Children and Young People
In 2016 the proportion of people aged 0-24 in Northern Ireland was 31.9% and 33.9% in the border counties of Ireland. Children and Young People in Northern Ireland have grown up in a divided society shaped by a long history of conflict, with more than a generation of young people having been exposed to violence, sectarianism, and intimidation:‘The Troubles placed an unequal and devastating burden on young people'. Young people aged under 25 years accounted for 40% of those killed during the conflict. Between 1969 and 1998, 23 children aged five and under, 24 aged between six and 11, and 210 aged 12 to 17 lost their lives as a direct result of the conflict.
The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement formally recognised the importance of addressing the needs of young people who lived in the worst affected communities during the conflict and 'to support the development of community-based initiatives based on international best practice'.
In Northern Ireland, the Government's response to acknowledging the impact of the conflict on children and young people, included the establishment of The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) in 2003 'to safeguard and promote the rights and best interests of children and young persons'; and the development of a ten-year strategy for Children and Young People in 2006, which was subsequently replaced by the current ten-year strategy running from 2019-2029. In Ireland, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs published its National Youth Strategy in 2015 which covers the period 2015-2020.
Not all children in Northern Ireland experienced the conflict equally. Children living in areas that have high levels of deprivation were impacted the most, as was underlined in the Bamford Review (2006). This Review noted the 'effects of sectarianism and the associated violence on children and young people’ and highlighted that ongoing social and economic difficulties coupled with poor parental mental health had a profound impact on children. In 2015, the Commission for Victims and Survivors in Northern Ireland (CVSNI) highlighted the impact of transmission of transgenerational trauma, as parents who are psychologically affected by the conflict continue to affect the lives of young people. The report uncovered how the transmission of poor mental health and prejudices within families, in combination with economic deprivation, is detrimental to the development of children in their early years. The research found that 'young men paid an especially heavy price throughout the Troubles in terms of lost lives and high levels of exposure to traumatic events.'
Noting the distinct relationship between persistent high levels of poverty and the legacy of the conflict, the Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) said that segregation continues to be part of children’s daily lives. 'The impact of the ‘Troubles’… continue to significantly impact on the lives of our children and young people, all of whom were born after the Good Friday Agreement. The communities most deeply affected by the Northern Ireland conflict are also those in areas with the highest rates of mental ill-health and child poverty, and the lowest levels of educational attainment'.
Up until the early 1970's catholic and protestant children in Northern Ireland has been taught in separate denominationally defined schools. This changed with a campaign led by a group of parents wishing to share their children’s education with other families from differing religious backgrounds and led to the first independent, secondary “integrated school” in Northern Ireland - Lagan College in 1981. The Education Reform (NI) Order 1989 provided a statutory framework for the development of integrated schools. The most recent figures (2014/15) show that there are 62 grant-aided integrated schools (totalling 21,956 pupils and representing around 7% of total pupils in Northern Ireland). There were 41% of pupils from a Protestant background and 36% from a Catholic background in integrated schools in 2015/2016.
Within the Northern Ireland Executive’s Good Relations Strategy “Together: Building a United Community (TBUC)” (2013), Children and Young People are identified as a key priority with strategic actions including the establishment of ten new Shared Education campuses and piloting 100 shared summer schools. Shared Education therefore continues to be at the forefront of Government’s commitment. This is further evidenced by the introduction of legislation in 2016 provided for the Shared Education Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 which places a duty on the Department of Education and the Education Authority ‘to encourage, facilitate and promote Shared Education’. ‘Advancing Shared Education – Report to the Northern Ireland Assembly' published in May 2018 notes that there was an 86% increase in the number of schools and 248% increase in the number of pupils participating in Shared Education. The report showed that numbers were anticipated to rise with the implementation of PEACE IV Programme commitment to Shared Education.
Whilst Shared Education is a move towards greater interaction between children and teachers of different community backgrounds, it is evident that segregation, based on religion, remains across the education system and structures. For instance, there are separate teacher training colleges (which means teachers are trained to be familiar with only one half of schools in Northern Ireland), separate education management authorities and separate school board governor associations.
