By Dr Michaela James, the National Centre for Population Health & Wellbeing Research, Published in Children in Wales Autumn Magazine.
Wales has become world-leading in children’s rights; legislation such as the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (WFGA) and policy relating to play (e.g., Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010 and the Play Sufficiency Duty) has put children at the forefront – creating greater awareness around the need of communities to work for young people’s health and wellbeing. This, coupled with a commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), has created a quiet but profound revolution – one that has the potential to reshape the landscape of research, policy, and, most importantly, the health and wellbeing of children and young people.
At the National Centre for Population Health & Wellbeing Research (NCPHWR), co-production is essential to our research. Co-producing research with those with a stake in the project who are not researchers can help to keep the research grounded, enhance the quality of the research, and produce meaningful outcomes and positive changes for the community.
Our co-production uses a rights approach, particularly focusing on Article 12, calling for children (aged up to 18) to have a right to be heard and taken seriously on all matters affecting them and the right to gather and use safe public spaces (Article 15). This is further complimented by Article 31 and General Comment 17, which refer to the right to have spaces to relax, play and participate in recreational activities and cultural life.
RPlace is one such project which has co-production at its heart. Young people reported to us that they want to be active in their local communities, but they feel there is a lack of facilities that they want, they cost too much, or they feel unwelcome in these spaces. As well as this they tell us there is too much traffic, there is too much rubbish and that sometimes they don’t feel safe. We wanted to give young people a voice to make changes in their local communities to overcome these barriers. As a result, our team developed ‘RPlace”, a mobile app where they can review their local areas to help empower young people and advocate for their wants and needs to help make changes to the places they live, play and go to school. The app has been developed as a result of findings from HAPPEN Primary School Network and ACTIVE (a project that aimed to improve the fitness and heart health of teenagers in Swansea through a multi-component intervention) alongside a strong collaboration with Play Wales. The reviews from young people gathered by the RPlace App will be shared with organisations (for example, local councils) to make places safer, more environmentally friendly and accessible for children and teenagers.
NCPHWR also works with partners such as Single Parents Wellbeing (SPW) on their Mental Health Manifesto (a National Lottery-funded project). The overall aim and desired outcome is that young people living in single-parent households will understand the importance and value of looking after their mental health and wellbeing and be equipped with the skills, knowledge and resources (emotional and practical) to do so by co-producing resources and expertise with and for their peers. This will empower a mentally healthier future generation who feel confident in taking opportunities and actions to move forward and make positive changes in their lives, influencing their communities and wider policy development.
These co-production projects, along with our work on the Born in Wales project (which carries out research and surveys with expectant and new parents to help improve understanding of how best to support children and families living in Wales), have led the NCPHWR to develop CORDS (Co-production of Research Direction and Strategy). CORDS aims to provide some clarity based on evidence and examples from previous projects co-produced by members of the public that were developed by the NCPHWR. Our best practice guide for co-production acknowledges that it should not be a ‘one size fits all’ approach; rather, it can sit within core values that can help influence direction while keeping the population’s best interests at the forefront. These include i) inclusivity, ii) flexibility, iii) authenticity and v) reflectivity.
In line with the evolution of Welsh policy, NCPHWR emphasises the importance of enforcing and recognising children’s rights in Wales, particularly alongside Articles 12 and 15. Our research is making a difference in the lives of Welsh children, impacting everything from education to healthcare and beyond. Children should have a say on matters that affect them. Their perspectives, insights, and dreams are not only heard but integrated into policies and practices that have the potential to create a brighter, more equitable future for all.
The National Centre for Population Health and Wellbeing Research is funded by the Welsh Government through Health and Care Research Wales.