Decatur Joins Child Friendly Initiative Under UNICEF

In March at a City of Decatur press conference, Claire Miller, Director of Children and Youth Services, said that the city would be joining the Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI), under a partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The CFCI is a global plan to make cities more child friendly, as well as expanding youth participation in local governments.

Claire Miller, the Director of Children and Youth Services in Decatur.

    This initiative has been used internationally and has worked well to involve children in their communities. Decatur is one of six U.S. cities to have partnered with the CFCI so far, and UNICEF plans on expanding. The process began when Decatur residents attended a meeting in Jacksonville, Tennessee, hosted by UNICEF, where they pitched the CFCI for Decatur. “It felt like the perfect fit for us,” said Miller. She described the decision to join this initiative as a “no brainer.” “One of the big arguments is that if it’s good for kids, it’s good for everybody,” said Miller.

    The city believed that previously they would only focus on kids in programs, such as after care, and not address the needs of the entire population of kids. Miller and others believe they need to be more aware of kids wants and needs and they need to put more resources, time, and action towards accomplishing these things. 

    Another aspect of the CFCI the city is excited about is the youth participation. “Previously, youth participation in our city meant how many kids came to camp today,” says Miller, now she says kids need to be “active, real, genuine participants in conversations that affect them.” 

One of the first projects the city is taking while using youth input is replacing old and unsafe playground equipment in Legacy Park. Instead of having a group of adults come in and say what they think would be good equipment, Miller is trying to use the input of “people who are actually going to use the equipment.”

The City of Decatur will work closely with the DEF when implementing the CFCI. (Sam Fisher)

    Also, the city hopes to work with programs already running to make change in the community. They are partnering with the Decatur Education Foundation (DEF) and the Decatur Housing Administration (DHA), who already have the staff and resources to make change. One reason Miller believes the initiative will work well is that it has a large amount of public support. “So far everybody that we have approached has been like yes, absolutely count me in, “says Miller, “because when we talk about making our community better for children and youth, everybody says yes to that.”

    Although right now the support for the CFCI is large, Miller believes that a full “culture change” needs to happen to really make this city better for kids. “The most challenging part of this is that we need to tell adults to stop imagining they are the only ones with good ideas,” says Miller. 

    “In my ideal world ten years from now, there are kids on boards and there are young people at the table every time important decisions are being made,” says Miller. She sees a future where children are involved in decisions that affect them, such as having more influence in schools. She eventually sees a future where children are leading projects, and not just providing input.