Early Years and Pre-School (0-5 yrs)
Research shows that children develop prejudices from an early age. In 2002, a research report was published focusing on the cultural and political awareness of 3-6 year old children in Northern Ireland. The report entitled ‘Too Young to Notice?’ showed that even at the age of three, children were beginning to be affected by the divisions that exist and to internalise the cultural preferences and attitudes of their respective communities. By the age of six, these attitudes were found to have become much more entrenched and negative. Given the degree of separation on an educational and housing basis that exists within Northern Ireland, there is little opportunity for socialising across community divisions. This contributes to negative attitudes and responses towards others that are different. The reinforcement of segregation impacts on children’s attitudes, attributions, and behaviours towards others.
In 2015, research by CVSNI highlighted the transgenerational legacy of the conflict, recognising the importance of examining the role of early years education, supporting parents, and addressing sectarianism.
Creating opportunities for children and their parents to interact and come together from different backgrounds is essential to help reduce community divisions and break the cycle of transgenerational trauma. Governments in Northern Ireland and Ireland recognise the importance of promoting diversity at an early age. The Northern Ireland Curricular Guidance for Pre-School Education states that “it is important to help young children understand that we see the world in many different ways depending on our cultural, social and religious viewpoints”. In Ireland, the early childhood curriculum for children aged 0-6 years, ‘Aistear’ states that "Nurturing equality and diversity is important in early childhood” and “Diversity is about welcoming and valuing individual and group differences, and understanding and celebrating difference as part of life”.
PEACE Programme Contribution
Early Years and Children and Young People (to include Young Adults) have benefited through all phases of the PEACE Programmes. Children and Young People were eligible for funding support under the following PEACE Programme priorities and themes:
- PEACE I: Social Inclusion and Cross-Border Development.
- PEACE II: Social Integration Inclusion and Reconciliation and Cross-Border Co-operation.
- PEACE III: Reconciling Communities.
- PEACE IV: Shared Education; Children and Young People; and Regional Level Projects - Building Positive Relations.
The type of work that has been supported via the PEACE Programme includes interventions focusing on ‘Early Years’ with pre-school play groups and nursery schools; educational and cross-border exchanges with primary and secondary school children and teachers; as well as sporting activities on a cross-community and cross-border basis.
An early evaluation of the work of PEACE I in this area “On the Road to Peace’, commented that the PEACE I Programme had made a contribution to advancing social inclusion, particularly “in the case of children and young people, support networks were formed including young people themselves, carers/parents, established voluntary organisations and service providers including local partnerships”. The final evaluation of the Programme observed that the largest share of PEACE I funding was directed at "projects targeted on youth and children” reflected in the significant levels of activity in childcare (11%) and education (15%). The evaluation also noted that a major contribution of PEACE I funded activities “was directed in the area of childcare policy, both north and south and offered some prospects of sustainability for the groups that were supported under PEACE I”.
During PEACE I, work was targeted at vulnerable groups and deprived areas, with an emphasis on reducing disadvantage. Some children and young people projects included the development of the Gordon Wilson Children’s Play Area by McDermott Terrace Residents Committee in Manorhamilton, Co Fermanagh. Cross-border support work was also prevalent during PEACE I and St Anne's Youth Community Centre Sligo and Omagh Youth Centre worked together to make a music album funded via the PEACE I Programme.
The PEACE II mid-term evaluation found through its consultations that there had been positive outcomes on a cross-community basis. Commenting on one of the funded projects, it was noted that:
“The project offers an element of cross-community benefits. This is in terms of day trips at neutral venues for children from both Catholic and Protestant areas along the peace-line. It is helping encourage cross community links in an area which has been heavily affected by the conflict and represents a first step at working with young people from the other side of the community and building bridges”.
Integrated Education was supported during PEACE I and PEACE II. During PEACE I, the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) received £1,447,057 towards capital costs associated with Malone Integrated College, Oakwood Integrated College and Ulidia Integrated College as well as costs towards transformation support and research.
With the Education Reform Order (NI) 1989, the Department of Education had a duty to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education and the PEACE II Programme supported the significant capital investment of £25,268,100, associated with building five grant maintained integrated schools (3 primary and 2 secondary) during the period 2002/03 to 2003/04.
