Social Change, New Risks and Opportunities for Children

I had the privilege of presenting at the first seminar of this term'€™s Children and Youth in a Changing World inter-departmental seminar series. This was a great opportunity to present a forthcoming paper on how economic and social change affects children growing up in poverty. Drawing on Young Lives research, the presentation brought together survey and qualitative analysis to discuss three key areas. Firstly, how children'€™s development is shaped by different environmental influences. Secondly, to explore the changing nature of risks and opportunities in children’s lives during the first decade of the twenty-first century. And finally, to consider the implications for policy.

I argued that that poverty reduction and improved access to services and schooling have reduced some risks and created new opportunities for many children. However, the poorest children are being left behind against the backdrop of a generally rising tide of improved living standards. For example, although school enrolment has increased, poorer children often experience poorer quality education, and while malnutrition and stunting are declining, the reductions are far greater among less poor children. Creating a supportive environment for children’s development requires tackling the structural causes of disadvantage, with a particular focus on communities where children experience multiple disadvantages.  Without an understanding of the ecology of children’s environment and how this shapes children’s lives, policymakers are at risk of focussing on the symptoms rather than the causes: why some children work and do not go to school; or why parents make different decisions for their sons and daughters. Effective policy engages with the underlying context, not only the consequences.

A lively discussion followed during which we explored the extent to which education is presented as a panacea for creating new opportunities for a whole generation, and which risks causing a future backlash if the promised change is not delivered. We also considered methodological questions about how to separate societal change from change over the individual life course. Please join us for the forthcoming seminars where we will return to the themes of education, social values and risk and resilience.

Find out more

View the slides from the seminar presentation here. Audio podcast to follow soon.