How often do we remember to listen to children in everyday life, to take their opinions into account and to respect the inclusion of children? A sense of inclusion is ultimately built on small things. For example, you can ask a toddler if they want to go and play at the nearest playground today or if they would like to walk a bit further and go to a new playground instead, or you can stop to genuinely listen to young people when talking about things that are important to them. These small choices and encounters in everyday life build inclusion, and at best, they are something that will carry far into the future.
Finland is now preparing the first National Child Strategy. One of the key objectives of the Child Strategy is to increase children and young people’s own involvement and their opportunities to exert influence in society. Children’s right to social inclusion is also one of the key rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Children’s right to social inclusion is based on three equally important rights. First of all, inclusion requires that children have the right to access information that is necessary for them to form their own opinions. Secondly, inclusion requires that children have the right to express their opinions based on such information, and thirdly, that they have the right to have their opinions taken seriously. These rights complement each other and they are all necessary, because otherwise children are not fully included in society.
It is possible to ensure better and broader inclusion of children and young people only if we adults create an environment where children and young people are allowed and feel free to discuss their matters. We must therefore give children access to information appropriate to their age level, listen to them, support them in expressing their opinions and take their views into consideration. Children and young people are also entitled to know, just like adults, how their views have affected decision-making or actions to be taken.
The coronavirus epidemic this autumn has challenged our society in many ways. It has also forced us to look for new ways of promoting inclusion and for alternatives to meeting people face-to-face. For this reason, we launched an online survey on 25 September 2020. We wish to reach as many children, young people and adults as possible with this survey, and we hope that it will provide valuable information and views to support the preparation and implementation of the Child Strategy.
We all want to be included and tell about our thoughts, even the difficult ones, provided that there is an atmosphere of trust and safety amongst people. Children and young people also want to express themselves and influence matters as long as they have the opportunity and the necessary tools to do so. Our job is to provide them with these tools through the Child Strategy.