Imagine a community where children and youth are thoughtfully considered in every decision, and where adults across all sectors see themselves as part of having an impact on children and youth in their community.
There’s the old saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ and as our villages have gotten bigger, it’s more difficult to delineate our “villages,” let alone which children are ours to be responsible for. If you don’t see yourself as directly interacting with children, you may not necessarily see yourself as having an active part in making your community more child centered. But think about a community as a ripple: the family unit, your neighborhood, your surrounding neighborhood, your city, your county, and even your state. What is our collective responsibility to the children and youth who live here?
“Thinking about Child and Youth Centered Communities is a way to encourage everyone to see themselves as having an impact on a child’s journey. It asks us to consider how can we all band together to make our community, our cities, and our county the best place for children to grow up and become engaged community members as adults.” – Jessica Winston, Greentrike’s Strategic Initiatives Manager
Aspirational thinking about children and youth
In 2014 we hosted our first annual Symposium on Our Youngest Citizens after a team of people in Tacoma, committed to the improvement of early learning, visited Reggio, Italy. The trip gave the team the opportunity to see the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood learning in practice, and they returned inspired and eager to share their experience with the Tacoma community. The inaugural Symposium was made up of a series of “What If” presentations by everyday Tacomans to get attendees thinking about how we could better serve the children and youth in our community.
Over the years we’ve remained committed to thinking aspirationally about what a child and youth centered community could look like and invite the broader community to join the conversation each year at our Symposium. At our 2019 Symposium, an advisory committee made up of over 30 cross-sector partners acknowledged that the idea of child and youth centered communities had taken root and blossomed since its introduction in 2014, and that it was time to start thinking about action and measurement. Attendees were asked to envision how a child and youth centered community would change their homes, their neighborhoods, and their daily routines, and how collectively, these actions would change our cities and policies to better support children and youth.
What can you look to as evidence of a Child and Youth Centered Community?
The members that make up a particular community ultimately decide what a child and youth centered community looks like to them. But there are some common threads:
Traces of children and youth
If you went into any business, whether it be a bank, a car dealership, or a restaurant, you would see evidence that they are thinking about the children that are coming into their space and not just the grown-ups. You might see less ‘no skateboarding’ signs, and instead find safe areas to skate, scooter, or bike all over the city and not just confined to parks. Children would know they can climb, run, and play on the things they find in their built environments. You would encounter playful elements in everyday places like bus stops and sidewalks. Spaces would feel safe for all children and youth, and they would feel welcome wherever they went.
Elevated youth voice
You would expect to see an increased presence of youth voice in government, on boards, and other spaces where decisions are being made that impact youth and where youth voice hasn’t always been present. Out of that, you would see all decision makers and policy makers thinking about the impacts on children, youth, and families before they approve any decision or policy. You would also see more family-friendly internal workplace policies being shaped that take into account that many employees are parents and that their employee policies impact children and youth directly.
Decreased number of children and youth in need of support services
You would start to see a decrease in the number of children and youth in foster care, experiencing homelessness, and in juvenile detention centers because systems would begin to change in response to many agencies collectively and creatively putting youth first and systems second. Funding would be available and prioritized to support agencies that proactively support youth and families, ensure children and youth are cared for and engaged, and work to get families what they need to keep the family unit intact. JEDAI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Advocacy and Inclusion) and culturally responsive training would also be prioritized because addressing the systems that are inequitably impacting our youth and families of color is key to centering children and youth in any community.
How can you engage in making your community more child and youth centered in your everyday life?
Reflect on your image of the child
At Greentrike, we honor children and youth and champion play. As mentioned above, the Symposium has always been a space to think aspirationally about children and youth. At the 2018 Symposium, our community collectively agreed on our image of a child: We believe children and youth are inquisitive, capable, compassionate, creative, authentic, and leaders. We honor them as the protagonists of their learning journeys, and believe they should be at the helm of what they engage with.
Be intentional in your interactions with children and youth
Adults often take on an authoritative role in their interactions with children and youth and miss out on the opportunity to fully engage with them. Strive to treat children and youth how you would treat anyone, and be mindful of your image of the child during these interactions.
What opportunities might there be for you to enhance their lives? Could you volunteer at a school or youth serving organization? Are there children in your neighborhood that you could engage with? Can you advocate for funding or policy changes that prioritize children and youth?
Be mindful of the diversity among children, youth, and families
Depending on your cultural values, your image of the child may differ from what we have outlined here or from your neighbor’s perspective. No matter what defines your perspective, keep in mind that the driver behind Child and Youth Centered Communities is to create a community where all children see themselves reflected – regardless of race, ethnicity, physical or mental ability, gender, or sexual orientation.
Join the conversation at our 2022 Promise of Play Symposium
Pierce County has hundreds of organizations, big and small, committed to the ideas shared in this blog. Too many to name, they work tirelessly on behalf of children, youth, and families to ensure they are being advocated for, cared for, and connecting with caring adults. But each year, we come together as a community to ask, “How can we do better? How can we know we are a child and youth centered community?” We will continue to explore this at Greentrike’s upcoming Promise of Play Symposium: Building a Child and Youth Centered Community. We’d love to have you join us!