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Children and Young People

Story of PEACE Key Themes Children & Young People

Key Themes

Children and Young People

Two beneficiaries of the CASE (Collaboration and Sharing in Education) PEACE IV-funded shared education project.
Participants in the PEACE IV Funded Children and Young People Journeys Project


In 2016 the proportion of people aged 0-24 in Northern Ireland was 31.9% and 33.9% in the border counties of Ireland.[1] Children and Young People[2] 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'[3]. Young people aged under 25 years accounted for 40% of those killed during the conflict[4]. 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'[5].

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[6]. In Ireland, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs published its National Youth Strategy in 2015 which covers the period 2015-2020[7].

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)[8]. 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,[9] 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)[10] 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'.


Segregated Education

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[11] (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[12].

Within the Northern Ireland Executive’s Good Relations Strategy “Together: Building a United Community (TBUC)” (2013),[13] 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[14] 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'[15] 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?’[16] 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[17] 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”[18]. In Ireland, the early childhood curriculum for children aged 0-6 years, ‘Aistear’[19] 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’,[20] 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[21] 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[22] 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[23] funded via the PEACE I Programme. 

The PEACE II mid-term evaluation[24] 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[25], 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[26] 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[27] 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[28] 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’[29] 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[30] 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[31] 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’.


Project Examples


Early Years and Children and Young People (0-14 Yrs)


Example 1:

In 2001, Westway Film Production filmed an award winning production and series entitled ‘Sarah and the Whammi’[32], aimed at Early Years and Key Stage 1 children which was designed to promote pro-social behaviour and respect for differences, supporting a citizenship agenda within the primary school curriculum.

The PEACE II funded ‘Sarah Moves On’[33] was the sequel to ‘Sarah and the Whammi’ (jointly funded through the Community Relations Council (CRC) and Channel 4), a television drama series designed for pre-school and 4-6 year olds on Education for Mutual Understanding. The ‘Sarah and the Whammi’ series had extraordinary success winning the Royal Television Society Award, the Celtic Film Festival Prize and had a BAFTA nomination for best education programme. The series was also developed into a resource for the NI Curriculum and resource activities supported the delivery of Personal Development and Mutual Understanding at Key Stage 1.

‘Sarah Moves On’ was a complex and provocative drama depicting the daily experiences of a highly-imaginative young girl from Northern Ireland, the oldest child of Protestant and Catholic parents, who tried very hard to impose her notions of fairness upon the world. This project focused on 8-11 year olds and depicted, in explicit fashion, characters, plots and scenarios drawn from everyday life in Northern Ireland. The issues addressed through the drama included aspects of identity, conflict, division, shared heritage, pluralism and diversity. The project was aimed at encouraging debate and discussion about difference, tolerance, fairness and relationships and also offered practical models of conflict resolution and prosocial behaviour.

The film was produced and co-written by Joe Mahon, Westway Film Productions and was directed and co-written by Órlagh Bann. In 2005 the production ‘Sarah Moves On’ went on to win a Clarion Award[34]

Both ‘Sarah and the Whammi’ and ‘Sarah Moves On’ were provided by Westway Film Productions[35].


Example 2:

The Media Initiative for Children (MIFC) Respecting Difference Programme[36] was a PEACE III funded programme that worked with pre-school children (aged 3-4) in 2006-2009. 

The MIFC combined cartoon media messages around diversity with an early years programme. Training was delivered to staff teams and parents from pre-school settings. Each setting received an extensive resource pack of puppets, books, games and jigsaws. A further programme was developed in January 2012 – December 2014, for primary school children (5-8years).

Following engagement with the Peace Initiatives Institute (Pii) from the USA, the MIFC was developed as a mechanism to promote an early intervention approach to peace building and good relations. The programme sought to increase awareness of diversity and difference issues among young children, early childhood practitioners and parents and to promote more positive attitudes and behaviours towards those who are different. The MIFC Respecting Difference Programme looked at improving long term outcomes, focusing on differences in terms of race, religion, ability and ethnicity as well as encapsulating an anti-bullying message. The Programme was grounded in theory and research as well as in practice. 

The Programme provided young children with an opportunity to openly discuss and acknowledge the feelings associated with similarities and differences between themselves and others. The aim was that children would begin to understand the meaning of acceptance and respect between themselves and others, leading to inclusion and further peace building.

An independent evaluation of the Programme found that there was: “strong and robust evidence that the Media Initiative for Children was effective in improving outcomes in young children in relation to their socio-emotional development and awareness of and attitudes towards cultural differences"[37].

Example 3:

The Sligo Vocational and Education Committee received PEACE III funding support (€693,000) for its ‘Developing a Shared Society through Youth Sport’ project[38]. The delivery model, which ‘twinned’ schools from Northern Ireland and the border counties, was highly praised for the impact it had on coaches, teachers and students alike. Children were given the opportunity to travel for team games and compete against other schools. In some cases, pupils were given the opportunity to learn sports which were generally perceived as largely single identity sports (e.g. Gaelic, Rugby, and Hockey). Pupils involved in the project went on to join local sporting clubs that were cross-community, automatically mixing when the opportunity presented itself.

According to the Post Project Evaluation, over 27,000 participants from 159 schools engaged in cross-border and cross-community exchanges during the course of the project. Not only were pupils of all ages from primary and secondary schools included, the gender ratio was split 50/50, religion was 39% Protestant, 56% Catholic and 5% Integrated, ethnicity and special needs pupils from both sides of the border were targeted and had attended. There was attitudinal change noted as an outcome, displayed through a reticence not to use language that might offend. In addition, the opportunity to visit the ‘south’ had taken away the stigma attached to crossing the border, while pupils from Ireland recognised that Northern Ireland was a safe place to visit. Many of the participants from both sides continued to keep in touch after the project ended.



