The Child Friendly Cities (CFC) movement in Italy

From the late 1980s onwards, Italy has been at the forefront of UNICEF’s global initiative for Child Friendly Cities. It has encouraged children and teenagers to participate in children’s councils, putting forward ideas to local municipalities about human rights and the environment. The national government has also promoted many projects, such as ‘A scuola ci andiamo da soli (We go to school alone)’ in Rome and other Italian cities, to give children greater autonomy against a background of educational, social and cultural support.

The challenge

For nearly 50 years in Italy, from 1945 until 1990, “the child as a citizen entitled to rights did not appear on the national political agenda, which continued to consider children only as future adult citizens”. [1] As early as the 1950s, “some educational and cultural experiments had been associated with special attention to the needs and rights of children”.[2]

These innovations were child-centred and were applied not just to the education system but also to the renewal of “the relationship between the child and the overall social context, including the urban environment”. [3] The year 1990 proved a decisive one in the development of child-centred approaches. “The UNICEF research project called ‘The Urban Child in Difficult Circumstances’ marked a turning point in the development of the culture of childhood in Italy. This project aimed both to carry out research on the living conditions of urban children and to analyse critically policies and programmes for children.” [4]

The initiative

During the last decade of the twentieth century, Italy witnessed the growth of the Child Friendly Cities (CFC) movement. “With the support of the national government, the academic world, the mass media, the private social sector, nongovernmental and civic organisations, children and adolescents, local authorities have been the main actors in a process leading to ‘child friendly’ institutional reforms, regulations, plans, policies and funds.” [5]

Italy’s take on the CFC approach began with the CFC network created by the National Research Council and continued with a national programme for the ‘Sustainable Cities for Girls and Boys’ project.

Italian innovations were developed on three main fronts:

  • “Participatory planning involving children in planning the physical space as well as social and cultural interventions." [6]
  • “Children’s municipal councils giving children an institutional forum for formulating collective decisions."
  • “Initiatives to encourage independent mobility by children enabling them to explore their environment without being accompanied by an adult.”

The Italian experience is part of UNICEF’s global CFC Initiative (CFCI). UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre (IRC) hosts the CFCI’s international secretariat and “documents innovative experiences of local governance systems engaged in realising children’s rights.

The public impact

The idea of the CFC project and the youth council grew in popularity. “Between 1995 and 2004, the number of children’s and young people’s councils rose from 30 to 580 in Italy.” [7]  In Cremona and Fano, for example, the CFC project “resulted in significant political awareness in local authorities, which now intend to pursue the development of the project beyond the terms of the LIFE Environment programme and to extend it to other districts and to other activities involving the participation of children and urban transformation”. [8]

What did and didn't work

All cases in our Public Impact Observatory have been evaluated for performance against the elements of our Public Impact Fundamentals.

Legitimacy

Stakeholder Engagement Strong

The major stakeholders in the Italian CFC initiative were the Italian government, educational institutions, NGOs such as UNICEF, the private sector and academic experts, such as the child psychologist, Professor Francesco Tonucci, who devised “the paradigm of ‘La città dei bambini’ [Children’s City]”. [9]

The Italian government demonstrated its strong sense of engagement in 1997 and involved other stakeholders, such as local government and the private sector, as well as many government departments. “The content of the Italian Government’s National Plan of Action for Children and Adolescents (1997) was developed in close collaboration with local authorities, institutions and the private social sector through meetings, seminars and parliamentary sessions over the period from 1994 to 1997. Particular importance was attached to the joint action of the various ministries concerned (Environment, Education, Social Solidarity, Equal Opportunities and Foreign Affairs) and Regional governments.” [10]

Political Commitment Strong

The 1997 Plan was a demonstration of the national government’s commitment as well as its collaboration with UNICEF. This had been demonstrated nearly a decade before. Law 312 of 1988 “stipulated an agreement between the Italian government and UNICEF which led to the setting up of the International Child Development Centre (ICDC), now called the Innocenti Research Centre (IRC), located in the Istituto degli Innocenti in Florence.” [11]

This political commitment was also demonstrated at local level. For example, the city of Fano in the Italian Marches “based its decision to become an open research workshop, a laboratory, on the fundamental principle that the child is the most basic parameter for political decision-making”. [12]

Policy

Clear Objectives Good

The CFC project in Italy had three main goals: planning the physical space as well as social and cultural interventions with children front and centre; giving children an institutional forum for formulating collective decisions; and children to move around their environment independently yet safely.

These theories underlay the development of La città dei bambini, which aimed “to promote children’s autonomy and children’s participation ... two fundamentally important values that characterise a child’s life”. [14]

Evidence Strong

The CFC project in Italy was part of the UNICEF global initiative, and was therefore able to draw on ideas and research from the global CFCI.

The idea of the Consiglio Comunale dei Ragazzi [Communal Children’s Council] (CCR) was modelled on a similar programme in France. “The tool that is most frequently used by administrators to ensure Italian children and teenagers’ participation in democracy is the CCR, which are municipal councils of children. This idea comes from France and has been widely adopted in Italy, often in a simplified form." [15]

The city of Fano’s 1991 experiment in the CFC project made use of evidence from various sources, “combining, in one overall innovative structure, various experiments often already tried in other countries, such as participatory planning, [CCRs], and initiatives to encourage independent mobility by children”. [16]

Feasibility Strong

The pilot in Fano established a model for CFCs in Italy. ”Starting with an initial [CFC] workshop in Fano in 1992, the first network of [CFC] was created with support from the [NRC]." [17]

The Italian government established Law 285/97, ‘Provisions for the promotion of rights and opportunities for children and adolescents’, which addressed issues of legal and financial feasibility for CFC. “It adopted a system of co-financing, by which municipal administrations have to invest their own resources in their projects in order to secure government funds. This system was devised to encourage new initiatives at the grassroots level.” [18]

Action

Management Fair

There is a specific mechanism to ensure that the recommendations of a CCR are taken up by the local municipal council and necessary actions may be taken based on the merits of the recommendation, as in the example of Fano. “In Fano, the Children’s Council annually submits numerous requests to the city’s Municipal Council. The Children’s Council meets at the headquarters of the Laboratorio Città dei bambini (Workshop for the Children’s City), instigated by the Municipality, to develop proposals and requests for making the city a better place to live.” [19]

Measurement Fair

To measure the effectiveness of CFC programmes, local authorities are required to field surveys to gather feedback from participating children, students and their parents. In addition, there are periodic meetings of stakeholders to gather feedback. However, there is no mechanism to use this information to refine the policy.

The experimental CFC project, ‘A scuola ci andiamo da soli [We go to school alone]’ was conducted in Rome and other cities. The evaluation was “based on questionnaires for children and their parents, both before and after the commencement of the experiment”. [20] This approach was also adopted for CCRs, along with periodic meetings to monitor the children’s experiences.

Alignment Strong

The Italian government has been instrumental in its support for the CFC project, and has collaborated with partners from the NGO sector, especially UNICEF, the private sector, academia and local government:

  • “In 1995, the Italian Government set up a parliamentary and inter-ministerial commission with the task of analysing the government’s actions and readying a national action plan for children as soon as possible.” [21]
  • “In 1998, the Ministry of the Environment published specific guidelines concerning sustainable cities for children, with the twofold aim of capitalising on and disseminating the experience of cities engaged in urban sustainability and giving guidance to local authorities and planners intending to embark on such action.” [22]