18 June 2014
The importance of access to play in situations of crisis
Theresa Casey and Ric McConaghy, International Play Association (IPA)
The International Play Association (IPA) has long been concerned about the play rights of children experiencing difficult circumstances or challenging environments. Too many of the world’s children face huge barriers in their everyday environments which mean that they have to snatch their chances to play whenever and wherever they can – and sometimes in considerable danger. In situations of crisis, the disadvantages (such as stress, hampered physical and emotional development, feelings of lack of control, loss of trust, etc.) steadily multiply if children lack everyday opportunities for play.
- “Children in crisis situations need to experience the restorative qualities of play.”
With this in mind, during its recent World Conference in Istanbul, IPA assembled a group of 24 delegates from nine countries, with backgrounds in landscape design, human rights, adventure playgrounds, play work and performance. All the delegates work with children affected by conflict, natural and man-made disasters, or ‘every-day’ situations of crisis. All have a special interest in those children’s play rights.
The main themes considered ranged from the specific, such as the conflict situation in Syria and its impact on that population and its neighbouring countries, through the natural disasters in the Asia Pacific relating to tsunamis, bushfires and earthquakes, as well as manmade disasters such as the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. Other groups explored direct intervention programmes in conflict zones, and considered the global phenomenon of child refugees and children in immigration detention, whilst others explored the notions of what constituted crisis, particularly as it related to children in majority and minority world (that is those countries that rank lowest and highest on the United Nations (UN) Human Development Index, which uses indicators such as life expectancy, quality of life and educational opportunities).
IPA shares the concern of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that, in situations of conflict or disaster, play rights are often given lower priority than the provision of food, shelter and medicines. However, play is as crucial to children’s wellbeing, development, health and survival in these circumstances as it is for children in more favourable circumstances. In this context, where so much around children is out of their control, it is significant that article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (the right to play) represents a realm of activity that comes from within the child themselves, and is initiated and led by the children.
IPA advocates for the right to play to be recognised and realised for all children, in all cultures, countries and circumstances. In 2013 we reached the significant landmark of adoption of a UN statement or ‘General Comment’ on article 31. Within the General Comment, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child drew attention to the play rights of children in difficult circumstances including children in situations of conflict, humanitarian and natural disasters as well as the need for governments, agencies and professionals in many positions to ensure that children are enabled to exercise their play rights.
The IPA Special Workshop considered principles, challenges and design of spaces and programmes for play for children in situations of conflict, including humanitarian and natural disasters. As a result IPA wishes to draw attention to the responsibility of Governments to ensure that all professionals working for or with children receive training and capacity building on children’s rights – including those staff who work with children in detention, under the care of the State, in institutions, etc. They must ensure that skills and knowledge inform the design and set up of environments in which children find themselves following disasters and crisis including – and perhaps especially – temporary spaces and accommodation. And they should recognise and respect that children need uninterrupted opportunities to immerse themselves deeply in play within the safe boundaries of schools and shelters, in order to experience the restorative qualities of play.
The outputs of the conference special theme will be used as content for the next issue of IPA’s international PlayRights magazine.
Theresa Casey is President of the International Play Association (IPA), an international membership-based association with members in 50 countries around the world. As President since 2008, Theresa has co-chaired IPA’s work, with international supporting organisations, on the development of the United Nations General Comment on article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2011, IPA was invited to manage the drafting process of the General Comment working closely with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The General Comment describes both the significance of play, culture and the arts to children and young people, and the responsibilities of governments and wider society to uphold those rights. With adoption by the UN of the General Comment in February 2013, IPA is now leading partnership work to highlight those responsibilities and the opportunities that come with them.
Theresa is a freelance play consultant working in Scotland and internationally with a special interest in inclusion, children’s environments and children’s rights. Following a degree in Painting from Edinburgh College of Art, her career combines advocacy with practical work such as the recent project with the City of Edinburgh Council creating water play environments in nurseries across the city
Until recently Ric McConaghy was the Strategic Planning Officer of theInternational Play Association (IPA) and served on the IPA board for fifteen years. Ric specialises in the design of diverse, nature based play spaces where play is regarded as a way of being rather than an activity. His designs reflect the belief that art and design combine with nature to encourage interaction, engagement and wonder. He is an active children’s advocate and a committed advocate for children with disabilities for thirty years.