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Key Institutions Meeting 1996 Wild Dunes, South Carolina, USA

Between September 26 and 28 1996 the directors of Childwatch International Key Institutions within the field of child research gathered for a workshop in Wild Dunes, South Carolina, under the auspices of the Institute for Families in Society at the University of South Carolina and its director, Gary Melton. The purpose of the workshop was to define further lines of collaboration among the institutions of the network, and to promote the results from child research.


1. Introduction
2. Ideals about Child Research: A Project Proposal
3. Regional Networking and Capacity Strengthening
4. Networking Tools: Capitalizing on Information Technology and the Internet
5. The Research Needs of the International Community
6. Main Concerns and the role of Childwatch
6.1. Information and Resource Exchange
6.2. Meeting Needs and Gaining Impact
6.3. Relating to the Convention on the Rights of the Child
6.4. A Wider Role for Childwatch
7. Practical Steps in Future Cooperation
7.1. Ideals about Child Research
7.2. Capacity strengthening and Networking
7.3. Implication of the Convention for the Rights of the Child
7.4. Develop strategies for Political impact
7.5. World Wide Survey
8. Election of New Advisory Board
Participant list

1. Introduction

Since the birth of Childwatch in 1992, the small secretariat, located at the University of Oslo, Norway, has concentrated its work on identifying needs for international research collaboration and information exchange on children's issues, and to find adequate ways of responding to those needs. The primary objective has been to initiate and coordinate international research and information projects on children's living conditions and the implementation of children's rights. Today the network comprises 28 Key Institutions and a multitude of individual contacts.

Out of the 28 key institutions, 22 were represented at the Wild Dunes Workshop. In addition, the president of Childwatch for the last three years, Professor Ferran Casas from the University of Barcelona, and Associate Professor Sharon Stephens from the University of Michigan, took part in the meeting, together with the three members of the Childwatch secretariat. Needless to say, such a group represented a wealth of experiences and competencies from a wide variety of disciplines, and produced three full days of rich discussions.

The workshop aimed to review progress since the first Key Institutions meeting in 1994, and to take the process of regularizing Childwatch International one step further. The main objective was to review ongoing, planned and potential projects of cooperation within the field of child research. The meeting was also invited to appoint an Advisory Board for Childwatch for the period 1996 - 1999, with members drawn from among the Directors of the Key Institutions.

In times of international globalization this will no longer be possible, as international issues contribute every day more to almost every national process and development. Countries all over the world face similar problems, often influenced by international trends and global political developments. National child policies in many countries face new strains as a result of structural adjustment programmes. In child related issues, the Convention of the Rights of the Child represents a new international standard and defines common objectives for all countries. The Convention already serves as an international frame of reference for cooperation between researchers.

The City of Charleston hosted a symposium with the Childwatch workshop and local researchers, administrators and policy makers. The Honorable Mayor Joseph P. Riley of Charleston; Ferran Casas, Childwatch president; Per Miljeteig, C' director; Jim Garbarino, director for the Family Life Development Centre at Cornell University; Rose September, senior researcher at the Institute for Child and Family Development, University of the Western Cape; and Gary Melton, director of the Consortium on Children, Families and the Law, gave brief presentations focusing on the importance of child research in a local and a global context. The symposium was videotaped, and an edited version will serve as the basis for an educational video.

Thanks to the invaluable efforts of the hosts, Institute for Families in Society, whose representatives made sure logistics were handled perfectly, the workshop turned out to be an inspiring event for all participants, and to represent a treasure of ideas for the further development of the Childwatch network.

In this report, we will present abstracts from some of the discussions in chapters 1 - 5, and focus on major concerns and possible appropriate solutions to these concerns in chapters 6 and 7. Finally, the procedure and election of a new Advisory Board is described in chapter 8. At the back of the report there is a complete list of the participants and their institutions.

2. Ideals about Child Research: A Project Proposal

As an introduction to the Workshop, Professor Sharon Stephens of the University of Michigan invited the participants to a discussion about the diversity of international research. Since the first meeting of Key Institutions in 1994, she has found it fascinating to focus on the cultural variations among the Key Institutions, at a time of the international institutionalization of child research. She therefore proposed to initiate a project that could give a more complete picture of the diversity of international child research.

