Quality in caregiving.

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Children's action competencies in times of the pandemic

Children are social actors who even in times of the pandemic are able to influence their environment and also assume their role responsibly. They have their own decision-making and action competencies (children’s agency). A German-Israeli research team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem now wants to find out what the children’s view of the pandemic surrounding them looks like and where children see their role and responsibility in a time of crisis. The rainbowtrekkers will also take part in this international comparative study.

The initiator of the study is Perach Midbar Alter, the director of the Jerusalem University Daycare Center and a doctoral student at the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Welfare over there. The study is based on his preliminary work from the time of the first lockdown in spring 2020, when he had already interviewed the children at his daycare and published the results in the German-language journal “Betrifft Kinder” (09/2020).

The study is supervised by Prof. em. Dr. Heidi Keller (Osnabrück/Jerusalem), among others. In their article, Alter and Keller criticize the fact that the COVID19 related information issued by the authorities in Germany and Israel is directed at adults only. Children have been perceived from a deficit perspective, assuming they would have difficulties finding their way in times of uncertainty, and that their development would falter or even regress.

The German Psychological Society, for example, published a dossier on the situation of children and adolescents during the corona crisis. This paper also deals exclusively with the deficits to which children are exposed – social isolation, separation from social contacts, domestic problems and lack of educational opportunities.

This focus, according to Perach Midbar Alter, illustrates the image of the child that dominates public discourse: it is an adult-constructed image of a weak and needy human being. Children’s decision-making and action competencies are only marginally taken into account in such questions. Even when children are asked for their opinion, their answers are often interpreted on the basis of concepts that adults consider important for children.

Perach Midbar Alter wants to contrast these deficit-oriented approaches with a positive approach that focuses on the children’s decision-making and action skills. The statements of the children he interviewed make it clear that the children perceive their place in the family as significant, active and responsible, even in times of pandemic.
In these interviews, the children talk about how they see themselves as active stakeholders in family related processes. They demonstrate their competence to cause change in their environment, both through action as well as through reflection. From the interviews, four key competencies of the children became apparent from the researchers’ perspective:

Ability: Even in times of crisis, children have the competence to identify what is good for their family and know how to put that into action. This means: children are actively involved in the quality of the family situation and take initiative.

Responsibility: The interviews conducted made it clear that children are not only aware of their skills and abilities, but also of the responsibility that comes with it, for what happens at home, for relationships in the family, and for their health.

Initiative: Several examples emerged from the interviews showing how children develop initiatives that they are confident will help them get through the crisis better.

Awareness: From the interviews with the children, a clear connection to reality can be observed. The children are aware of the situation they are in. They take in the existence of their families and their place in it, and are aware of any dangers and limitations.

The Israeli researchers summarize: Of course, children need to be protected in the pandemic. However, children can and do also protect themselves. Talking to children about the pandemic made it clear that they are capable of taking initiative and responsibility for themselves and others. If we deny children these opportunities in everyday life, we take away an important part of their childhood.

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