Research Summary

Planning for children's play: Exploring the 'forgotten' right in Welsh and Scottish policy

Children’s right to play and their related spatial needs should be integrated into planning systems versus existing as a separate policy area from planning

Town Planning Review

Children’s right to play as articulated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is sometimes referred to as the ‘forgotten’ right, as it is rarely recognized as a high priority by governments. This paper explores the meaning and importance of children’s play and its position as one of the basic rights of children. This paper also examines what planning systems need to consider in assuring that children’s spatial needs are met in relation to their right to play. Play-related policy documents for Scotland and Wales, along with testimony from practitioners in each of these countries, were evaluated in relation to what they appear to achieve for children and their right to play.

An officer from two national play charities (Play Scotland and Play Wales) and four officers working in children’s and/or planning policy in Scotland and Wales participated in semi-structured interviews focusing on how each country addressed children’s spatial needs for play. Policy documents from each country were also analyzed for related information. The data revealed differences between the two countries in how they valued and planned for children’s play.

The Scottish Government takes an outcomes-based approach to policy, in that they focus on play-related policy meeting broader outcomes, including economic and health-related outcomes. Children’s play is supported by the Scottish Government through their social policy agenda, resulting in planning and play being housed in separate spheres of government (economic and social respectively). Interviewees from the planning sector in Scotland indicated that they had not considered how children’s rights might affect the outcome of planning. They indicated, however, that while they did not actively consider children’s use of space, they could if policy encouraged and supported them to do so.

The Welsh Government takes a rights-based approach to policy and adopted seven core aims that align with the UNCRC, including children’s right to play. The planning and play departments in Wales are closely linked at both the national and local levels of government. While it’s not mandatory at the national level, local planning policy in Wales is required to support a child’s right to play.

One of the challenges in addressing children’s right to play is the provision or creation of child-friendly environments. While fixed-equipment play areas are often the focus of planning for play, other public space – especially green space – is also needed for children to have opportunities for rich and varied play experiences. This concern is addressed by the researcher, along with a statement about a statutory, rights-based approach as being the most appropriate for improving children’s play opportunities. The author also calls attention to the importance of investing time, space and attitudes that support children’s play. She notes that “while planning cannot solve all play-related issues by itself, it cannot remain something to compensate for.” She also notes how playworkers in the public and voluntary sectors could be useful consultees in the planning process.