Childwatch has so far emphasized the common objectives and concerns of the Key Institutions. The fact that these institutions also represent a multitude of approaches to the study of children has so far not received the same attention.

Stephens mentioned that some groups, like Fundación Paniamor in Costa Rica, appeared to be most interested in research and action related to the interpretation, implementation and evaluation of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. The Child Development Centre of China sees one of its primary roles as identifying scientifically proven aspects of healthy child development and disseminating these from its centre in Beijing to outlying provinces. The Norwegian Centre for Child Research has been particularly concerned with exploring issues and methodologies related to "understanding the child's point of view", as well as with research on children's peer cultures and participation in the wider society.

The Childhood programme at the European Centre in Vienna focuses more on the social and historical construction of childhood than on children per se. Some institutions, such as the Consortium on Children Families and the Law and the Family Life Development Centre, make a close link between child and family research, while others do not. Some organizations target particular groups of children as research subjects - for example, the focus on impoverished and marginalized children at the Centre for Research on Childhood in Rio, and the focus on the "girl child", working children and street children at the Unit for Child and Youth Research of the Tata Institute in Bombay.

A project to capture and analyze this variety in perspectives can be a comparative approach to institutional, cultural and historical frameworks for doing research on children and childhood, focusing on the international institutionalization of child research - and some of the difficulties and challenges of international collaboration.

The two discussants, Irene Rizzini and Jim Garbarino, emphasized that such a study could give important impulses for the further development of C. The project can promote significant interest for the field, also outside of C, and it would help to clarify obscurities in the international research community. The study will heighten awareness of what we can learn about our own field from research in other cultures. It is, however, important to have a clear idea of what could be the possible added value of the project, both for Childwatch and for the Institutions involved.

The project calls for an active involvement from several key institutions and some of the participants in the meeting were inspired to continue the dialogue with Stephens on the project proposal. She will continue to develop the project plans in dialogue with these. That way, the Key Institutions may serve as both contributors to the project strategy, and as units for the study itself.

3. Regional Networking and Capacity Strengthening

The meeting shared experiences from working in various networks at global and regional levels. The particular aim of this discussion was to find ways to expand the Childwatch network to cover all relevant parts of the world, to use the networks as effective fora for cooperation and to mobilize relevant networks to facilitate and support capacity building and capacity strengthening within the field of child research.

Despite numerous similarities, the discussion revealed regional differences in many senses. Different regions have different challenges, and therefore see different needs for research. Differences in infrastructure, political attitudes and culture make different disciplines, priorities and single topics relevant. It is important for Childwatch fully to understand this variation, in order to address appropriately the different of needs for capacity strengthening caused by national variations.

In some regions, networks often consist of researchers in general, among whom some are involved in child research, and others are prepared to become involved in these issues if needed. Other networks are focused on a particular issue, or a group of issues, like family law, child abuse, children's rights, early childhood, education or health. Typically, in one region there can be particular challenges or concerns that bring researchers together. Yet some networks contain representatives and organizations from different professions. In these networks, researchers cooperate with practitioners, lawyers and/or politicians.

This diversity underlines the importance of networking both intra and inter regionally. However, the Key Institutions and their regional networks embody a broad spectrum of professionals, and together they represent channels to a great amount of knowledge that exists on childhood in the world today. The Key Institutions alone possess an invaluable collection of regional bibliographies, directories and general overview that represents a major asset for a network like Childwatch.

The discussion also focussed more specifically on the proposed Child Research Programme that CODESRIA has developed and plans to implement in collaboration with Childwatch. This programme, which contains elements of training, networking and publication, could serve as a model for similar efforts in other regions of the world.

4. Networking Tools: Capitalizing on Information Technology and the Internet

The workshop discussed how the world wide web and the Internet can be used as network tools to achieve common objectives. The Childwatch Homepage aims to cover both organizational aspects of the Childwatch network, as well as information about and links to the Key Institutions. The site also contains a database of 200 European institutions involved in child research which will be expanded to give world wide coverage. Childwatch is also frequently using electronic m-lists as a tool for communication and information exchange within particular groups of researchers, or in general on particular topics.

