Monday, 19 November 2012

Giving children the right to play

The Welsh Government has become one of the first
in the world to legislate for play.
(Pic : Tripadvisor.com)
I know today's top story will be the release of the first part of the Silk Commission, and I'm giving it the once over for later this week. Let's just say my initial reaction isn't positive.

It makes quite a contrast to my last blog on abortion, but today, I'm going to focus on some good news that perhaps went under the radar.

In 2004, the Welsh Government formally adopted the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child. This was followed up by the Children and Families Measure in 2010. The measure had a section, laying out local authorities duties with respect of providing safe and reasonable play areas for children.

In the last few weeks, Deputy Minister for Children & Social Services, Gwenda Thomas (Lab, Neath), issued new statutory guidelines to local authorities, governing children and play.

The new regulations and guidelines include:

Play Sufficiency Assessments : Local authorities (and in some cases, town and community councils and Communities First partnerships) will be obliged to carry out an audit of play areas, determining if there are enough suitable play areas for children.

Statutory Action Plans
: Where there are "deficiencies" in play provision, various bodies will be obliged to plan out improvements. If provision is adequate, then plans will need to be put in place to ensure it stays that way. These plans will need to be submitted to the Welsh Government by March 2013, and every three years after that (2016, 2019, 2021).

Consultation
: Views of parents - and crucially - children, will need to be taken into account. These include ideas for what sort of play areas they would like to see, as well as the reasons why they might not use existing facilities. For example, dangerous roads, or anti-social behaviour.

Play is considered vital to childhood development, whether that's "freely chosen play" (without adult supervision) or "structured recreational activities." Adequate play facilities will also improve overall health/wellbeing, and hopefully reduce instances of anti-social behaviour. It's all part of ensuring the Welsh citizens of tomorrow are well-adjusted and well-rounded (but not in a fat sense).

The Welsh Government also passed former Plaid AM, Dai Lloyd's, Playing Field (Community Involvement in Disposal Decisions) Measure in 2010, which ensures playing fields cannot be sold off/developed without adequate consultation with statutory consultees.

When I was a lad, aside from Newbridge Fields (which was/is generally well-maintained), the only other open space was my old primary school rugby pitch. There were syringes, dog mess, and broken glass - from a nearby abandoned building that wasn't demolished for the best part of a decade – to varying degrees.

There were two smaller equipped playgrounds nearby, both of which were poorly maintained. I'm pleased to say that's not the case now. Though it took the death of a 5 year old girl in an automatic gate for one of them to be upgraded. The original playground was completely removed over concerns about anti-social behaviour.

It might not be their highest-priority, but - other than rubbish collection - playgrounds and leisure facilities are what most people think of first when it comes to local councils, even if their responsibilities extend further than that.

Successive Welsh Governments, and Welsh Labour, have a good track record in tackling these small, but important, quality of life matters. On paper, it's an excellent idea that underpins their commitment to improving opportunities and rights of children.

It's just a shame they still can't get many of the big things right.

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