Bristol Children’s Charter: placing children at the heart of the city

In 2018, the Mayor of Bristol, Director of Children’s Services at Bristol City Council and Cabinet Member for Women, Children and Families, agreed to develop a new approach to ensure that children were at the heart of the city – not just in council decision-making, but across the breadth of Bristol’s partners.

The plan was to be ambitious, offering a guarantee to all of Bristol’s children about what the city would offer them to give them the good quality of life that they deserve.

Developing the Charter

Working together, partners developed the Bristol Children’s Charter, a series of 10 pledges to children and young people based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Councillor Helen Godwin, the council’s Cabinet Member for Women, Children and Families, led the development of the charter, engaging a wide range of partners to set new priorities and encourage buy-in across the city. The voice of children and young people was key in the consultation process, with the Youth Council, Youth Mayors and organisations such as Bristol Young Carers all involved.

Councillor Godwin said: “The Mayor and I were determined to put our heads above the parapet and create something aspirational that will focus minds on what could be achieved for the children of Bristol. There was definitely some nervousness about how some of the pledges could be delivered as they are ambitious – for example, promising that every child will be free from violence. When we talked to children and young people about the pledges however, the ones they liked most were the ones about keeping children safe, warm and free from harm, because they knew those were things all children should have.”

The impact

The Children’s Charter was launched in August 2018 during the city’s annual Play Day, with 3,000 children and parents in attendance. Around 50 organisations have already signed up, from law firms and youth organisations to charities and sports clubs, including Bristol Rovers and Bristol City football clubs and Bristol Rugby Club. The diversity of organisations involved has already led to a wealth of networking and sharing ideas, and means that there are organisations with the right expertise to help deliver each of the pledges. The launch day also saw lots of parents and individuals sign up, promising to play their part in delivering better outcomes for children.

Launch of Bristol Children Charter - photo by Wayne Godwin Reid
Launch of Bristol Children Charter - photo by Wayne Godwin Reid


A second launch day was held in November focusing on the council and its partners. This event drew attention to the Charter and how it can be used to raise awareness amongst city organisations of the impacts their decision making has on children and young people.

Councillor Godwin goes on to explain that the Bristol Children’s Charter gives her and her colleagues a “golden ticket” to raise issues about children. “The pledges are declarations of intent for those who have signed up, even where children aren’t traditionally central to their service or business offer. The charter is a way to bring children into conversations about issues aren’t within the children’s services remit, for example housing, benefits, skills, transport and infrastructure.

“We’re definitely seeing children coming up more in conversations, and the charter provides a good basis for challenge. A real defining moment for me was when a member of the public asked a question about the charter at Full Council, showing it’s starting to become a recognised part of what we do.”

Going forward

In addition to seeking new signatories Councillor Godwin is also aiming to ensure the charter remains a key reference point in decision making processes of city organisations. For example she is working with council leadership to ensure the charter becomes a point of reference for processes such as undertaking equalities impact assessments.

Across the city, the Child Friendly City lobby group is working with partners to roll it out, with a blog set to be launched in 2019 aimed at encouraging partner organisations to share learning and ideas. The charter is branded using the city branding rather than the council logo, as despite the council taking a lead on developing and embedding the charter, it is owned by the whole city, which the council hopes will help to sustain it going forward.

The charter has also informed the development of the Bristol One City Plan. This is part of a collaborative approach that aims to engage the whole city in a conversation about its future and align the city’s collective power and resources towards achieving a powerful shared vision for Bristol in 2050.

The City’s annual play day will be an opportunity to review progress each year, focus attention on those pledges where more work needs to be done and help to maintain momentum. Cllr Goodwin will also look at what has happened that wouldn’t have without the charter – even where a pledge hasn’t been fully achieved, it’s important to recognise all of the progress that’s been made towards goals that are rightly ambitious.

Lessons learned

  • Be brave! Think about what you’d want for your own children.
  • Engage partners early in your thinking and ensure diversity.
  • Start from a place of positivity – assume people will want to sign up! A place that works for children works for everyone.

For more information, contact 

Bright Futures

Bright Futures

Helping children and young people to fulfil their potential is a key ambition of all councils, but our children’s services are under increasing pressure. 

Bright Futures is our call for fully funded children's services.

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