City of Decatur seeking to become child-friendly cityDecatur City Hall. Photo by Dean Hesse.
Decatur, GA — During its May 1 work session, the Decatur City Commission discussed the Child Friendly Cities Initiative. The teen leadership team leading the effort presented their priorities to the city commission.
There are 28 students on the teen leadership team who are working to develop a local action plan for youth with various goals and ideas to implement.
Decatur is working with UNICEF USA. It is one of six cities participating in the Child Friendly Cities Initiative pilot program, aiming to be recognized as one of the first child-friendly cities in the country.
“UNICEF defines a child-friendly city as a city, town, community or any system of local governance committed to improving the lives of children within their jurisdiction by realizing their rights as articulated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,” teen leadership team member Mara F. said. “In practice, this is a city, town or community in which the voices, needs, priorities, and rights of children are an integral part of public policies, programs and decisions.”
The goals areas of the initiative listed on the city website are:
– Safety and Inclusion: Every child and young person is valued, respected and treated fairly within their communities and by local authorities.
– Children’s Participation: Every child and young person has their voice, needs and priorities heard and taken into account in public laws, policies, budgets, programs and decisions that affect them.
– Equitable Social Services: Every child and young person has access to quality essential social services.
– Safe Living Environments: Every child and young person lives in a safe, secure and clean environment.
– Play and Leisure: Every child and young person has opportunities to enjoy family life, play, and leisure
The leadership team also developed their own priorities for what they would like to address within the city of Decatur. Their priorities included topics of equity, public safety, mental health resources, climate change, and public spaces.
One of their priorities is for Decatur to become a more equitable and inclusive city where all young people, regardless of background, including race, gender and religion, are treated equally.
“A survey taken in spring 2022 shows that only 18% out of 88 students at Decatur High School feel that everyone at the school is treated equally,” Chloe S. said.
She added that this has been a longstanding issue in Decatur and worldwide.
“It’s important that we truly understand how this issue affects many lives every single day,” Chloe S. said.
The teen leadership team suggested they host an international night out at Ebster Park, McKoy Park or on the Square.
“We will have people from all over Decatur come together to share each other cultures through food, music, dance and more,” Megene C. said. “This idea will help students come together and have a better understanding of different races and cultures, to have a safe place to be who they are and share parts of their lives that are important to them, while building a stronger understanding of cultural differences.”
Another idea from the group was to host a spirit week at the schools that would highlight various cultures each day. The group also suggested hosting a career fair focused on Black, Indigenous, and people of color-owned businesses.
“The goal of this idea is to help create an opportunity for students of color to talk to someone who looks like them and to let them know they are able to pursue any job they want regardless of their race,” Megene said.
Through CFCI, the leadership team hopes to help increase trust with police and security guards in the city.
Sammy W. said that through a survey conducted with 127 third through fifth-grade students and 42% said they did not trust police or security guards in their community. In an effort to increase that trust, June L. said that community involvement with police officers is highly impactful for students.
“I feel like, especially police officers in your community, it should feel like someone who’s there to help you grow, it should be someone that’s willing to teach you, it should be someone that you’re open to talk to, and when we do talk to them, they’re engaged,” June said. “We feel that police officers should be regularly attending community events.”
The local action plan also addresses increasing awareness of and access to mental health services.
“Of high school students in Decatur, 53% don’t feel safe from being bullied at school or online, 52% don’t have adults who they feel safe talking to about their problems,” Eli Y. said.
Eli recommended creating a space similar to the Decatur Student Center at the middle and high schools at the recreation centers that would have trained counselors.
“We also want to offer positive mental health activities at the rec center,” Eli said. “We feel that it is important to have mental health resources outside of school for many reasons. One, we feel there are no resources outside of school for teens to go get mental health services. Two, some kids may not feel comfortable going to the school’s student center in front of their peers…”
Another priority for the leadership team is becoming a more environmentally conscious city and doing so through implementing a composting program.
“Within my group, we identified environmental problems that we believe need to be addressed in Decatur,” Josie T. said. “While pollution and energy waste were some of the things listed, climate change was the through line.”
The group recommended the city establish a composting system where neighborhoods would be zoned to a local park with composting bins. Residents could collect their organic materials and take them to the composting bin at their designated park.
“Composting fights climate change by directing foods and other organic materials from landfills where instead of breaking down and being emitted into the atmosphere as methane, a greenhouse gas that’s over 25 times worse than carbon dioxide, it is used to benefit the environment,” Josie said.
They would also work with City Schools of Decatur to add food waste from schools to the program and educate students. The student government association at Decatur High School is currently working on a plan for the school to have a composting system.
The final priority for the leadership team is to improve public spaces by hosting youth-focused events and establishing an accessible and inclusive playground in the city.
Legacy Decatur and the city recently celebrated the opening of an inclusive playground at Legacy Park, but it doesn’t go far enough, according to some leadership team members.
Grace G-C. is a member of Best Buddies at DHS. She enjoys hanging out at the playground with her friend, but said that Decatur lacks safe and enjoyable spaces for all kids.
“Children with disabilities of all kinds in Decatur deserve a playground that they can enjoy,” Grace said. “While Decatur did build an inclusive playground in Legacy Park, this playground lacks full accessibility. There is a marked difference between being inclusive and being fully accessible. The Legacy Park playground is small, lacks many sensory details, and it is not wheelchair accessible.”
The group proposed replacing an existing Decatur playground, one that already needs replacing, with a large, thoroughly inclusive, and accessible playground.
“It should be colorful, have sensory activities, and be fully wheelchair accessible,” Grace said.
Andie P. also shared some of her experiences with moving around and living abroad. She said that often it’s difficult to find a community, but her family did that by participating in different fairs and festivals.
“I have not seen that here for children. There are a lot of festivals, but not specifically for kids,” Andie said. “There are many events that are family-friendly, but none are for kids. You can bring kids along to all of these events, but none are for the children.”
The group would like to create an annual event for kids ages one through 13 with food, games, music, activities, and more on the Decatur Square.
She added that a small admission fee would help cover the cost of hosting the events. Success would look like having over 300 attendees, 10 vendors, 20 volunteers and for the event to become annual.
“The children of Decatur need youth events, and this plan would give them just that,” Andie said.
The implementation of the local action plan would be phased over a few years. The city commission will consider adopting the plan on May 15.
Once the plan is adopted, Decatur would become an official candidate city. The goal is to achieve the Child Friendly Cities Initiative recognition in the summer of 2024.
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