ISPA Cross-National Research Project on the Perspectives of Children and Adults about the Status of Children’s Rights
Relevance for Children’s Rights
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child requires regular periodic monitoring and reporting on children’s rights conditions. It also mandates that the views of the child be respected in areas affecting the child. Therefore, the Convention provides a strong impetus for assuring that the views of children are solicited and considered in monitoring and reporting processes. The evolving cross-national children’s rights research program described here is intended to provide a basic core of information to fulfill these responsibilities.
The International School Psychology Association, in cooperation with the Office for the Study of the Psychological Rights of the Child (School of Education of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis), is conducting an ongoing program of cross-national research to determine the perspectives of children and major child caretakers regarding the existing and desired status of children’s rights in homes and schools. The findings of this project are intended to inform international and national policy makers, child professionals, child advocates, and the public of needs and opportunities to advance the quality of life and development of children and guide goal setting, standards, strategies, practices and monitoring to achieve improvements.
Nearly 10 years of pilot work on this project across 23 countries has been accomplished to date. Available knowledge on this pilot work has stimulated sufficient interest and respect in the envisioned project for it to be designed and implemented in a manner supporting its eventual establishment as a regular pattern of research in most if not all nations. The nearly universal adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and its monitoring and reporting requirements have provided a significant impetus for this project.
Nature of Project
The major purpose of the research is to develop and implement a scientifically sound system to gather the opinions of children and significant adults about the value of and support given children’s rights in homes and schools so that:
- Discrepancies between desired and existing conditions can be identified and their significance determined.
- Comparisons can be made across issues, national and international groupings, and over time.
- Community, national and international resources can be organized and applied to plan, execute, and monitor programs to improve children’s rights conditions.
To explore the potential for accomplishing these purposes, a pilot program of cross-national research on the opinions of 12-14 year old students about children’s rights has been conducted during the last 10 years by research teams in 23 nations:
Additionally, the opinions of teachers on the rights of this age group have been gathered in 13 of these countries. This has been survey research directly gathering the subjective opinions of children and adults, providing results which can guide as well as supplement other systems of data gathering including documented commitments (e.g., laws and regulations); statistics on allocations of resources, practices, and child development experiences and outcomes; and clinical anecdotal information.
The 40 item questionnaire used in the pilot covered major themes of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (i.e., survival, protection, development and participation) and goes beyond them in some areas. The pilot stage of this research has been supported by the International School Psychology Association, by the project’s coordinating center, the Office for the Study of the Psychological Rights of the Child (School of Education, Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis), and by the involved research teams. Government funding has been provided in some countries (e.g., Belgium, Iceland, Lithuania, and Slovenia). The co-principal investigators guiding the project have been Stuart Hart (Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis), Zoran Pavlovic (Institute for Criminology, Ljubljana, Slovenia) and Moshe Zeidner (University of Haifa, Israel).
Results of the Pilot Stage
The pilot stage of this project has established its practicality and shown its potential as an informational and programming tool as indicated by the following findings:
- There is genuine interest in research on the children’s rights perspectives of children and adults who work with them [the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires children be informed and their views be considered]. Advocates and researchers in additional countries wish to join the project and most of those previously involved wish to continue to the next stage.
- A research instrument on children’s rights can be developed in a manner respectful of and useful in widely different cultures [established through cooperative item selection, translations and back-translations, and validated by perceived salience of results in participating countries].
- Data can be gathered from children in an efficient and practical manner from student populations [schools, students and teachers have been readily accessible and the approximately 30-45 minute administration time has not been found to be disruptive, but rather to elicit increased interest in children’s rights].
- Findings reveal significant and important differences in the perspectives and, therefore quite possibly, the living conditions of children within and across countries:
- Gender and socio-economic related response differences have been found in and across countries.
- The rated existence level of rights generally has been found to be below the rated importance level of rights.
- Schools are generally considered by students to do a poorer job of supporting rights than homes do.
- For some critical protection and participation rights no existence or existence to only a small degree has been indicated by large percentages of students; even in quite developed countries.
- Some rights, such as the right to play and imagination, have been rated to exist at very low levels.
