Child-Friendly Municipality model

Photo: Jussi Hellsten

We want Helsinki to be a child-friendly city where every child and young person has the right to grow and develop safely. Helsinki is committed to promoting non-discrimination, equality and human rights in all activities. We strengthen inclusiveness and interaction in all city operations.

The City of Helsinki is applying to become a UNICEF Child Friendly Cities Initiative partner. The Child Friendly Cities work is based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and promotes the implementation of the Rights of the Child in cities. Every child is valuable, and the Rights of the Child belong to all children.

The Child Friendly Cities work involves all of the city’s divisions and the City Executive Office. An action plan adopted in spring 2022 is implemented in 2022–2024.

Based on the rights of the child

Cities are responsible for many things that are important for children and young people. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is a human rights treaty that applies to everyone under the age of 18. UNICEF’s Child Friendly Cities Initiative promotes the implementation of the Rights of the Child and implements Finland’s National Child Strategy in municipalities.

The Child-Friendly Municipality model is used to
  • identify areas of the rights of the child that need to be developed by the city
  • define what the city should do to ensure that the rights of the child are implemented as well as possible, and
  • systematically monitor the progress of the set goals.

With the help of the operating model, Helsinki has mapped out the current state and set five goals based on the findings:

Goal 1: Those working with children and young people, such as early childhood educators, teachers, youth services and child welfare workers, receive continuing education on the rights of the child

Here’s how we have progressed:

  • Helsinki has introduced an online training package on the Rights of the Child produced by the National Child Strategy. In the first phase, we will emphasise the implementation of the Introduction to the Rights of the Child training in all divisions and aim to increase the number of participants in the training. The number of participants has grown well during the spring and summer of 2023, but measures and multi-channel communication are still needed to raise awareness of the training.
  • More and more people have started to talk about the Rights of the Child in the city organisation. However, in a city and organisation the size of Helsinki, implementing the measure requires time, long-term work and commitment. We have noticed that management measures can promote the introduction of the training.
  • Helsinki has planned and is implementing additional training arising from the needs of the divisions. The training addresses perspectives of a child-friendly environment and urban space. We have also identified a need for Rights of the Child materials meant for work communities. We have started designing these materials.
  • A communication plan has been drawn up for the Child Friendly Cities work. Communication regarding the Rights of the Child and Child Friendly Cities work has been sent out in selected channels and contexts. The work has been presented, among other things, at various division events, in personnel networks (inclusion, equality) and to the Youth Council and Council on Disability. A material package has also been compiled for elected officials. The Rights of the Child training is communicated division by division, jointly to the city on the City of Helsinki intranet and in accordance with the quarterly communication of the National Child Strategy online training package.

Goal 2: In order to support the introduction and systematic implementation of the child impact assessment, the city operations make use of clear guidelines

Here’s how we have progressed:

The child impact assessment is an important part of the city’s decision-making and budget preparation. Helsinki introduced a general model for the preliminary assessment of decisions in 2019, which is implemented as part of the preparation. This model instructs planners to assess the impact of decisions from various perspectives. There has not been a uniform model or method for assessing the impact on children, which is why the creation of one has been at the core of the development work.

In 2023, the first child impact assessment model was created as joint city work, the basis of which is the consideration of the Rights of the Child as part of the preparation. The model complies with Helsinki’s general guidelines on the preliminary assessment of decisions. Divisions and the Youth Council will evaluate the model and improve it on the basis of comments. The aim is to introduce the child impact assessment in decision and budget preparation during spring 2024. Training will be organised in 2024 to ensure that planners have enough knowledge on both the Rights of the Child and the child impact assessment.

Goal 3: Feedback collection on the city’s services is child-friendly, regular and systematic

Here’s how we have progressed:

  • Identifying and listening to feedback from children and young people is part of everyday inclusion, interaction between adults and children, and, in the future, the information basis for child impact assessments.
  • The concept of feedback is perceived to be somewhat difficult. In services for children and young people, multi-channel consultation and promotion of inclusion is more natural than in more general services meant for all residents.
  • We are using service design to produce a planning tool to support those working in administration. The tool will help them perceive in their work the involvement of children and young people and ways of hearing and involving children and young people.
  • By summer 2024, we will draft a follow-up plan on the basis of experiences, which will make the collection of feedback and returning it to children and young people more child-friendly and systematic.

Pilots carried out in autumn 2023:

All divisions individually and collectively:

  • Events for hearing children and young people, with the participation of the division’s deputy mayor, children and young people as well as division management. Discussion themes have included the communality of the school environment, mental health services and access to them, experiences of the urban space as well as perceptions and impressions of cultural and leisure activities. The events test different ways of working, such as the Skididialogi method and city walks. The events increase understanding of children’s and young people’s experiences of our services and the city.

