Play and The Convention Rights of the Child

Article 31 of the Convention Rights of the Child, recognises the right of every child to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities and free and full participation in cultural and artistic life, up to the age of 18. The UK signed up to this convention in 1991, the year my daughter was born. She is soon to be twenty four. She went through the usual experiences of growing up, playing, making friends, taking risks, even managing to survive the education system and has subsequently become a well adjusted young women. All through her twenty two years, I was keen for her to meet and be with disabled children and young people. In particular I wanted her to see and experience difference in a positive way, specifically through her interactions in play and recreational activities. That’s what Article 31 is partly about; bringing together disabled and non-disabled children.

I want to explain my use of disabled and non-disabled child, as I use them deliberately and some may say provocatively but I think the explanation helps to unpick why the General Comment is so important for disabled children in particular.

My assumption is that as a playworker you are already working with and including children and young people with conditions and impairments’. Most of the time they will come along, join in and just be part of the play opportunity / provision. However, the children and young people I refer to as ‘disabled’ are those who have significant and multiple medical conditions and or impairments. Those children who are labelled and stereotyped due to ‘their’ behaviour. Those children who don’t communicate, think or hear in the conventional way, these are the children and young people who are more likely to end up attending segregate/special play provision. These children experience discrimination due to their differences! We have disabled them. Our attitudes, the environments’ we help to create and often the policies and practise we have written and put in to place, all serve to disable these young people and children.

The term ‘non-disabled’ means exactly what it says on the tin! Children and young people who don’t face discrimination due to a medical condition, cognitive impairment or otherwise.
An example, a child with Autism is told ‘you can’t come in the playground as we don’t have a one –to – one to keep you safe’. A child comes to the playground and is supported to manage their own risk and benefits assessment.

Most children and young people experience barriers and frustrations when it comes to free choice. However, disabled children and young people determining their own use of their free time creates particular challenges. The main agenda is set by adults, parent and professional all wanting the child to spend all their waking hours improving themselves, learning not to be too different. I’m not saying this is wrong but it doesn’t leave much time for anything else, let’s say fun. Many children with complex requirements have little opportunity to be alone with a peer. Neither do they have an opportunity to get things wrong and learn from it. Not even the freedom just to sit and be is an option for these individuals. These barriers are immense and have become some what institutionalised in our society.

The General Comment was considered and then developed to encourage Governments to give priority to all children in accessing their rights under Article 31. I have been asked to give a perspective as a disabled play facilitator, trainer, consultant and advocate. There are many other Articles that support the right’s of disabled children and young people, to access everyday opportunities, when these are put alongside Article 31, you would hope it made it clear and imposable to negate our responsibility to support disabled children and young people’s right play and recreational activities alongside their non-disabled peers. But some do.

The General Comment has spelt out very clearly what challenges Governments need to address. When doings so Governments need to recognise that disabled children don’t just full in to one category ‘the disabled’. But will appear in the categories highlighted as ‘requiring particular attention’, girls, children living in poverty, children in institutions, children from indigenous and minority countries. I feel there is a conversation to have around whether or not there should be a category for “children with disabilities” (not my terminology).I wonder, if having a separate category could ever promote inclusive thinking?

The Three Obligations

Then there are the three obligations, Respect, Protect and Fulfil. Governments must adopt these in order for Article 31 to be fully embedded into our communities and society at large. Disabled children and young people are in great need of these three things being adopted, enforced and monitered.

Respect – when visiting play provision or segregated schools, I see very little evidence of consultation with disabled children. I don’t often see services that promote equality and equal relationships with their disabled service users.

Protect – most children I meet and worked with have and will experience discrimination in their life at some point. Children with significant medical conditions, cognitive impairment and physical impairments experience an intolerable amount of discrimination, even though it’s delivered in a ‘special’ and ‘over caring’ way. To experience risk taking is everybody’s right.

Fulfil – as a society we need to enable the fulfilment of Article 31 in our everyday practice when working with All children. The Governments need to give time, commitment, and invest to organisations, so they develop accessible and appropriate formats for disabled children and young people. Only in this way will they fulfil their right to Article 31.

My hope and belief is that given the commitment of Governments and your desire, had work and passion for Article 31, my grandchild will play and have recreational opportunities alongside their non-disabled friends in their local communities.

Who am I?

I’m Ally John, a loud, proud, playful disabled women. I have been a youth and community worker, a play facilitator and worked with disabled and non-disabled children since 1982ish. I now run Alison John & Associates consultancy and training on inclusion and equalities, for fifteen years. I have two grow children and live with my husband in the land of song (Wales). My personal experience informs my working practice.