Authors: Anna Cronin de Chavez, Rosie McEachan, Shahid Islam
There is a growing body of literature that proposes use of green spaces can have a positive impact on mental and physical health. Whilst most studies have focused on school age children, young people and adults natural environments may have a great deal to offer 0-3 year olds in terms of their physical, emotional and cognitive development. Mechanisms for these benefits in very young children are poorly understood. Additionally, the barriers to enabling babies and young children to access natural environments has been unexplored, especially in the context of deprivation, migration and ethnicity. This paper presents the findings of a study to explore the use of green spaces of 0-3 year olds alongside practical, physical, social, cultural and economic barriers and enablers of giving young children access to green spaces. 21 in-depth interviews with parents of 0-3 year olds and one focus group were conducted in a multi-ethnic, urban area in the North of England between December 2016 and April 2017.
The results showed multiple barriers to using green spaces for young families, with a different level of need than for older children in terms of keeping warm, fed and changed and how accessible green spaces are for families where the mother can’t drive, or is new to the area. Fear or experience of crime can lead families to permanently write off green spaces in ways that does not necessarily happen in street environments, and parents were highly protective of exposing their infants even to relatively minor acts of anti-social behaviour such youths or other parents swearing or smoking. Facilities and environments for children aged 0-3 years were seen to be poor compared to school aged children. Parents suggested a range of solutions to encourage young families to be able to use green spaces more. Interventions that overcome fear of using green spaces through group outdoor activities and increased community use of green spaces in particular may have the potential to increase access to green spaces and improve mental and physical health of young children.
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