Addressing crisis through child-friendly environments

Young people walking through a green space.
Published: 20/03/2023

(March 2023) Guest speaker at the first Place Forum, Dr Jenny Wood, Co-director Policy & Research from A Place in Childhood, shared their story of how they address crisis through child friendly environments.

A Place in Childhood (APiC) is a social enterprise that promotes superior environments for children and young people, in alignment with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We facilitate projects which enable the rights of young citizens to participate meaningfully in societal improvement, while building lifelong skills for a prosperous and equitable future.

Our team comprises in-depth knowledge of children’s rights, outdoor education, planning and housing policy, entrepreneurship, and educational and environmental psychology, as well as practical know-how at designing high-quality child-friendly spaces.

Children’s experience of poor-quality environments

We regularly work in communities where children experience the consequences of poverty and deprived environments. Poverty affects children’s wellbeing and development and has been exacerbated by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis.

For built environment professionals, a key intervention point is the poverty of experience that can  result. A key intervention is to provide children with nourishing and welcoming outdoor environments, involving them meaningfully in the process, and improving their independent travel opportunities to other places.

To explore this further, we drew in our presentation on a Participatory Action Research Project on Enabling Independent Active Travel for Young Scots (Commissioned by Sustrans). Through this, we worked with 31 young consultants and 14 of their parents/carers across four diverse case studies – Rural Stirlingshire, Leith (Edinburgh), Denny & Bonnybridge (Falkirk) and Northfield and Mastrick (Aberdeen City).

Through extensive co-creative mapping and collaboration, we arrived at a systems-model of what would enable as many children and young people as possible across Scotland to travel independently. The key factors are:

  • ensuring there are motivating destinations for young people that feel safe, welcoming and cared for
  • creating safe and enjoyable routes for walking and cycling that enable young people to make their way to and between motivating destinations and public transport opportunities
  • recognising and working with the fact that the familiarity of families to active travel journeys and options is vital factors for also encouraging young people to make their own experiences in and beyond the local area
Young people walking through a 'dodgy' underpass in Denny.
Young people walking through a ‘dodgy’ underpass in Denny

Creating child-friendly environments

This need for places to go and ways to get there is fundamental to creating child-friendly environments, where even the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society can thrive.

Far from requiring large expensive facilities, young people simply need to feel free, able and welcome to explore public space and not need to spend income they don’t have. This also includes access to affordable bike hire and maintenance support.

As built environment professionals, we have a moral imperative to address child poverty head on. Thinking about child-friendly environments at the strategic, infrastructure level can remove the barriers children face day-to-day.

These may be around suspicion of young people and their use of public space; a lack of will or expertise in engaging children and young people directly and meaningfully; or ignorance of the significant health, education and wellbeing impacts of growing up without local opportunity.

The first step is to engage young people on their own terms and build trust in communities. Improving opportunities for all children and young people to play, hangout, and feel included will confer benefits to all of us.

Writer biography

Jenny co-founded A Place in Childhood (APiC) in 2018, to collaborate on projects that bring children and young people directly into decision-making and actions across Scotland. She has three degrees in urban and regional planning, including a PhD on children’s human rights and the Scottish town planning system.

Since starting APiC, Jenny has led and collaborated with diverse stakeholders to put children’s needs and rights front and centre of placemaking, service development, and policy. She is a leading expert in children’s human rights and the built environment and also has a strong track record in the fields of social policy, homelessness and assisting people experiencing severe and multiple disadvantage.

All images credited to A Place in Childhood

The power of place in child poverty and cost of living crisis

Find out more about our first Place Forum event and hear about the power of place and collaboration in child poverty and cost of living crisis.

Read event outputs