This comment from the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) was cited in consultations with individuals and groups reflecting on the impact of the PEACE Programme:
“The capital funding given to integrated schools that were developed by parents has had a major positive impact on the educational landscape in Northern Ireland where integrated schools are now firmly established. This funding was granted via DE for some schools in the early days. NICIE are totally indebted to EU for that. Also funding to NICIE for a Community Relations Officer to develop the integrated ethos has contributed vastly to the schools’ capacity to live their integrated ethos; NICIE’s Integrating Education Project funded by EU between 2005 and 2007 enabled NICIE for the first time to reach out to schools that were not integrated and to collate and share good practice. This was undoubtedly the forerunner to what became known as Shared Education and has had a lasting impact on peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland".
Two further consultees stated their perspectives on the impact made by the PEACE Programme and lessons that could be learned:
“Support for integrated education, albeit sporadic and inadequate, has possibly been the most significant contribution”.
“Without doubt help to groups of concerned citizens to develop integrated schools regardless of the context of the country emerging from conflict is something that remains the single most important vehicle for change within education systems. These projects are created by the people for the people and should be supported. Expecting already existing education systems to change their mindsets is a huge ask. Collective groups of parents and interested parties, albeit small, are the main catalysts of change”.
The PEACE III Mid-term Evaluation found that children and young people represented 43% of the beneficiaries of funded PEACE III projects. The PEACE III Programme supported a range of programmes to support shared spaces. One such example included Small Wonders Childcare Project developed by Shankill Women’s Centre, Belfast. This project created twelve new jobs for good quality childcare within the Falls and Shankill areas of Belfast. This project was cited through consultations, as an example of good practice in cross-community working that evolved from PEACE funding.
The PEACE III Programme also focused on the issue of history and education within schools. One such example is ‘Teaching Divided Histories’ which was developed through The Nerve Centre in Derry/Londonderry. This project introduced new approaches to the study of conflict into school curricula across Northern Ireland and Ireland. Based on moving image and digital technologies, these approaches offer pupils stimulating ways of questioning myths and challenging stereotypes. The project team also worked to transfer knowledge between Northern Ireland and regions in Ireland affected by conflict by delivering education in such a way as to promote peace and reconciliation. The project then trained a core group of 25 post-primary teachers from schools across Northern Ireland and the border counties in Ireland. It also provided them with in-class support as they delivered a digital media programme to pupils, encompassing film, photography, animation, comic books and webcasting. As for pupils, the introduction of educational methods based on new technologies removed barriers to engagement with history, helping them to explore conflict, peace building and their shared experience of them. A total of 2,400 pupils from the 25 participating schools followed an in-class programme about past and present community relationships. Some 730 of them met to share ideas at screenings of films and digital media work which they had produced under the programme, while 1,800 enrolled on courses in creative subjects or ICT after their participation.
The PEACE IV Programme focused on a narrower range of activities to ensure funding would bring about significant change within (1) Shared Education and (2) Children and Young People as two of the four named priority areas.
To avoid duplication with existing Shared Education activities delivered by the Department of Education and the Education Authority, the PEACE IV Programme instead targeted schools that had not previously participated in Shared Education. A total of €35m was made available for Shared Education projects. The overall objective is to provide direct, sustained, curriculum-based contact between pupils and teachers from all backgrounds, through collaboration between schools from different sectors to promote good relations and enhance children's skills and attitudes to contribute to a cohesive society.
The PEACE IV 2023 target is for 350 schools to take part, involving the 2,100 teachers trained with the capacity to facilitate Shared Education and 144,000 children taking part in shared classes. To achieve this objective, two consortia were appointed as Project Delivery Agents in September 2017:
- Collaboration and Sharing in Education (CASE) for primary and post-primary children: delivered by the Education Authority in Northern Ireland working with its partner Léargas in Ireland.
- The 'Sharing From The Start') for pre-school children: delivered by Early Years, the Organisation for Young Children; National Childhood Network; and The Fermanagh Trust. A number of resources have been developed to support the work and showcase shared activities.
The second priority area of the PEACE IV Programme is ‘Children and Young People’ with a funding allocation of €54.7 million to prioritise young people aged between 14-24 years who are most disadvantaged/excluded/marginalised, and who have deep social, emotional, and good relations needs. Findings from the Phase I Impact Evaluation notes that encouraging evidence was found ‘in terms of the distance travelled by the young people since entering the PEACE IV Programme. Significant positive change was evident in each of the three outcome areas [Good Relations, Personal Development, and Citizenship] and for the majority of indicators within them’.