What is the connection between Children’s Rights and age discrimination and what does it mean for the way early years settings work with young children?
Age discrimination legislation does not generally cover children and young people under the age of 18 (See the Children’s Rights Alliance for England). Therefore, many organisations including the Alliance, recognise that it is vitally important that children have a voice and that their rights are upheld and where ever possible, children are actively included in early years provision. However, it can be difficult to ensure that children’s involvement is meaningful.
Approaches have been developed (such as the Mosaic approach) to ascertain young children’s views on their childcare settings, ensuring that young service users have an input into the design of their services rather than just meeting practitioners’ views of what practitioners think children need or is good for young children.
Extending the way adults listen to and consult with young children, not only on their childcare and play spaces, but also on all aspects of their lives, is not easy. It is commonly thought that the views of young children aged five years and below are not coherent or consistent. Although the need for children and young people’s input into activities that involve them is often recognised, this is often only true for children and young people above a certain age. Adults may listen well to young children as they talk about their lives, such as what they enjoy and what upsets them, however, adults have a tendency to forget to incorporate children’s views and interests. It is vitally important that settings are aware of how to fully utilise children’s participation.
How can we address age bias in our setting?
There are particular groups of people who are the target of age stereotyping: the elderly and the very young. In early years practices we need to ensure that we do not stereotype either of these groups, in just the same way that we aim to avoid stereotyping any groups of people. Stereotypes of older members of the team or older carers may regard their views as unimportant (the negative stereotype) or positively, as people with great wisdom, warmth and comfort. Likewise children and especially young people may be presented by both the media and individuals as having little or nothing to contribute.
As practitioners, we need to ensure that our own perceptions of age do not reinforce these stereotypes and impact the children in our settings. This requires us examining our own attitudes which of course can be difficult to do. But by talking honestly about our attitudes towards age with other members of our staff team, we can uncover and replace any stereotypical views we may discover.
In addition to reflecting on our own attitudes. We can:
- Look at the resources – especially books, DVDS and other images – in our settings to ensure there is a balance of positive images to counteract the stereotypical images
- Encourage children to question and challenge their own images to see whether they match their experience – for example, a stereotypical image of a grandmother or grandfather is of an older, grey-haired woman or man, when in fact a grandparent may be an active adult in the forties.
- Display and read stories that have positive messages and challenge stereotypes about age
- Involve grandparents and teenagers (both male and female) in your setting as volunteers – and particularly encourage older volunteers to involve themselves in physical activities (where they are able to do so).
- Be sensitive to children who may not have access to older members of the family, due to distance or other circumstances, such as family break-up.
- Sensitively challenge any stereotypical or discriminatory comments that are age related.
Our nursery has been told that an advert we placed in the local newspaper inviting young, vibrant nursery staff to apply for a job is discriminatory. Is this true?
Legislation to combat age discrimination first came into force in England (and Wales and Scotland) in 2006. In particular the legislation protects people in employment so that nobody is denied a job or an equal chance of training or a promotion because of their age. Among other areas, the legislation also covers adult learning and education, offering protection to those of all ages.
An advert using the terms ‘young’ and ‘vibrant’ could imply that you do not wish older applicants to apply and could therefore be deemed discriminatory and unlawful. The same would apply if you advertised for ‘mature’ and ‘experienced’ staff.
Employers need to be careful when asking for an extended number of years of experience. This may not be permissible by law, as such a request could be seen an example of discrimination against younger people. Rather, a request for proven skills in the relevant area should be permissible under the legislation. Specific legal advice should be sought for clarification of the law.