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CARE Seminar Children's Rights & Crises Alex Bidmead December 2023

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posted on 2023-12-12, 16:51 authored by Clare WoolhouseClare Woolhouse, Jo Albin-ClarkJo Albin-Clark

Abstract

‘Crisis’ is a broadly used term referring to an exceedingly dangerous or difficult situation where something of value is under threat and requires urgent addressing (Boin et al., 2020; MacNeil Vroomen et al., 2013). Early conceptualisations of crisis theory explained intense psychological distress as emerging when individuals face a problem which is both meaningfully threatening to their life goals and cannot be resolved through the application of normal problem-solving mechanisms (Caplan, 1964; Parad & Caplan, 1960; Rapoport, 1962).

What remains unclear is how crisis theory applies to children, a social group who are frequently labelled as being ‘in crisis’ within literature. This includes issues such as increasingly poor mental health amongst youths (Mind, 2020), child homelessness (Rhoades et al., 2018) or cyberbullying (Zaborskis et al., 2019). Additionally, children are among the most vulnerable social group affected by disasters, due to their need for a safe and stable environment to promote healthy development (Agrawal & Kelley, 2020). They are often disproportionately impacted during times of economic depravity (Lawrence et al., 2019), political conflict (Jones, 2008) and natural disasters (Curtis et al., 2000) due to infringements placed on their rights to access education and to participate in decisions which affect their lives (Harper et al., 2010). Despite this, therapeutic interventions specifically designed to support children in the aftermath of a crisis situation have been shown to fail at improving their mental health symptoms (Thabet et al., 2005) or suffer from a high drop-off rate (Hendricks-Ferguson, 2000; Rhoades et al., 2018), suggesting they may be limited in their accessibility for children and young people. A possible explanation for the ineffectiveness of these services is that they are often targeted at the family system and may overlook the specific needs of the child (O’Connor et al., 2014). As a result, judgements about children’s needs may primarily represent what adults perceive them to be and fail to capture the child’s unique experience (Oakley, 2002). Therefore, improving the effectiveness of these intervention programmes may require a reconceptualization of crisis from the perspective of children.

Children are often limited or even discouraged from taking action in managing crisis, presumably due to their socialization within power-imbalanced institutions such as school (Hohti & Karlsson, 2014). Despite this, research has found that children often have a unique interpretation of policy which affects them and can feel that their voices are disregarded within decision-making (Perry-Hazan & Lambrozo, 2018).

The relevant research is adult oriented and very little research intends to make links between conceptualisations of crisis and children’s rights. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (United Nations, 1989), and its near universal ratification by state parties of the United Nations (UN), has promoted developmental, survival, protection and participation rights as fundamental for children. Subsequently, the UNCRC, and children’s right to participation has gained recognition in education systems and curricula. Educational contexts work within a wide range of legislative requirements, adhering to regulatory standards and curriculum documents. These may be designed with reference to the requirements of the UNCRC to promote the best interests of children and uphold their rights to provision and protection. However, when it comes to crisis, the obligation of adults to protect children “overwrites” children’s participatory rights.

Thus, this study aimed to investigate how children attribute meaning to the term, ‘crisis’ through their narrative discourse. Two secondary aims were, firstly, to encourage children to evaluate the support systems which may provide aid to them during a crisis and, secondly, to delineate what children perceive to be their role within crisis management.

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