of this Report has been twofold:
provide a review and assessment of the contribution that existing
research has made to our understanding of sectarianism and community
relations work with children;
suggest and ‘model out’ an alternative methodological approach
for future research that has the potential to make a significant
contribution to the refinement and development of community
relations policy and practice for children.
It has been
stressed throughout that the small-scale and limited nature of the case
study means that it is dangerous to use it as a basis to develop
generalisations about youth clubs and/or contact schemes. In line with
the above, the primary purpose of the case study has simply been to
demonstrate the type and quality of data that can be generated from the
alternative methodological approach that has been proposed. However,
while by no means representative, the case study has produced some
useful insights into the nature of sectarianism and community relations
work with children.
is a summary of the key issues raised in the Report together with the
main conclusions drawn. This will be followed by a set of
recommendations concerning the future direction of research on
sectarianism and community relations work with children.
reasonable to assume that children, from about the age of three, are
able to develop an understanding of the categories of ‘Protestant’
and ‘Catholic’ (although possibly not using those precise terms)
and to apply negative characteristics to these.
initial categorisations can be understood to have an ‘imprinting
effect’ where they progressively become embedded
the children’s ways of thinking and behaving. With time, and as
children are exposed to broader social contexts and experiences,
they will come to develop more elaborate and sophisticated ways of
identifying, categorising and evaluating others.
is not confined to individual prejudices and beliefs but is
manifest in, and reproduced by, peer-group relations and
sub-cultures and a range of broader social, political and
expression of sectarianism among children is rooted in their
day-to-day experiences. For some, it appears to provide the
interpretative lens through which they develop a keen interest
in and understanding of the news and politics of the conflict.
expression of sectarianism among children can therefore only be
fully understood within the particular sub-cultural contexts
within which it occurs.
findings of the exploratory study would appear to suggest that
children are not passive receptacles to be filled with the
sectarian beliefs and value-systems of their parents but are
actively and competently involved in appropriating, re-working
and reproducing these sectarian beliefs in order to make sense
of their own experiences.
relations work with children
the fact that sectarianism is to be found at all levels of
society – from the systemic and structural to the sub-cultural
and subjective - any community relations strategy needs to be
similarly multi-layered and involve effective interventions at
all of these levels.
and young people appear to have gained overwhelmingly positive
experiences from cross-community contact schemes. Such schemes
will inevitably continue to provide an important element to any
community relations strategy in their potential to address
sectarianism and foster respect and mutual tolerance at the
sub-cultural and subjective levels.
the fact that sectarianism will manifest itself differently from
one context to the next, the nature and content of community
relations work and, within this, each contact scheme should be
carefully planned in relation to the existing needs and
experiences of the children in any one area.
the current situation in any particular area, it is clear that
community relations work needs to engage directly with their
perspectives and experiences, whatever these may be. In relation
to the children in the present case study, this should also
involve helping them to work through their own anxieties and
contact schemes should play a key role in this type of approach.
However, it will require the continued training and support of
those organising such schemes and also will inevitably require
appropriate work with the children prior to and then following
form of community relations work with children needs to begin as
soon as they are capable of being influenced by sectarianism
which, from the available evidence, appears to be from about the
age of three onwards. Certainly, the available research suggests
that children of this age, with the appropriate help and
support, are capable of reflecting upon their own attitudes and
behaviour (see Connolly 1999).
discussing the importance of finding neutral venues for
cross-community contact to take place, the current case study
would suggest that this should include consideration of the
socio-cultural context as well as the geographical location.
for future research
the above summary, a number of general recommendations arise in
relation to the future direction of research on sectarianism and
community relations work with children.
contributing to our understanding of the nature and influence of
sectarianism in children’s lives, research needs to adopt a
much more qualitative, ethnographic approach that focuses on the
children’s own experiences and perspectives.
the use of a broadly ethnographic approach, such experiences and
perspectives need to be contextualised within the broader social
contexts within which the children are located including the
sub-cultures of their peer groups and the wider processes and
practices evident within their locality.
this overall methodological approach, a much more comprehensive
picture needs to be constructed of how the influences and
effects of sectarianism are likely to develop and change with
age. Such an understanding is essential if a realistic and
appropriate community relations curriculum is to be developed
for children aged 3 – 11 years.
an understanding of the effects of particular contact schemes
and the underlying reasons for these will only be gained from
such a qualitative ethnographic focus. As before, such schemes
cannot be studied in isolation but rather their influences and
effects on children’s attitudes and behaviour can only be
understood through a consideration of the wider social contexts
within which they take place.