Culture and Leisure Division:

  • Art and cultural education pilots.
  • Youth Club Parliament for young people active in sports clubs.

Education Division:

  • Experiment on the compilation of so-called sensitive indicators to support principals in recognising and processing students’ experience of inclusion.

Social Services, Health Care and Rescue Services Division:

  • Feedback practices for children, especially children under the age of 6, in the Kamppi Family Centre.

City Executive Office:

  • Gathering feedback on the experience of participating in the Omastadi 3.0 workshops for children and young people during the proposal phase.

Urban Environment Division:

  • Young people’s views on the city of the future – youth workshops and related internal communication in the planning of the Mäkelänkatu boulevard city.

Goal 4: The city’s services for children combat bullying and promote a sense of community. Children’s emotional and interaction skills are promoted in their growth environments.

Here’s how we have progressed:

All of our schools teach social and emotional skills. They help children and young people learn to identify, name and regulate their emotions. The skills make it possible to work in a group and listen and pay attention to others. Helsinki’s comprehensive schools have been developing structures for teaching these skills since the spring of 2022. The goal is that at least 80% of schools will systematically use one or more social and emotional skills programmes by the end of the autumn term 2023. This has been a great success.

Implementation methods vary from school to school. The skills can be practised regularly as part of a school subject or as a subject of its own. In addition to lessons, practicing these skills in everyday situations is part of the school’s activities. The education of these skills is divided into monthly themes, such as team building, self-knowledge, emotions and a safe community.

Helsinki has developed a division-level operating model for intervening in bullying, violence and harassment. The model gives schools and educational institutions steps for how to act in situations in which a learner has experienced inappropriate treatment. The operating model will be completed at the end of 2023 and established as part of the structures of schools and educational institutions. The operating model must be reviewed regularly with staff, learners and guardians so that everyone knows how to act in situations of bullying, violence and harassment. In order to ensure sufficient competence levels, employees from early childhood education to secondary education have been trained on the phenomenon of bullying, its prevention and intervention. In addition, leisure activity providers have been provided their own training on the subject in the spring of 2023.

Discover how social and emotional skills are practiced at Vesala comprehensive school:

Helsinki now teaches social and emotional skills in all schools (in Finnish)

The development of social and emotional skills is also part of Helsinki’s Anti-Bullying Programme (ABP13).

Goal 5: The sense of security of children and young people in urban spaces is strengthened by developing interaction

Here’s how we have progressed:

As part of the initial work, we asked children and young people to share their experiences of feeling unsafe in urban spaces. In the early stages of the development work, we brought together actors who work with the theme and created a snapshot of the projects, programmes and other development work related to the theme. After this, we selected five urban safety pilots to follow. The aim is to create an understanding of what kind of work reduces the feeling of unsafety, what kind of urban spaces the feeling is related to and what kind of interaction models should be made with children and young people in order for the work to be effective.

The monitored pilots are:

Hundreds of children have participated in the pilots’ activities, but the challenge has been to get follow-up information on the children’s experiences, especially with regard to the experience of safety. Observation has been carried out rather sporadically and, for example, reaching children for interviews has been challenging.

However, the general feedback based on surveys and observations has been positive. The experiments have activated underutilised, previously unsafe urban spaces, supported recreation opportunities of children and young people and responded to the wishes that, based on studies, emerged as measures that children and young people themselves have considered the most important for improving the experience of safety. Some of the pilots will continue in 2024. The observation and monitoring will pay special attention to the improvement of the experience of safety.

The aim in spring 2024 will be to evaluate the pilots’ interaction methods in preventing the insecurity of urban spaces and to produce a written description of the work.

Organisation of the Child-Friendly Municipality work in Helsinki

The Child-Friendly Municipality coordination group convenes approximately four times a year.

Chair of the coordination group:

Mikko Vatka
Director of Youth Affairs
Tel. +358 9 310 71252

Unicef coordinators:

City Executive Office
Stina Högnabba
Special Planner
Tel. +358 9 310 42525

Culture and Leisure Division
Pirjo Mattila
Development Specialist
Tel. +358 9 310 89122

Education Division
Elina Rautiainen
Project manager
Tel. +358 9 310 22148

Social Services, Health Care and Rescue Services Division
Mia Mäntymaa
Development consultant
Tel. +358 9 310 72924

Urban Environment Division
Maria Hyövälti
Landscape architect
Tel. +358 9 310 21346