For the moment, seven key institutions cooperate with representatives from UNESCO, International Save the Children Alliance, The World Bank and the Child Rights Information Network(CRIN) on the Childwatch initiated project "Children's House in Cyberspace". Children's House is an interactive resource centre on the Internet – a meeting place for the exchange of information that serves the wellbeing of children.

Children's House contains a Research Floor, and the workshop discussed how this site can be made useful for researchers and users of research. By linking to existing Internet sites of research institutions, localizing on-line research related databases, stimulating and assisting in developing databases from relevant directories, large amounts of already existing material can be made available. The Childwatch plans for a world wide on-line survey of ongoing child research was discussed, particularly with a view to its usefulness and possible obstacles. One of the Key Institutions plan to make their CD-ROM world wide bibliography available on the net, and this database of 32,000 entries would also contribute to making the Research Floor a most useful net site for researchers and users of child research. The Research Floor can also be given an interactive site that can be used for capacity building and training activities. Training could also be done by m-lists.

As a beginning, annual reports from the Key Institutions could be placed on the Internet. This has many advantages. First of all, it demands very little effort from the keys because they already exist, and can easily be converted to the Web format. Secondly, they contain a lot of information about a Key Institution. Thirdly, a database of annual reports can be made searchable by a simple search robot, and thereby be an easy-to-use tool to find information on particular topics or activities.

Even though 27 out of the 30 participants are e-mail users, not all Key Institutions have the opportunity to access the Internet, either as information providers or information users. In many countries, weak infrastructure prevents an efficient use of the net, and in certain areas even a telephone line might be incredibly expensive to get, and unsteady to use. An important challenge for Childwatch could be to help reduce the technological gap between the institutions of the network, as a means to improve the flow of information. It was suggested that Childwatch could serve as an Internet coordinator, and offer server space, capacity building and technological supervision to assist the Key Institutions in an initial phase.

5. The Research Needs of the International Community

The workshop continued by exploring the potential for linking the research needs of the international community to global, regional and local research activities.

Philip Van Haecke, senior evaluation officer at UNICEF headquarter, said in his introduction that a trend among the employees at the local offices of UNICEF is a wish for more knowledge and information related to their areas of responsibility. They want to know where to find knowledge and expertise, and they demand precise information on children in specific countries under particular circumstances. He also indicated that among the important up-coming issues for UNICEF, "ethnic minorities", "immigrants and indigenous populations", "child labour" and "children in war" will be crucial.

The Director of C, Per Miljeteig, followed up by emphasizing the growing awareness among nongovernmental organizations and others working for children's welfare, of the importance of exact knowledge as a basis for adequate action. It will continue to be an important objective for Childwatch to facilitate activities to meet these requirements. His suggestion for important up-coming issues are "commercial sexual exploitation", "Child Labour" and "Effects of armed Conflict on Children".

Another aspect mentioned by Per Miljeteig was the need of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to gain easy access to research relevant to various problems raised in connection with implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Childwatch has started a dialogue with the Committee with the aim of involving the relevant Key Institutions in an active exchange of information with the Committee and to facilitate the Committee's access to relevant research based knowledge.

Childwatch can in certain cases represent a link between the Key Institutions and international and national NGOs, media and decision makers. In such a context, a possible role for Childwatch can be to bring together researchers to assess existing documentation, research and projects, for an examination of their usefulness and applicability. Against this background, researchers can cooperate to improve their ability to meet international, regional and local needs for research.

As a Clearing House, Childwatch can facilitate international communication and research cooperation on current important topics. International cooperation can strengthen researchers' abilities also to understand children's issues in a global framework, and in particular in the context of the global economy. The scientific committees preparing the various sections at the up-coming conference "Urban Childhood" in Trondheim, June 1997, exemplify this type of cooperation.

6. Main Concerns and the Role of Childwatch

6.1. Information and Resource Exchange

As it was stressed several times during the workshop, there seems to be an increasing awareness of the need to learn from each other across nation and discipline borders, and of the importance of international cooperation and communication. This has been made even more necessary as the international globalization process increasingly affects children. Consequently, Information exchange and mapping has been one of the most important issues for Childwatch in the first three years, and as described in Chapter 4, the Childwatch information strategy has concentrated on using the new tools of electronic communication and WorldWideWeb to improve information exchange.

