Children's Independent Mobility: An International Comparison And Recommendations.

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New international research by Policy Studies Institute (PSI) at the University of Westminster has revealed that parents in England are more restrictive than those in other European countries, granting their children less freedom to travel and play in their local neighbourhood unaccompanied by adults.

The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, compares children’s independent mobility in 16 countries around the world based on a survey of over 18,000 children aged seven to 15 from 2010- 2012.

The study found that children’s independent mobility – their ability to travel and play in their local area unsupervised by adults - varies widely across the 16 countries. Significant restrictions are placed on children in nearly all the countries surveyed with the research revealing that fear of traffic was the biggest factor influencing their decision.

Key Findings:

Low levels of children’s independent mobility are common, with significant restrictions placed on the independent mobility of children across all the ages studied (7- to 15-year-olds). Restrictions are greatest for children under 11 but even the oldest children are restricted in what they are allowed to do, at an age when many of the rights of adulthood are close to being granted.

Parents have significant concerns about letting their children go out alone with traffic seeming to be the strongest factor affecting the granting of independent mobility.

When comparing aggregate rank scores of children’s independent mobility for each country, Finland is by far the highest performing country, followed by Germany, Norway, Sweden, Japan and Denmark, who score more closely to one another. Together these countries form a group of top performers in this international comparison of children’s independent mobility levels.

Countries with the lowest aggregate rank scores of children’s independent mobility were, in order: France, Israel, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Ireland, Australia, Portugal and Italy (tied), and South Africa.

The aggregate rank score for England places it far behind the top group of performing countries but ahead of the lowest performing group of countries.

England’s aggregate rank placed it in seventh place behind top performing countries including Finland and Germany.

Overall, Finnish parents allowed their children more freedom for almost every independent mobility indicator in this study. The degree of independent mobility granted to children in Finland is striking, with a majority of children aged eight allowed to cross main roads, travel home from school and go out after dark alone.

Going out alone after dark is the most withheld indicator of independent mobility. Children of any age are allowed to go out after dark in only a handful of countries – Finland, Sweden, Japan and Denmark.

Conclusions and recommendations

England needs to develop its policies in order to improve children’s independent mobility, with the report outlining seven recommendations on how to achieve this. These include reducing car dependency and adopting Daylight Saving Time to allow children to utilise daylight hours and reducing road casualties. Previous work by PSI in this area of social policy has highlighted a continuing sharp decline in independent mobility with significant impacts on child development.

Recommendation 1: Implement and enforce stringent road safety measures that focus on removing danger from the road environment, not the removal of children from danger.

Recommendation 2: Reduce car dependency and the dominance of traffic in the public realm.

Recommendation 3: Put the needs of children at the heart of spatial planning and urban development – public spaces that work for children, work for everyone.

Recommendation 4: Explicitly incorporate children’s independent mobility into policy.

Recommendation 5: Adopt Daylight Saving Time to allow children to better utilise daylight hours and reduce road casualties.

Recommendation 6: Invest in research to consolidate and develop knowledge on children’s independent mobility.

Recommendation 7: Create a national challenge fund to catalyse and drive action to improving children’s independent mobility.

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