ChildHope UK welcomes the Good Childhood Report 2012, recently released by The Children's Society UK on the well-being and happiness of children across the UK. The report's headline conclusion is that "at any moment, half a million children across the UK are unhappy with their lives," which translates to a proportion of about 1 in 11 children.
A sense of belonging as the key to children's happinessAn important finding that rings true with children around the world is that children are essentially after one thing: belonging. They want to feel loved, accepted, nurtured, and part of something, not standing on the outside looking in. A sense of belonging in the UK is sometimes found through the possession of certain material goods-- this does not make these children materialistic or greedy, nor does it mean the material possession (for example, an iPod) is really what is important for them. It is more about the feeling they get when they are able to pull a brand new iPod out of their backpack and show it to their peers--validation, acceptance, and inclusion.
ChildHope would agree with the findings of the report, that relationships are extremely important to children's happiness. Therefore, measures of success in projects to improve the lives of children need to include the impact on relational aspects of their lives --how children relate to each other and to people around them, and how they picture themselves fitting into their greater environments.
ChildHope's projects: strengthening children's agencyIn ChildHope's approach to child protection and child participation, we follow some of the discourses in international development on 'well-being' that take into account this noted importance of 'personal and social interactions', along with 'values, perceptions and experiences' (White, 2008). ChildHope and its partners emphasise the facilitation of children's agency as a means to address these issues. In a recent training on children and young people's participation with our partner CHADET in Ethiopia we involved local girls and boys as well as staff and key adult decision-makers to develop a plan for children and young people in that area. It is only in this way that different perspectives are heard and local power dynamics and relationships understood for a more realistic plan.
Strengthening the agency can help boys and girls to improve their confidence and sense of self-worth and can contribute to improved adult-to-child and child-to-child interactions, and consequently, their own well-being. Influencing attitudes and aspirations amongst girls and boys, men and women, can help to change power dynamics in cultures where children are not necessarily listened to and foster healthy longer term relationships.
A broader consideration for indicators of happiness and well-being as measures of development is welcomed as there is broad recognition that a focus on GDP leaves out so many aspects of what is important in people's lives and in realising their rights. Even in the mainstream press, there are increasing numbers of economists now realising that growth strategies need to take into account public sector investment, new technologies, renewable energy, and health, education, social care, and leisure expansion (Metro, 2012).
The common themes of happiness for children around the worldIn ChildHope, we recognise the importance of considering happiness and well-being in a context of political, social and cultural factors that influence children's everyday lives. What children mean by happiness may well change across the countries where ChildHope's partners work, there are, however, common messages that are shared. A lot of our partners are working in a participatory way to increase children and young people's confidence and happiness.
In India Butterflies work with street and working children who are negotiating their own sense of belonging through Khazanas (Children's Development Banks), where they are encouraged to take charge of their own lives, develop confidence, responsibility, and project management skills, and foster sustainable livelihoods through child-run banks and savings programmes.
Children participating in Amhauta's project in Peru have learnt to challenge situations of violence in their families through understanding their rights, becoming peer educators, and increasing their involvement in community life and raising awareness of the issues they face. Children across our programmes are negotiating their identities and finding where they belong in many different ways on a daily basis.
For ChildHope and its partners, lessons have been learned through experience about economic growth and wealth not automatically creating happiness and satisfaction. A multi-dimensional approach which establishes long-lasting relationships, focuses on genuine participation, agency and empowerment is central. In this way positive community relations can be enhanced and there is a greater chance of genuine happiness among children and communities in the long run.