Even with common challenges and objectives, cooperation is complex, and first of all, a certain degree of overview is needed. What does child research mean in other countries, which disciplines are most active, what topics are important, and what experience do others have? What do we have in common? How can we take advantage of existing capacities and studies? Where in the world can we find experienced resource persons and experts to assist us in our research, and where can we find funding resources? What perspectives have other disciplines developed on a particular topic, and where can we find synthesized knowledge on those topics?

There is obviously a great need for more extensive contact and communication between researchers, and Childwatch will aim to improve the global overview and facilitate this process.

In particular Childwatch could:

- function as a Clearing House for the Key Institutions
- build global databases on ongoing research and project activities
- develop a common research bibliography
- connect researchers (and others) with shared interests
- identify central documents (research, policy, literature...) and make them available
- facilitate cross-cultural studies to explore comparative advantages of various approaches within child research

6.2. Meeting Needs and Gaining Impact

Despite the knowledge and understanding researchers and their institutions develop, their impact on political decisions, policy and programme development might be limited. Why is this so, and what can be done to strengthen the influence of child related research? Researchers can help predict development and crisis situations, but as they are often not listened to, adequate action is not taken to prevent negative development.

An example of the attitude of some resourceful policy makers and agenda setters isthe manner in which western governments tend to focus on and promote research into issues that are poverty related, and therefore not directly under their own responsibility. They often seem to be more reluctant to accept and relate to research that demands changes in their own policies, than to demand changes by others.

The participants agreed that there is limited systematic insight on how the influence and political impact of research is achieved. For instance, there is no clear understanding of the pertinant criteria neccesary to ensure that research has the desired impact.

Impact is related to the immediate usefulness of research. Child research often does not address current needs from policy makers and practitioners - at least not the way the latter group perceive them. How do we make research more useful? The Key Institutions need to know the agenda of others, and they need to relate to these agendas in a more adequate way. How do they keep informed about the development of these agendas, in particular on a global level? And how do the Key Institutions meet their requirements, alone or in cooperation with each other? How do they present research in a form that makes it appeal to different groups of users?

Chapter 5 illustrates some of the propositions the workshop suggested so that research community can better meet the needs of the international, regional and local community. By meeting these needs, the research community can strengthen their influence in the debate on child related issues and acheive more impact with decision makers. Childwatch has already gained experience from cooperation with several NGOs. Apparently, the NGO community is becoming increasingly aware of the benefits they can get from such cooperation. The experience so far forms a natural basis for further development of the research – user relationship, and Childwatch strategies for such interface.

In addition to this, the research community needs to explore ways to help identify new needs by being pro-active in promoting their priorities, and not only re-active to the needs expressed by others. Based on the knowledge researchers achieve, they should strive to strengthen their influence on the political agenda to ensure that research more often affects action. This implies efforts for direct influence on the agenda setting process of decision makers. To influence the agenda setting, cooperation with media and public opinion can be a channel for indirect influence. Childwatch can play a role to facilitate this process.

Due to weak international organization, the research community has rarely been able to relate effectively to global changes, as for instance to the effects of structural adjustment, that are similar in many countries. In this regard, networking can be a way to empowerment for the research community, and enable it to gain influence also at the global level.

Both globally, regionally and locally, the pro-active function implies a more aggressive role for the research community. Researchers can more effectively promote their interests in groups, regional alliances or through Childwatch, and put a stronger emphasis on what they can offer to assist policy makers, practitioners and legislators in their work.

There is a need for effective strategies in order to gain greater impact for research. One of the Key Institutions, Center for Children and Youth in Jerusalem, has started the planning of an international conference to assess the needs for an improved communication between researchers and policy makers, an initiative that attracted great interest in the Workshop.

