Stable social and economic environment Access to age appropriate information -
Adequate food Knowledge of and respect for own language, religion and culture Respect for privacy and confidentiality -
Adequate clothing Access to health care Recognition of and respect for emerging competencies and opportunities to take growing levels of responsibility -
- Freedom from discrimination Opportunities to be listened to and respected -
Protection from violence Opportunities to contribute and acquire responsibility A sense of belonging and identity -
Protection from exploitation and abuse Opportunities for meaningful empowering work and service A sense of worth and being valued by others -
Opportunities for development of physical potentials - Being able to develop cognitive talents and creative potentials -

Download Handout 1.1 as a PDF:

Click 'View document' below to open this handout on A Framework of Children's Needs

3.2 A Child Rights Ecology

Download this handout as a PDF:

Click 'View document' below to open this handout on A Child Rights Ecology

3.3 Key lessons

The needs and rights of children form the basis for a universal set of standards by which all children should be treated in order for them to achieve their full potential for health and development. If there is universal acceptance that common minimum standards apply to the treatment of all children, it follows that children are entitled to have these needs met. In other words they have rights, and adults are obliged to ensure that children’s rights are respected. In summary:

  • All children have needs that emanate from their humanity. They form a basic set of common standards necessary for optimal health and development.
  • Children are entitled to be treated according to these common standards.
  • These standards impose obligations on adults to ensure their fulfillment.
  • A commitment to fulfilling these obligations creates rights for children to have their needs met.
  • These rights have been codified into an international human rights treaty, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which introduces universally binding obligations on governments to protect and promote the rights of children necessary to fulfill their needs.

Download Handout 1.3 as a PDF:

Click 'View document' below to open this handout on Key lessons to be drawn from Module One

Acknowledgements

Authors/Editors: Gerison Lansdown, Cheryl Heykoop & Stuart Hart

Images

Image of Children's Rights 2 by David Ortiz available from Flickr under the CC-Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic

Many Thanks!

The development of this curriculum is part of IICRD’s Child Rights Education for Professionals Project (CRED-PRO) and builds on the original curriculum of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health: Interface Between Child Rights and Health, authored by Gerison Lansdown, Jeff Goldhagen and Tony Waterson, and incorporates lessons learned from its application across the globe. We extend our sincere thanks to the Oak Foundation for funding the development of this curriculum. We also extend our appreciation to all the people who kindly contributed their time and expertise towards its creation including Gerison Lansdown, Jeff Goldhagen, Tony Waterston, Philip Cook, Michele Cook, Natasha Blanchet-Cohen, Raul Mercer, William White, Karina CImmino, and our partners: the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF, WHO, PAHO, ALAPE, UNESCO, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), The Royal College of Paediatrics, Child Health (RCPCH), The European Society of Social Paediatrics (ESSOP), FLASCO, ISPCAN, Education International, International School Psychologists Association, International Early Child Education Association, and Save the Children. We also extend our special thanks to the IICRD core team, and the young people whose rights we aim to further respect and realize.