Young People (14-25 yrs)


Example 1:

The Amplify[39] Project led by YouthAction NI received PEACE IV funding (€4,716,385) for a four-year initiative to inspire young people aged 16 – 24 years, from diverse backgrounds, to build good relations and take positive actions. 

This cross-border and cross-community project aimed to achieve personal, community and societal impacts, especially in making a positive contribution to building a cohesive society.

The project was delivered by a partnership of experienced cross-border youth work organisations including YouthAction NI, Patrician Youth Centre, NI Youth Forum, Foróige and Youth Work Ireland. The partnership aimed to maximise the reach to young people who had fallen on hard times and who experienced volatile and chaotic lives, where their vulnerability was heightened. 

The project was designed to bring about transformational positive change to create stability and coping mechanisms for young people.

Focusing on good relations, personal development and citizenship, young people would benefit through:

· improving emotional intelligence, resilience, sense of purpose and motivation.

· increasing understanding of identity and respect for other people’s communities, identities and cultural backgrounds.

· improving relationships with community structures and recognition of their contribution.

The main output was for young people to have:

· creatively explored values, traditions, sectarianism and racism (thinking critically).

· debated sensitive and contentious issues;

· have a better understanding of the conflict, diversity and have less sectarian attitudes and more respect for diversity;

· developed meaningful and sustained contact with others from diverse backgrounds including Protestant, Catholic, BME, gender, sexuality (through sports, activities, residentials);

· completed accredited training in Diversity and Community Relations;

· developed leadership skills through collaborative citizenship and social action initiatives;

· established ABCD (asset based community development) approaches which showcase their positive contributions (campaigns, fund-raising etc).

Example 2:

Another YouthAction led PEACE IV funded project was Youth Network for Peace (YNP)[40] which was shortlisted for the European Commission REGIOSTAR 2020 Awards for a project demonstrating excellence and new approaches in regional development. 

YNP, a regional, cross-border, youth led initiative aimed to build a vibrant movement of 10,000 diverse young people (aged 15–25yrs) across Northern Ireland and the border counties, resulting in meaningful, purposeful and sustained contact between young people from different communities. Based on a 13 partner membership and practice base YNP aims to proactively recruit young people from a range of backgrounds to ensure equality (Protestant-Catholic; rural-urban; male-female; LGB&T; BME; NEET; migrant; traveller; ROMA; and Garda Diversion).

In the absence of a youth parliament in Northern Ireland avenues for young marginalised people to actively engage in decision-making across the island with a full manifesto of ‘need’ emerged from young people, which called upon significant others to help them establish a co-ordinated regional network with real meaning and influence. The level of participation was anticipated to vary in intensity for each person but all activities intended to embed a cross-community aspect.

YNP aimed to achieve its work through the lead partner YouthAction and 12 project partners all of whom were experienced in peacebuilding, youth work and citizenship building initiatives. A Regional Youth Steering Body would work alongside the partnership to advise and guide the project development as well as review impact and outcomes.

Young people across the region had become more disillusioned and distant from traditional politics and decision making. The impact of BREXIT fuelled apathy and disconnect for many young people. A regional youth led network was anticipated to be relevant to young people, have substance and collective influence where the voices of all young people from across the country were heard. The investment of YNP provided sustainable development with the young people who will have gained knowledge and skills to volunteer and work as activists in social, civil and political life.


Example 3:

The €3.5m PEACE IV cross-border project  Mpower[41], run through YMCA-Ireland, was a four-year project working with young people in the 14-24 age group in all local YMCAs in Northern Ireland as well as in Monaghan YWCA.

A range of initiatives were designed and delivered to enhance the capacity of young people to form positive relationships with others of a different background and make a positive contribution to building a cohesive society. Modules included Citizenship, Personal development and Community Relations.


Opportunities included: outdoor educational activities; group work; themed workshops such as healthy life styles; mediation and decision making; art; photography; music; drama based explorations of culture and diversity; volunteering and social action. Additionally, there were opportunities for qualifications through accredited training on subjects such as teamwork; managing risk; leadership and practical training in areas such as first aid or managing conflict.

In the Mpower project in Derry-Londonderry young people explored mental health issues including suicide and developed a blog.


Example 4:

Peace Bytes[42], a PEACE IV initiative, received €3.8m and worked with young people aged between 14 and 24 across communities in Belfast, Newtownabbey and Derry-Londonderry in Northern Ireland and Moville, Donegal in Ireland. Peace Bytes offered support, training and mentoring, and for young people who completed the programme, a minimum of three OCN qualifications were guaranteed. In addition, they provided childcare and transport for those who needed it, as well as a financial incentive to eligible participants. 

Between 2018 and 2022, Peace Bytes combined technology and traditional youth work methodologies over a 30-week programme to help more than 900 young people. Through group work and one-to-one mentoring, they aimed to help participants overcome barriers to their potential, build their confidence and develop links with their peers from different backgrounds, in a non-pressured environment. The ICT approach aimed to help empower young people across the region, building confidence, resilience and citizenship skills.

The ‘Effect of Silence’[43] Programme was made by a Peace Bytes group in Derry-Londonderry to highlight the growing concern of suicide in the city.