Childwatch could assist the Key Institutions in their efforts to gain influence by:

- establishing databases to make a wide range of relevant international research and research institutions available and easy to find
- serving as a focal point for communication with users of research
- improving and systematizing communication with policy makers, media and practitioners in general on the needs for research based knowledge
- promote the importance of research in the international community
- assist government, non government and inter government organizations in defining research needs

Furthermore Childwatch can contribute to:

- develop strategies and channels for communication between the research community and decision makers
- develop strategies for influencing, cooperating and communicating with the media
- develop strategies to influence international organizations/corporate sector to initiate/finance global/regional/local research activities

In these strategies, special focus could be given to:

- sustain research in specific areas in order to develop international expertise in Key Institutions
- a pro-active introduction of new knowledge in child research, such as the importance of children's participation and active involvement

6.3. Relating to the Convention of the Rights of the Child

The Convention on the Rights of the child has been a great inspiration to all concerned with the situation of children worldwide, but it is still not clear to researchers and others how to relate specifically and effectively to the Convention either in research, action or in policies.

Making international human rights treaties meaningful and workable is a general problem, faced also by those who want to facilitate an effective implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, not only from the perspective of government authorities, but also as seen by non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations, child rights' advocates and children themselves. The particular question for Childwatch would be: "What are the implications of the Convention for research?" As the Convention also serves as a political document, what should be the impact of it on the relation between research and policies? Other questions that have been raised, particularly among practitioners and child rights' advocates, are: "Why are there so many problems and obstacles with regard to the implementation of the Convention?" and "Why do governments spend so much attention and resources on promoting the Convention, and so little on implementation?" Such questions could also be examined by researchers in order to shed light on, for instance, obstacles to implementation or gaps between ideals and realities in children's rights.

The articles of the Convention should not only serve as important international guidelines and objectives for child related policies and guidelines. The Convention also demands a change of attitude. It requires that we start to look at children, not only as objects for research, policies and action, but also as individuals who deserve to be active participants in all these processes. The Convention constitutes thereby an ethical challenge to everyone involved in children's issues. How can we as researchers internalize this new attitude, and thus state an example to the international community? Childwatch can:

- promote research that focuses on the Convention
- initiate capacity strengthening regarding the Convention and its practical implications
- initiate capacity strengthening regarding the ethical implication of the Convention
- initiate cross cultural analysis of the Convention implementation processes to highlight implications
- promote children's participation in research, and analyze ethical and methodological implications
- contribute to awareness raising on children's needs as documented by researchers

6.4. A Wider Role for Childwatch

Child researchers face different challenges varying from country to country. A general problem is how to be taken seriously, be listened to, be respected. To many, concerns regarding how to maintain stable financial support for their activities is an ever present disturbance.

An international network can play a role in supporting and giving legitimacy to researchers and institutions working under difficult circumstances. As a in a collegium, the members of Childwatch pursue shared goals while working within a framework of mutual trust, respect and support. Taking part in the Childwatch network implies an understanding of the value such a group represents to all its participants, even if some of their needs are different.

To some, just the fact of belonging to an organized international community of researchers adds legitimacy to their work and raises the chances of being heard. More explicit support from the international research community to a local researcher's statements can make a difference in impact and prestige.

Together the Key Institutions can take responsibility for maintaining a high standard of international child research, and to represent a collective memory of the child research community around the world. Childwatch can fill this role by:

- extending the network to new regions
- strengthening relationships between Key Institutions
- promote mutual support between researchers
- improve knowledge about each other's working conditions
- support statements from local research institutions as representative for the international research community to improve impact
- be a collective memory of earlier processes, share historical experiences from our field

7. Practical Steps in Future Cooperation

7.1. Information exchange and communication

To maintain the general communication, and assure a basic information flow between the Key Institution, the newssheet Key News, with up-dates from the Key Institutions, will in the future be given priority. Childwatch will also continue to establish electronic m-lists for currently important topics or working groups.

Children's House in Cyberspace will be further developed to meet needs for information exchange and communication between researchers and decision makers, legislators, practitioners and journalists. The Childwatch Homepage shall likewise be extended into a site that provides information about all the Key Institutions and their research activities.

7.2. Ideals about Child Research

Sharon Stephens' proposal for a research project focusing on the diversity of international child research, as described in Chapter 2, will be given special attention from the Childwatch secretariat. Several Key Institutions announced their interest in taking part in the development of the study. Both the research process and the project outcome could represent an enrichment for the network, by producing a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges of the international child research community, and thus improving the strategies for more effective inter-sectional and international collaboration.

