A rear view of a child with her hands on a glass tank, she is looking at jellyfish.

Over exposed: why it’s time to rethink the representation of children

This September, Chance for Childhood launched the OverExposed campaign, a call to action to raise standards and reframe thinking on the way the sector uses children’s images and stories. As part of its commitment to OverExposed, Chance for Childhood has taken the decision to stop showing children’s faces in any of its imagery or videos.

The campaign is the culmination of a two-year journey for Chance for Childhood. One in which the organisation had to have challenging conversations, navigate the different needs of the safeguarding, programmes, fundraising and communications teams, and evaluate how to centre children’s rights and voices in campaigns.

This journey started with a conversation between Chance for Childhood’s Vicky Ferguson, Head of Safeguarding, and Alice Barley, Head of Fundraising and Communications. In this blog, Vicky and Alice discuss how their teams closed the gap between fundraising and safeguarding to take a more child-centred approach to campaigns and communications.

How did the idea come about?

Vicky: When I joined Chance for Childhood I came from an organisation that had already taken identifiable images of children out of its communications. We had done that for many reasons, but mainly because of the challenges of gaining consent from the children we worked with due to their complex lives.

Alice: I knew all of this before Vicky joined Chance for Childhood, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when she asked if we could have a meeting to discuss the idea. I admit that I accepted the invite with a mix of curiosity and scepticism. It was the middle of the first lockdown and my immediate thought was ‘I’m not sure I have time for this’.

What challenges did you face?

Vicky: The biggest challenge for Alice and I has been finding the middle ground and ensuring that we don’t jeopardise our income and relationships with donors. Being donor-centric doesn’t always sit that comfortably with our commitment to being child-centred, but it’s really easy for me to say this as a practitioner.

Alice: It has taken two and half years to get to this point, but we really needed that time. As a fundraising and communications team, it felt like we had lost some of the tools we need to communicate effectively; it wasn’t just our images that needed changing but our language too. Naturally, I had a lot of concerns about how this change might impact our income.

As the Head of Fundraising, everyone is looking to you for reassurance that this will work. Not everyone was on board at the beginning. We did a lot of work internally, speaking to partners and our team to understand their concerns. What really helped was running two successful crowdfunding campaigns which used images that didn’t show children’s faces, so we were able to test the idea.

What’s the response been like?

Alice: We’ve had some amazing conversations with supporters about this change. It has been a lesson not to underestimate our supporters; so many want to champion the campaign, which is more than I ever imagined when we started.

Now that the campaign has launched, we’ll be closely monitoring income streams and collecting data every month to see if it has an impact, but I’m hopeful that the planning we did will mitigate any risk.

Vicky: In the run-up to the campaign’s launch we spent a lot of time talking to funding organisations, and were really encouraged by the positive response. So many organisations were already having similar discussions on this topic internally. It has been energising to see such a collective will for change from lots of people and organisations across the development sector.

What are your hopes for the campaign?

Vicky: What’s important to remember is that this campaign is about conversations. It’s about listening to the children, young people and communities we work with, and giving them space to tell us about the challenges they face when it comes to us telling their stories.

Alice: Earlier this year, I travelled to Uganda to meet our partners and see some of the amazing work first-hand. We spent two days working with a photography agency in Kyaka II Refugee Settlement. It really hit home for me how important and necessary the OverExposed campaign is.

What would you do differently?

Alice: Looking back I recognise that I should have been more open-minded to the idea. But this whole process has led to a deeper understanding of child rights for me, and why that matters in our communications.

Vicky: I should have put myself in Alice’s shoes sooner and tried to better understand the challenges this could pose to the fundraising team.

I would encourage anyone thinking about this to ensure you create spaces to have discussions around these topics. Think about who should facilitate them and any expected sticking points before you start because there will be some along the way.

Alice: Vicky will sometimes say to me ‘I still don’t think we’ve gone far enough’, and I understand what she means now. OverExposed isn’t the end result. It is a chapter in the journey. But getting this far feels like a really big achievement.

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