Blog post by Play Wales

Countless studies tell us that opportunities to play give children a chance to support their immediate wellbeing whilst naturally building life skills which contribute to long-term development outcomes.

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Ever since it was established, the Welsh Government has been world leading in its support for children’s right to play. Whilst it is sometimes helpful to look back with pride at achievements made over time with regard to play policy, it is also important to be mindful of and respond to current policy direction.

In October 2023, the Welsh Government published its response to the recommendations in the Ministerial Review of Play steering group report, the culmination of a three-year collaborative review of the Welsh Government’s play policy work. Implementing the recommendations set out by the steering group will improve opportunities to play for children across Wales.

Also in 2023, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child published the UK Concluding Observations. The Concluding Observations are published following a detailed reporting process, which includes receiving a range of written and oral evidence. In Wales, evidence was gathered from across civil society by the Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group. Although the Welsh Government is still working on its response to the UK Concluding Observations 2023, there are some links between the Ministerial Review of Play and the UK Concluding Observations which relate to play:

The UN Committee recommends that the State Party: Develop a strategy, with sufficient resources, aimed at ensuring children’s right to rest, leisure and recreation, including free outdoor play.

Theme 1 of the Ministerial Review of Play covers the laws and policies that relate to the right to play. The steering group determined that aligning key policies and legislation would help more children to play more often. Theme 2: Play Sufficiency Duty and funding covers the importance of working together to plan and provide for play, including setting aside money for play.

Six recommendations from the steering group identify key milestones that the Welsh Government should undertake to ensure a well-resourced strategic response to play.

The UN Committee recommends that the State Party: Integrate children’s right to play into school curricula

Another theme of the review focuses on play in schools. The steering group concluded that play in schools was important to consider because children spend a lot of time at school. Sometimes, it is the main place where children can play with their friends. Key recommendations include promoting the use of school grounds as a community asset for play and milestones which aim to increase and improve play and break times during the school day.

The UN Committee recommends that the State Party: Strengthen measures to ensure that all children, including children with disabilities, young children, children in rural areas and children in disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, have access to accessible, safe, public outdoor play spaces.

Involve children in decisions regarding urban-planning processes.

Spatial justice means ensuring that neighbourhoods and other public places are suitable for play and that they are welcoming for children of all ages. The spatial justice theme of the review explored why and how the Welsh Government needs to make neighbourhoods and other public spaces more encouraging and welcoming for play. Discussions included key national policies that have an impact on children being able to play in their neighbourhoods and public areas. Key messages from the steering group include ensuring that:

  • guidance about planning neighbourhoods and towns takes account of the way children move around their communities for play.
  • the views and experiences of children inform the ways in which neighbourhoods are planned and managed.

Research shows that time, space and freedom to play can greatly benefit children’s mental health, relieving stress and reducing the harmful impact of trauma. Understanding this helps all adults to advocate for a rights-based approach to support children’s play and the importance it holds for them in their immediate lives and their everyday experiences.

There is no doubt that the Welsh Government has plenty to be proud of in terms of policy development for children and their play. Twenty years ago, the Welsh Government published the world’s first play policy, followed a decade later by the commencement of statutory Play Sufficiency Duties. It is crucial that this internationally ground-breaking progress on behalf of children is maintained and nurtured. The focus now needs to be on a commitment to the continued implementation of these policies.

Adults at every setting and at all levels count. From a community-based children’s worker to the new First Minister, there is a need for all of us to be more play informed to make a difference to the everyday experiences of children.

Find out more about Play Wales' work here.