7.3. Capacity Strengthening and Networking

Childwatch will continue capacity strengthening activities in relation to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, inspired by the experiences from cooperation with Council for the Development of Social and Economic Research in Africa (CODESRIA), and assist CODESRIA in implementing their child research programme.

Capacity building and strengthening will also be given priority in the field of electronic communication, with the aim of reducing the technological gap between the Institutions of the network. To facilitate electronic networking, Childwatch can offer server space and technical assistance to those Key Institutions that need assistance in the establishing phase.

Childwatch will actively involve the Key Institutions in preparing the international conference "Urban Childhood" in Trondheim in 1997, in order to create an effective forum for the presentation of their research and discussions of future research activities.

7.4. Implication of the Convention for the Rights of the Child

Priority will be given to finalizing the Indicators for Children's Rights, particularly with a view to disseminating widely the results and experiences from the project. UNICEF and the Committee on the Rights of the Child have expressed interest in using the experience to develop strategies for monitoring the convention, and strategies for training personnel involved in such monitoring.

In addition, more focus will in the future be given to the methodological and ethical consequences the Convention may have for child research, as discussed in the Workshop. Childwatch will in particular invite consideration of the implications the Convention's perspectives on children's participation can have for our research activities.

The Indicators for Children's Rights project has also demonstrated the need for examining the applicability in various cultural contexts of current and dominant theories of child development. Such knowledge is needed to support an appropriate implementation of the Convention. The Centre for Family Research in Cambridge is planning a project to address the issue of universals in child development, that will draw upon local knowledge in various regions of the world within medicine, anthropology, psychology and sociology.

7.5. Develop strategies for Political impact

As mentioned in Ch. 6.2., one of the Key Institutions, Center for Children and Youth in Jerusalem, has started planning an international conference to discuss strategies for an improved communication between researchers and policy makers, and how to maximize the impact of child research. This conference could represent a main event in a process for improving researchers' skills in communication with decision makers and media. Childwatch will encourage Key Institutions to contribute actively with their experience, both in preparations and follow-up activities.

7.6. World Wide Survey

A worldwide survey of ongoing child research will be carried out in collaboration between the secretariat and the task force appointed for that purpose, starting with the gathering of data in Africa and Latin America. The survey questionnaire is to be brief and not too work-demanding for the institutions. The survey responses will be converted into an on-line database of ongoing child research in the Research Floor in Children's House.

8. Election of New Advisory Board

A new advisory board was elected for the period 1996 - 1999. The procedure for the election was to ask all participants give their suggestion to board members during the meeting. All directors of Key Institutions were eligible. In addition, two board members can be elected in their own capacity. The Childwatch Transition Team acted as election committee. When composing the proposal for the Advisory Board, geographic, profession and gender concerns, as well as continuity, were to be considered. The board members suggested by the Transition Team were accepted by the workshop participants, and the new Advisory Board elected president and vice presidents after a brief, closed meeting.

Members of the new Advisory Board

Gary Melton, President
Director, Consortium on Children, Families & the Law,
Institute for Families in Society, University of South Carolina, USA

Irene Rizzini, Vice President
Director, Center for Research on Childhood, Universidade Santa Ursula, Brazil

Per Egil Mjaavatn, Vice President
Director, Norwegian Centre for Child Research, Norway

Jack Habib
Director, JDC -Brookdale Institute Center for Children and Youth, Israel

Nittaya J. Kotchabhakdi
Director, National Institute for Child & Family Development, Mahidol University, Thailand

Harry McGurk
Director, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Australia

Rodrigo Quintana Meléndez
Director, Instituto Interamericano del Niño, Uruguay

Fanie Sonn
Director, Institute for Child and Family Development, University of the Western Cape, South Africa

Sharon Stephens
Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Social Work, University of Michigan, USA

Ferran Casas
Professor, Departament Psicologia Social, Universitat Barcelona, Spain

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Published May 28, 2008 3:24 PM - Last modified Apr. 17, 2013 2:52 PM