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The latest articles and ideas from Inspiring Scotland and our partners.

20.11.2019

Beyond play: community play charities are a vital support for struggling families

By Jill Fraser, Community Play Performance Advisor

Inspiring Scotland exists to address poverty and disadvantage. The role of Play Rangers, our community play programme, in this work isn’t self-evident. Yet giving children the opportunity to play outside, in their own neighbourhood, can reveal the damaging effects and true extent of child poverty in Scotland and help families access the support they need.

All our outdoor play programmes aim to address inequality and improve the life chances of Scotland’s children, and their families, by supporting charities to give kids the chance to reap the benefits of play. Working with these charities in community settings and hearing about the experiences of the children they support has been sobering. What they do and see goes way beyond ‘just’ play.

Child poverty is mentioned again and again. The charities we work with believe numbers are increasing. Hunger and lack of food are common. Children who are hungry don’t have the energy to play. As a result, food is now offered at many play sessions. During the recent October holidays, feedback from play workers indicated the snacks provided at these sessions were often the only meal some children had that day.

Lack of appropriate clothing is also an issue. Some children are not allowed out to play ‘in case they get their clothes dirty’. Even for those who do have more clothes, laundry costs can be a worry for parents. And in extreme cases, children are being kept off school on ‘dress down’ Fridays because they don’t have alternative clothing beyond the school uniform. As we move into winter, some children don’t have warm enough jackets to go outside, others don’t have jackets at all. Some can’t play outside because their shoes are too small, and they can’t run around because their feet hurt.

In addition, community play workers have observed that because of poverty and the stress it places on families, many children are facing challenging and chaotic home lives. Some children are struggling to self-regulate and are showing aggressive behaviour because of insecure home lives. And sadly, some children have said that they prefer to be at school rather than at home because they feel safer there.

Importantly, getting to play outside and make neighbourhood friends is a chance for children to be children; to smile and laugh and have fun. No child should go without food, clothing, friendship, comfort and safety. And no child should go without the chance to have fun. It is a right, not a privilege.

Investing in and valuing the chance to play outside in community spaces is essential. But it’s not ‘just’ play. In providing children with free play opportunities charities are seeing things would not necessarily be visible otherwise. They are able to bring vulnerable children and their families into a community support network. Play organisations themselves are often trusted in the local community and while play cannot solve the problems of poverty, it is increasingly a vehicle to provide access to other support and services that are desperately needed by many families.

The charities we work with are passionate about the work they’re doing and more often than not that work stretches way beyond play. By supporting these essential organisations and helping them to grow stronger we can help to deliver services to those most in need, building valuable networks of support, fostering a sense of community and helping to alleviate poverty and disadvantage among those most deeply affected.

Find out more about Play Rangers

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