The UN Rights of the Child Project

I wanted to use the United Nations rights of the child as the basis for a piece of artwork on the children’s ward at The Whittington Hospital but as there are over 40 rights I felt this was too many to illustrate on a single piece of work so I needed to narrow this down. I ran a pre-pilot and found that only children in secondary school could rank their own top five. I then engaged my foundation doctor, Danielle Gertner, to run this project(A2,V2). We did this by providing five work experience students, who met the UCL medical school target medicine criteria for widening participation (at a non-selective state school whose parents had no further education after school), to collect questionnaire data and personal demographics from 20 adolescents each. With my direction, she arranged a programme of learning for them (A1) and enabled them to have a more meaningful week by having a job to complete as well as observing several medical role models. We know that factors which facilitate access to medicine included having positive role models1.

The 100 adolescents who ranked these rights defined themselves from as coming from 29 different ethnic backgrounds and 69 of them had previously been unaware of these rights before(V1). Their top five ranking rights were as follows:

Non-discrimination The Convention applies to every child whatever their ethnicity, gender, religion, abilities
Survival and development Every child has the right to life
Right to education Every child has the right to an education
Children with disabilities A child with a disability has the right to live a full and decent life in conditions that promote dignity, independence and an active role in the community
Protection from all forms of violence Governments must do all they can to ensure that children are protected from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and mistreatment

Danielle presented this data at two conferences (international paediatrics and UCL teaching) under my guidance. I then commissioned Amy, one of my adolescent patients with significant chronic health problems to illustrate these five UN rights. The artwork was completed and unveiled at a well-attended launch event I organised(V4) . For Amy this definitely marked her transition to adult services whilst giving her an opportunity to speak to a large audience to thank all those present.

The launch event brought together all those who had been involved with Amy’s care over the years including professionals from the hospital and community, friends and family who have supported her over the years and staff from all the schools she has attended (1997-2014). We displayed a timeline of Amy’s life against another timeline of the project which was attended by those involved in every stage of the project from the pre-pilot, data collection stage and final art work production (2012-2014). This was seen as an important event in the hospital and the Chief Executive and his team requested invites to attend. The art work was available for all to see and now hangs in the children’s ward seminar room(K4). This is used throughout the day by NHS staff, UCL medical students and Middlesex University nursing students and perhaps more poignantly as a quiet and private space for professionals seeing children and young people who have self-harmed; this is seen as a fitting and appropriate piece of artwork for them to contemplate whilst talking about their difficulties.

The artwork has been turned into a Whittington Health screensaver to promote Universal Children’s Day in November every year to promote the UN rights of the child and these flash across 3621 computers in the hospital and all health community settings in Islington and Haringey to be seen by the 4219 employed staff.

I presented this work at a recent UCL Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching arena seminar as an example of how art can be central to teaching. They have a copy of this artwork on their walls too.

This project is about art, internationally recognised rights of children, views of a local relevant population, chronic health and transitioning. And it was also about mentoring and role modelling with a cascading effect for those at every level(D3vii). Additionally it was about how to spiral outwards one small project to involve as many as possible for the greatest good. This ‘Benthamite’ utilitarian principle felt appropriate in one of the main UCL teaching hospitals

UN pic1