2017 was a year with headlines dominated by disasters in the UK. The devastating fire at Grenfell tower; attacks at Manchester Arena, Westminster, Finsbury Park and London Bridge; major flooding and storm Brian all rocked the country.
Save the Children is clear that the conversation about how we respond to such emergencies must include marginalised and vulnerable communities and, crucially, we must do more to listen to one of the most excluded and under-estimated voices – the voice of children.
Largely, when thinking of children caught in disasters we think of their vulnerability and immediate actions we can take to keep them safe. Less often do we dig deeper and consider children’s unique perspectives, needs, opinions and experience of disasters. Very rarely do we consider their competencies, and their ability to actively contribute to planning, provision and recovery.
Save the Children is involved in a pan-European project which aims to rectify this.
Giving children a voice
Take Care* is a project which makes sure children are prepared for emergencies. Working across five EU countries it aims to build their knowledge, resilience and make sure their voices are heard in emergency planning and response.
In the UK Save the Children worked with primary school children aged 9-11 years to influence local and national decision-makers to make sure children’s perspectives are considered in disasters.
Through workshops, community learning events and a high-level national conference, our group of nearly 200 children have learned about emergencies and have shared their thoughts and opinions with local and national decision-makers.
“I learnt that us children should be heard in our own opinion and adults should take it seriously... children need to know what is going on in the situation so the children are not scared.”
Lilly, Student from England
The core ethos of this work is active and meaningful participation: engaging children who are impacted by decisions and policies, and ensuring they themselves can help shape those plans. Through Take Care, children have built their knowledge about safe practices, whilst advising adults about how they feel and what they might need in an emergency. This has helped professionals to realise the value of children’s knowledge and the potential of giving them more agency in emergencies.
In 2018, we will work with the consortium to launch an advisory framework that incorporates the learning from all partners and contributes to EU-wide best practice in this field.
The value of a different perspective
Our work with children must recognise them as experts in their own right. Children have a unique ability to see things differently and not only identify gaps in existing provisions, but also contribute to innovative solutions. Through projects like Take Care, we can bring together traditional “teaching” about preparedness and prevention along with a more empowering, child-led, two-way learning process. This helps increase awareness and resilience amongst children, but also amongst emergency planners and communities too.
With appropriate safeguards, we must trust in children’s capabilities. Children can be powerful communicators within their family, peer group, and wider community. In our project, children helped to spread learning across schools and communities, including taking vital safety messages home to parents.
We know that if you involve and respect children in emergency preparedness and response, their readiness and resilience grows. Preparing them not only keeps children safer from risks but helps prepare future generations too.
*This three-year project is a collaboration between Lancaster University, Save the Children UK, Save the Children Italy, the University of Thessaly, the Open University of Catalonia, and the University of Lisbon. It is funded by the European Union’s H2020 fund.