I first became involved with the Child Rich Communities project while working for the coalition Every Child Counts. The coalition was focused on improving child well-being and, in particular, ending child poverty. Needless to say, child poverty is one of Aotearoa’s biggest issues: in 2017 it was reported that 290,000 children were living in income-based poverty and 135,000 children were living in material hardship (figures from the Child Poverty Monitor).
While working in advocacy, I was among those who noticed that responses to child well-being tended to focus mainly on advocacy and targeted intervention by government, NGOs and the private sector.
Both advocacy and intervention are incredibly important and need to be in the spotlight. However, there’s another strand of work that is not always so visible, but is equally important: there are many people working in community-led ways throughout Aotearoa. This work is improving the lives of children and their families. It became clear to me that when thinking about big issues like child poverty, we need a raft of different policies in different areas, but equally important is changing how we approach the issues, not just changing the policies. Many of these issues have been with us for a while, through successive governments, different policies and multiple reforms. As the saying goes, you can’t do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.
It’s time to focus on doing things differently. It’s time to better support communities to decide what solutions will work best for them, to share power, to let them make their own decisions and to create resources to enable locally-led responses and action. This represents quite a different tack than the traditional approach to policy, which tends to be top-down and service-focused, with solutions largely developed away from the very people it’s all about.
I believe that the traditional approach to policy by itself will not generate the scale of change needed. I believe that big change comes from supporting communities to lead. Local whānau and communities have a unique basket of skills, knowledge, strengths and assets which are fundamental to achieving long-term positive change in their places.
This is what the Child Rich Communities project is all about. It’s about growing a movement of people who think and work in community-led ways to improve child, family and whānau well-being. It builds on research with ‘Bright Spot’ communities and initiatives proudly taking community-led action in their places. It offers a framework, or way of working, driven by a set of principles that support people in local places to make positive changes for themselves, their children, their family and the wider community.
Importantly, there is no single model or definition for what a Child Rich Community is. Across Aotearoa, there are many community-led initiatives making positive change for local children and families. They all look very different, with local contexts, histories, experiences and resources shaping what happens in each place. This approach has a long history in Aotearoa and a big future.
I attended the Weaving our Strengths Forum earlier this year, where a range of stakeholders from the children’s sector, government, philanthropic sector, service providers, community groups and those with lived experiences got together at a one-day hui to talk about what’s needed to reduce child poverty and improve child well-being. In listening to different people talk, what I heard again and again was the need for strong, connected communities and the power of community to make a difference. People were saying things like:
“Communities know how poverty is affecting them and what they need to fix it: they just need the resources”
“Communities can self-organise”
In my opinion, government needs to sit with community and have a real discussion about how it (and others) can support community-led development (CLD) and Child Rich Community initiatives. First and foremost, government needs to gain an understanding of how it can effectively support locally-led action. Government needs to allow communities to own their own projects and to make their own decisions. Communities know what they need. We just have to listen. Especially, government needs to actively consider the role of CLD in securing better child well-being.
So where’s the movement at now? We are grateful to have received a grant from S.K.I.P to run the webinars and workshops this year and to set up four new regional ‘communities of practice’, aimed at peer-led support for those active in the community-led development/child well-being space. You can find more information on these activities here.
But a movement takes people. This is where you come in! We’re currently focused on raising awareness of Child Rich Communities, and supporting and connecting like-minded people, organisations and initiatives across Aotearoa so that we can all learn from each other.
Does this sound like something you’re interested in? Get in touch and join us. Or if this sounds like what you’re currently doing in your community, we’d love to hear about it. Email us and share your story.
Lisa Woods, Child Rich Communities Lead, Inspiring Communities