Children’s voices ‘central’ to developing public policy

Monday 17 June 2013

In the final lecture by the NZ-UK Link Foundation Visiting Professor, Anne Smith, she argues that respect for the rights and the voice of the child is central to the focus of promoting policies and practice that improve children’s lives.

Emeritus Professor Anne Smith, based at the University of Otago’s College of Education in Dunedin, is a highly respected specialist in childhood studies and children’s rights.

She has been involved in research, advocacy and policy-making on childhood issues in New Zealand for almost 40 years. Professor Smith has been based at the School of Advanced Study since April and has given a public lecture series on children’s rights with special emphasis on the links between research on children‘s issues, government policy and how professionals (such as teachers, lawyers or social workers) work with children.

During the fellowship programme, Professor Smith has discussed the NZ and UK landscape of policy for children, with leading academics, policy-makers and voluntary organizations around the country. She intends to publish an edited book after the completion of her fellowship on how children’s rights have been enhanced in NZ, the UK and other countries, through connecting research, policy and practice.

In the final lecture, taking place on 19 June at Senate House, University of London, Anne Smith will draw on her own and other researchers’ experience in several important areas of policy for children, and argue why a children’s rights focus for research influences what is studied, how it should be studied, and how it should be reported and disseminated. She explains that important areas of research about childhood are ignored, either because they are considered too sensitive (e.g. the impact of violence on children) or because they do not fit with adult ideas about what children should be doing (e.g. children’s paid work). Children are also usually seen as ‘becoming’ on the way to adulthood, rather than as ‘beings’ whose everyday experiences (such as bullying or opportunity to play) have a big impact on their lives.

Professor Smith adds: ‘I argue that the recognition of children as active citizens and participants in research, rather than the passive objects of concern, is one way to promote positive change for them.’ But she acknowledges that different research questions demand different research paradigms.  Quantitative research (the helicopter view of the forest) is as necessary as qualitative research (the view from among the trees). Qualitative research helps us understand processes and ideas but it resists generalisation. It is, however, sometimes necessary to generalize, for example to see how fiscal restraints affect children’s health and whether trained staff and low adult-child ratios in early childhood centres affect children’s learning. Multi-method, interdisciplinary approaches to research on childhood are therefore essential.

While there are widespread demands for evidence-based policies, the translation of research into practice and policy is often haphazard, according to Anne Smith, due to competing paradigms and varying political agendas. It is therefore useful for researchers, policy-makers and child advocates to collaborate before, during and after the research process, in order to promote the uptake of research. Professor Smith believes that ‘evidence–based practice’ is justifiable, but that ‘evidence’ should not be narrowly interpreted.

Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Professor Philip Murphy, said: ‘The School of Advanced Study is delighted to have had the opportunity to act as host during Professor Smith's highly successful visit to London. We have been very pleased with the warm reception she has received from academics, policy-makers and practitioners in the areas of child rights, child protection and early years education.’

Professor Anne Smith’s final lecture – What kind of theory and research is relevant to the well-being and rights of children? – will take place on Wednesday 19 June (at 18:00) in the Chancellor’s Hall at Senate House, University of London on Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU. Entry is free and all are welcome. For registration information, please visit or contact Liza Fletcher at / 07941 000 541.

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Notes for editors:

1. For further information please contact Liza Fletcher at the NZ-UK Link Foundation by email at or by telephone at 07941 000 541.

2. The NZ-UK Link Foundation is a registered charity whose primary objective is to make ‘an ongoing substantial contribution to the intellectual, educational, vocational and academic underpinning of the bilateral relationship in a changing world’.

3. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and facilitation of research in the humanities and social sciences. SAS brings together 10 research institutes to offer academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. Its member institutes are the Institutes of Advanced Legal Studies, Classical Studies, Commonwealth Studies, English Studies, Germanic & Romance Studies, Historical Research, Musical Research, Philosophy, Study of the Americas, and the Warburg Institute. The School also hosts a cross-disciplinary centre, the Human Rights Consortium, dedicated to the facilitation, promotion and dissemination of academic and policy work on human rights. 

4. Each year the School welcomes around 170 visiting research fellows who benefit from its unique research resources and multidisciplinary scholarly community. In addition to visiting fellowship programmes, SAS offers professorial, honorary and senior research fellowships. Through the hosting of these fellowships, the School fulfils its overall aims of enriching the research infrastructure of its national and international subject communities and other stakeholders.