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Our Approach

The quality of childhood has many domains. The Alliance for Childhood European Network Group aims to develop an approach that encompasses the whole child and his or her living environment. Where children are concerned, policy making and policy implementation by governmental and other agencies often take place in silos and in a compartmentalized way. If societies improved the quality of childhood this could be beneficial for both the children and the societies in which they live.


In Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) it is stated that "In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration." The same article defines 'the best interests of the child' as the child's well-being, and the means of achieving it as the protection and care: "States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being" (CRC Art. 3). A child refers to everyone below the age of eighteen years.


Within the holistic view of childhood it is possible to distinguish physical, social, emotional, aesthetic, cognitive, ethical and spiritual dimensions in their development and well-being. High quality well-being is a result of good, or at least satisfactory, well-being in every dimension:

  • physical well-being (e.g. the experience of subjective health and the ability to act),

  • social well-being (e.g. the experience of being accepted by others and a sense of belonging),

  • emotional well-being (e.g. the experience of self-acceptance and reciprocal affection for others),

  • cognitive well-being (e.g. the experience of interest and curiosity in new matters and the satisfaction in problem solving),

  • aesthetic well-being (e.g. the experience of beauty in nature and in one's own and others' creative achievements),

  • ethical well-being (e.g. the experience of goodness and what is just, and a will to act accordingly),

  • spiritual well-being (e.g. the experience of the meaningfulness of life).

The Growth Model: the dimensions of and conditions for children's wellbeing. Source: Pulkkinen & Fadjukoff (2018).


The core of the Growth Model is the child with his/her internal endowments and developmental processes such as the development of self-regulation, and the image of the child that people hold. Policies with regard to children that policy makers and stakeholders develop and the way that they are implemented, are based upon on the image of the child that they hold. It is therefore vital to be aware of what this image is.


Within the Alliance for Childhood European Network Group the image of the child we hold is as follows:

  • Children are endowed with inner potential to grow, learn and communicate and to participate in their own way and with their own rights and responsibilities within society.

  • The child is an agent of his/her own life in relation with others. The child is not an object to be pushed and modelled into shape by adults.

  • Adults who are sensitive to children's needs are there to help them unfold their uniqueness.

  • The quality of children's relationships with adults and other children affects their growth as human beings in either a positive or negative way.

  • Children are co-creators of our world and transform it.

  • Human development is a process of unfolding an individual's uniqueness in which mutually interacting biological, psychological, social, cultural, spiritual, and societal factors interplay.


The quality of childhood has no fixed definition because living contexts are different. In general a good quality of childhood refers to conditions that promote the child's positive development and well-being. The conditions for children's development and well-being in each dimension of the model include:

  • the child's own activity and participation

  • important human relationships in which the child is seen and listened to as an individual

  • a whole growth environment that includes the child's protection and care from micro-system to macro-system.


All these elements appear in the child's life circles, which include:

  • home and family

  • early education and care outside the home

  • school and work

  • play and cultural experiences

  • community (including neighbourhood, spiritual contexts, religious affiliations, ethnic dimensions and voluntary activities)

  • societal services (social, health etc.)

  • cultural-societal settings (gender, migration, conflict etc.)

  • ecological environment

  • digital environment.


For instance, in a school children develop and flourish in those areas in which they can successfully participate in activities supported by people who see and hear the child as an individual. In the school environment many aspects can either promote or extinguish children's development and well-being such as school buildings and other material conditions, school legislation and curriculum, quality of teaching, school traditions, ethos and size.


Individuals with well-being form well-being communities that in turn form a well-being society.


    Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

    Matthes, M. (2010). How to improve the quality of childhood: Setting the scene. In C. Clouder, B, Heys, and M. Matthes (Eds.), Improving the quality of childhood in the European Union: Current perspectives. Brussels: European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education (pp. 15-20). Available at:

    Matthes, M. (2013). The social organization of a grass root initiative and its strategy. In B. Heys, M. Matthes, and P. Sullivan (Eds.), Improving the quality of childhood in Europe 2013. Brussels: European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education (pp. 13-29). Available at:

    Pulkkinen, L. (2017). Human development from middle childhood to middle adulthood: Growing-up to be middle-aged. (In collaboration with Katja Kokko.) London: Routledge.

    Pulkkinen, L. & Fadjukoff, P. (2018). Keski-Suomen lapsiohjelma: Lasten hyvinvoinnista hyvinvoivaan yhteiskuntaan [Child program for Central Finland: From children's well-being to well-being society]. Jyväskylä: Haukkalan säätiö [Haukkala Foundation]. Available in Finnish at:

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