- A variety of publics (scholars, child advocates, non-governmental and governmental leadership) are interested in the perspectives of children obtained in this manner [governments of Belgium, Iceland, Lithuania and Slovenia have provided financial support for the project; the Danish government has requested a report on findings and the results from Slovenia have been published as a chapter in UNICEF’s report on the status of Slovenian children and in Slovenia’s country report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child].Numerous presentations on the project have been invited by scientific and advocacy societies; a journal article and 3 book chapters have been invited and published on early findings of the research and an entire journal edition has been offered for the next series of articles].
Plans and Activities for the First Major Stage of the Project
- It is of fundamental importance that advances in children’s rights be based in part on the views of children themselves about the importance of issues and the status of related conditions that affect them.
- The opinions of children should be supplemented by the opinions of adults who are expected to understand and directly support child development.
- For information on the views of children to be truly useful, it must be acquired through a scientifically sound system which enables reliable and valid comparisons and judgments to be made within and across countries and across time.
- Information gained can and will be useful to governmental and non-governmental interests to determine the status of realizing their children’s rights commitments, and to plan and execute strategies to achieve needed children’s rights advances.
Project Design Essentials
The first major stage of this project is applying a design of refined questions, scales, and data gathering procedures developed to respect what has been learned in the pilot stage. New instruments (i.e., 34-item child questionnaire, and 36 item adult questionnaire) have been constructed which will more efficiently and effectively acquire desired information. The project design has been expanded in numerous ways.
- The number of countries will be increased to assure sampling occurs in each major region of the world, including Africa; Asia; Eastern and Western Europe; Central, South and North America.
- Data will be gathered from three age ranges of children and youth (e.g., ages 8-10, 12-14, and 16-18), and from teachers, parents, school counselors and/or psychologists, and school administrators. Preliminary work with the new instrument in Lithuania (approximately 1500 children) and Slovenia (approximately 200 children plus their parents) has shown the new instrument to be efficient and effective across the three child age groups and with parents.
- Appropriate non-governmental and governmental agencies and organizations at the community and national level will be involved in the project to help carry out the research, to determine the meaning of findings, and to apply findings to plan and act to improve conditions for children.
Expectations Set for Project Teams in Participating Countries
- Credible teams will be organized to plan and carry out the research and to assure research results are incorporated in determining and reporting the status of children’s rights and in planning and executing plans for improving the conditions of children. These teams will be composed of research specialists and cooperating governmental and non-governmental children’s services and advocacy leaders. The teams will oversee and coordinate the research process, including making any necessary additions to the instrument to respect issues of particular significance to the nation, and will convene one or more meetings of national governmental and non-governmental organizations to review and apply findings in plans for advancing children’s rights.
- Proper samples of schools (and out of school children) will occur to assure the structure of the sample represents the country’s community types and socio-economic status proportions, appropriate numbers for selected child age groups of each gender, and critical majority-minority status conditions (e.g., ethnic, religious, racial).
- The research will be conducted every five years during periods approximately 1 to 1 ½ years prior to the due dates of their nation’s report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child to maximize its utility nationally and internationally for status and trend reports to the nation and the International Committee on the Rights of the Child.
A comprehensive, systematic, and credible system of gathering and applying the views of children and the influential adults in their lives about the status of children’s rights is needed for monitoring, reporting and planning to advance children’s rights. A basic or core system for achieving this goal has been piloted successfully in 23 countries and has been refined in readiness for regular periodic application throughout the world. Many countries have research teams poised to participate in this project and numerous international and national agencies are likely to be supportive of it once it is established. The International School Psychology Association invites all interested governmental and non-governmental agencies to encourage and cooperate in this program of necessary and practical research.
- Hart, S. N., Pavlovic, Z., & Zeidner, M. (1998). Cross-national research on children’s rights. In E. Verhellen (Ed.) Understanding children’s rights: Collected papers presented at the second International Interdisciplinary Course on Children’s Rights. (pp. 76-96) Ghent, Belgium: The Children’s Rights Centre, University of Ghent. (This source contains references to earlier publications on this project.)
- School Psychology International , during 2000 and 2001, will present a series of articles on this research, including an international overview and the experiences and findings for specific countries.
The project is coordinated by Stuart Hart (Office for the Study of the Psychological Rights of the Child (OSPRC, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis; and Chair of the ISPA Children’s Rights Committee). The co-principal investigators are Zoran Pavlovic (Institute of Criminology, School of Law; Ljubljana, Slovenia) and Moshe Zeidner (School of Education, University of Haifa, Israel).