Listen to the children!

15/07/2021 - 16:24

Children. The participative process for producing Barcelona's 2021-2030 Plan for Children, the framework for the planning and mainstreaming of the main policies that affect children and adolescents in the City of Barcelona, has been carried out since May. 

For the first time, a participative process has been carried out to produce Barcelona's 2021-2030 Plan for Children. The objective: to identify the challenges that need to be met, taking into account the needs of the city's children and adolescents, and agreeing on what actions have to be fostered in order to improve their lives and their rights in coming years.

First participative process for the Plan for Children

For the first time, the Plan for Children was drafted in a participative way, something that represents a leap forwards for municipal policies aimed at children. The priorities detected by the children (compiled in the Children’s Agenda, which is part of the Children Speak programme, in the 2017-2020 Children and City Resident Focus and the children’s proposals in the Municipal Action Programme 2020-2023); have been taken into account by themunicipal government (through theBarcelona 2030 Agenda ), and by social stakeholders (through the Agreement for Barcelona).

Meanwhile, organisations and individuals with expertise and knowledge concerning the needs of children and adolescents, as well as the general public (adolescents and families with children) were able to submit their contributions and suggestions at themed meetings, online debates concerning the rights and challenges of children (health, education, decent life, family, protection, participation and higher interest) and on the Decidim platform.  

The information, the debate and the contrasting were carried out with the various stakeholders involved, such as the Steering Group for the plan, the Transversal Committee, children’s organisations, the Advisory Council (formed by organisations such as Save The Children and Unicef, along with organisations from the academic world, such as the University of Barcelona and the Ramon Llull University, the city’s districts, and of course, children and the general public.

“The City Council has always opted for carrying out deliberative processes with the general public and, above all, with those organisations and individuals that know a lot about children. Working together is vital for detecting their needs and responding to their demands and priorities” affirmed Carles Gil, head of the Department for the Promotion of Children. 

A plan that includes the opinions of those children

The drafting of the Plan for Children took into account the requests made by children aged between 10 and 12 in the City of Barcelona, in regard to improving their welfare, as well as their proposed actions, through the Children Speak programme (by Institut Infància i Adolescència). “We ran a survey of 4,000 city children, in order to find out about their needs and their proposals concerning schools, free time, families, etc.”, explained Carles Gil. 

He continued, “For this process, a group was created, the ALTAVEU GROUP, made up of 15 children aged between 11 and 13, from all the districts of Barcelona, who are now 14; they are the representative voice of the children. This group worked on presenting the children’s agenda and initiating discussions with political representatives, municipal services, city organisations and social stakeholders.” 

Another project that compiles children’s priorities is the Adolescent Citizens of Barcelona project, aimed at children between the ages of 12 and 17, from compulsory secondary education and special education centres, which fosters debate through a series of meetings and allows students to present proposals in full district council meetings and full City Council meetings, which then have the political commitment to admit or reject the presented proposals. 

This is undoubtedly a leading project in terms of taking the opinions of adolescents into account. As Lluís Vila, the president of FAPAES, says: “Adolescence is often the most forgotten stage of development. We always say that when children reach the age of 12 they seem to become invisible. That’s why we at the FAPAES (Federation of Parents Associations of Secondary School Students in Catalonia) campaign for the last stage of adolescence to be taken into account, and for there to be a coordinated transition between childhood and youth, so that there is no overlap between actions.” 

Main challenges detected by the Plan for Children

The aim of the #PlaInfànciaBCN participative process was to debate the structure of the plan, based on rights and the challenges that the city should be able to meet between now and 2030. These include the right to adequate economic and material conditions, the main challenges of which are to ensure a suitable diet, decent housing and energy supplies, as well as attending to the emotional needs of children with prevention and assistance programmes and services.

In regard to the right to education, the aim is to reinforce schooling between 0 and 2 years old (the only age group where education is not universal) and support services for parenting, guaranteeing the right to education for all children, doubling down on the struggle against segregation and early school leaving, and combating the digital gap. “During the pandemic, we have learnt that the digital gap is not only a dysfunction in terms of the knowledge and skills involved in using certain tools, but that there is a more important aspect to it: the environment and atmosphere that the child experiences at home”, affirmed Lluís Vila, the president of FAPAES. 

Another challenge listed in the Plan for Children is recognising the importance of leisure and culture as essential factors for the children’s well-being. “The Summer Holiday Campaign is a very powerful project that facilitates access to a wide range of leisure activities for all children and adolescents who are Barcelona residents. 

This year, the City Council has spent €4 million on grants. This is a clear strategy for ensuring the participation of all children and preventing a family’s economic capacity from becoming an obstacle to their children enjoying the activities, in the same way that a child’s physical, psychological or sensory condition should not be. The right to food is a basic right, but the right to leisure is, too”, stresses Carles Gil, head of the Department for the Promotion of Children. 

Other rights that must be considered include the right to comprehensive health and healthcare services (one of the main challenges is ensuring that children in a vulnerable situation have access to healthcare assistance that is not covered by the public healthcare system); the right to family and its responsibilities, and the social protection of children (aiming to reinforce support for families who have children and adolescents with disabilities or early-attention needs and to improve assistance for children who are in a situation of risk or who lack protection), and the right to protection against mistreatment. “In this case we have to reinforce prevention programmes against mistreatment and measures that combat gender violence. For this reason, we have produced a specific diagnostic programme for all City Council facilities where children are present”, added Carles Gil. 

Josep Maria Villena, the president of the Diomira Association and president of the Catalan Children and Adolescents Committee, believes that we also have to continue making progress on the children’s right to participate and to be heard. “Children’s opinions are not taken sufficiently into account, and that worries us, because they are citizens in their own right. The Plan for Children reinforces channels and spaces so that children and adolescents can take part in decision making, receive information and have their opinions heard”, added Villena, who is also a member of the plan’s Advisory Council.

The Plan for Children, a living instrument

On 16 July, the closing session of this participative process was held with the Monitoring Committee. With all the compiled information and the technically validated proposals, a document was produced, which will probably be approved in September, and the monitoring of the acquired commitments will be established.  “This approved plan will be a living document, which we will assess with organisations and the children themselves every three years, in order to incorporate new challenges and modify whatever is necessary. The plan will be periodically updated in a participative way from now to 2030, with monitoring from Institut Infància i Adolescència”, explained Carles Gil. 

“I am very positive about the political willingness to make this a long-term plan. I am convinced that the project is not just words, but that there is a magnificent delimitation of areas, challenges and actions”, concluded Josep Maria Villena, president of the Diomira Association.