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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, April 24, 2004
    How children see things
     
    Dad's enormous articulated lorry pulls up outside, casting a dark shadow suddenly into the previously sunlit front room, and the baby squeals.

    A young girl closes her front door daintily, casts a glance down the dual carriageway, and vaults the garden wall on her dash for the no.14 bus pulling up twenty metres away.

    While lines and lines of glimmering vehicles pass the end of his road headed for the football match, the boy practices his soccer skills against a wall. His target: a battered old sign saying, 'No Ball Games'.

    The girls are in the bus shelter, not waiting to move, but eating, chattering, playing, observing all that passes by.

    Today I began to ask myself if I can imagine how children see things. I did this in the context of being reawakend to the Child Poverty Action Group. I've supported them, receiving their quarterly publications, for a number of years. But latterly I've been sadly disengaged from involvement in poverty campaigning, shifting CPAG's well-researched and carefully-argued journals directly from envelope to bookshelf, for future attention.

    Life is changing for me, and today I read their latest book. Ending Child Poverty by 2020 - the first five years, an examination of how far the government has moved towards the goal Tony Blair set at Toynbee Hall on 18 March 1999. Answer in brief - some way, actually, but there's far further to go. This shifted me from the lazy perspective I've embraced, that Blair's had it, new Labour have dived. Income poverty has fallen, "a real success," say CPAG, as has severe hardship: "There has been progress and it demonstrates just what is possible from a committed government."

    There is still a lot of poverty about - despite the progress still almost one in three children remain in income poverty. For many among them life involves food deprivation, inadequate clothes, cramped living in bad housing, and little access to leisure activities, holidays, toys and games. I suspect the children I observed down this road today would probably all know something of these things in their lives.

    What I've learned today is that there are adults trying hard to imagine how children see things. So they can help them express what they see in the public arena. In Wales, for instance, as in many European countries, there is a Children's Commissioner, and young people's groups such as Right Here Right Now (RHRN) are campaigning for one for England. I like the model, and what it symbolises: as a member of RHRN said, "I think a children's rights commissioner would create a culture of respect for children and young people."

    Part of the reason I've jettisoned CPAG journals to the shelves is because my mind cannot easily interpret the detailed figures they publish. I'm not trained in Rights or Welfare Law. But I'm glad to have them for the insights they bring; and I'm glad to be re-encouraged by them today, to try again to imagine how children see things.