A Children’s Programme for Central Finland

Background

In 2016, Timo Koivisto, the Mayor of Jyväskylä and Tuomas Kurttila, the Ombudsman for Children, convened a forum for childhood which set the following goal: that in 2025 Central Finland will be known as the province of well-being of children and families. To achieve this, a Children’s Programme for Central Finland had to be created. It was discussed in the forum whether any NGO would be willing to work on the preparation for the Programme. The Haukkala Foundation volunteered, and this was accepted by the forum’s participants.

The work on developing the Children’s Programme for Central Finland became integrated into one of the Finnish Government’s key programmes (2015-2018): to reform services for children and families. One element of this reform was to change the operating culture towards being more child-friendly. The reform was established in 18 provinces, and our work was included in and funded by the project conducted in Central Finland.

The focus was to create a diverse joint commitment within the province to develop a child- and family friendly environment. The Children’s Programme challenges various organizations in Central Finland to consider children in their policies, and to include child and family friendly actions in their strategies and activities. The aim was that the Children’s Programme would be integrated into the official strategy of the province of Central Finland.

 

Core ideas

From 2016-2018, the Haukkala Foundation worked on this programme. The outcomes were published in: Pulkkinen, L. & Fadjukoff, P. (2018). Keski-Suomen lapsiohjelma: Lasten hyvinvoinnista hyvinvoivaan yhteiskuntaan.[The Children’s Programme for Central Finland: From the well-being of the child to the well-being of society.] Jyväskylä: Haukkala Foundation. https://haukkalansaatio.com/lapsiohjelma2018/  The publication is in Finnish, but the core ideas are as follows:

The Children’s Programme is based on the values outlined in the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development (Agenda 2030), and on a greater awareness of the image of the child which people hold and a research-based understanding of human development and the factors that affect it.

To improve the well-being of children and families in a province demands an increase of child-friendliness in the decision making at the municipal level, including the consideration of the consequences of plans and decisions for the well-being of children and families, family-friendly work places, and active monitoring of children’s living conditions through research. Several municipalities had already prepared well-being strategies which included children. Good practices developed by municipalities, NGOs, and individuals were collected and published on the website.

A core idea was to analyze children’s well-being using indicators that are based on their experiences. Too often well-being indicators only concern living conditions in general. We defined the vision that in 2025 children’s well-being will be better than in 2019. In order to assess well-being and changes in it, the indicators of well-being have to be carefully defined. The reason to highlight well-being can be found in Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). It is stated there that ”In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” The same article defines ‘the best interests of the child’ as the child’s well-being, and the means of achieving it as the protection and care: ” States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being” (CRC Art. 3). A child refers to everyone below the age of eighteen years.

 

Aspects of well-being and its conditions 

The following text is shared with the Alliance for Childhood European Network Group (AFC-ENG) with its consent due to the joint development of the text concerning the approach to the child and his or her well-being. The Haukkala Foundation is a partner of the AFC-ENG, and it first integrated into the Children’s Programme for Central Finland the image of the child formulated by the AFC-ENG, and the AFC-ENG, in turn, integrated into its approach a summary of the view of the whole child and the environment needed for his or her growth published in the Children’s Programme for Central Finland by Pulkkinen & Fadjukoff (2018, pp. 29-49). See http://www.allianceforchildhood.eu/scope/

Within the holistic view of childhood it is possible to distinguish physical, social, emotional, aesthetic, cognitive, ethical and spiritual dimensions in their development and well-being. High quality well-being is a result of good, or at least satisfactory, well-being in every dimension:

  • physical well-being (e.g. the experience of subjective health and the ability to act),
  • social well-being (e.g. the experience of being accepted by others and a sense of belonging),
  • emotional well-being (e.g. the experience of self-acceptance and reciprocal affection for others),
  • cognitive well-being (e.g. the experience of interest and curiosity in new matters and the satisfaction in problem solving),
  • aesthetic well-being (e.g. the experience of beauty in nature and in one’s own and others’ creative achievements),
  • ethical well-being (e.g. the experience of goodness and what is just, and a will to act accordingly),
  • spiritual well-being (e.g. the experience of the meaningfulness of life).

 

child_wellbeing_borderless

The Growth Model: the dimensions of and conditions for children’s wellbeing. Source: Pulkkinen & Fadjukoff (2018).

The core of the Growth Model is the child with his/her internal endowments and developmental processes such as the development of self-regulation, and the image of the child that people have. Policies with regard to children that policy makers and stakeholders develop and the way that they are implemented, depends on the image of the child that they hold. It is therefore vital to be aware of what this image is.

The image of the child we hold was developed within the Alliance for Childhood European Network Group and it is as follows:

  • Children are endowed with inner potential to grow, learn and communicate and to participate in their own way and with their own rights and responsibilities within society.
  • The child is an agent of his/her own life in relation with others. The child is not an object to be pushed and modeled into a shape by the adult.
  • Adults who are sensitive to children’s needs are there to help them unfold their uniqueness.
  • The quality of children’s relationships with adults and other children affects their growth as human beings in either a positive or negative way.
  • Children are co-creators of our world and transform it.
  • Human development is a process of unfolding an individual’s uniqueness in which mutually interacting biological, psychological, social, cultural, spiritual, and societal factors interplay.

The quality of childhood has no fixed definition because living contexts are different. In general a good quality of childhood refers to conditions that promote the child’s positive development and well-being. The conditions for children’s development and well-being in each dimension of the model include:

  • the child’s own activity and participation
  • important human relationships in which the child is seen and listened to as an individual
  • total growth environment that includes the child’s protection and care from micro-system to macro-system.

All these elements appear in the child’s life circles, which include:

  • home and family
  • early education and care outside the home
  • school and work
  • play and cultural experiences
  • community (including neighbourhood, spiritual contexts, religious affiliations, ethnic dimensions and voluntary activities)
  • societal services (social, health etc.)
  • cultural-societal settings (gender, migration, conflict etc.)
  • ecological environment
  • digital environment.

For instance, in a school children develop and flourish in those dimensions in which they can successfully participate in activities supported by people who see and hear the child as an individual. In the school environment many aspects can either promote or extinguish children’s development and well-being such as school buildings and other material conditions, school legislation and curriculum, quality of teaching, school traditions, ethos and size.

Individuals with well-being form well-being communities that in turn form a well-being society.