Independent mobility and child development

This project will explore the degree to which children of different ages have the freedom to travel to school, friends, shops and other destinations unaccompanied by adults.

Researchers will examine evidence from ten different countries in order to identify factors affecting the independent mobility of children and the implications for child development.

The findings will be diseminated at an international conference, with the aim of formulating policy responses with a particular, but not exclusive, focus on UK policy. Case studies of interesting international examples will be used to illustrate and develop possible policy responses.


This project will build on the Policy Studies Institute's existing research in this area. There is ongoing concern about the welfare of children, their quality of life and the conditions in which they grow up. Notably UNICEF articulated this concern in 2007, with the UK being placed, controversially, in the bottom third for five out of six dimensions of child well-being against 20 other wealthy countries.

The UK performs badly in other surveys of children’s well-being. Child obesity in particular is a major and growing concern and low levels of physical activity are frequently cited as a factor affecting this, which in turn appears to be affected by levels of children’s independent mobility (among other factors).

There appears to be a growing consensus that loss of independence can have adverse effects on children’s well-being, health and personal development. There is also evidence indicating the positive impact of independent mobility and play among children. The research is intended to contribute to better understanding of children’s mobility patterns and the development of policy options to contribute to better environments for children – and the rest of society – to live in.

Project details



Ben Shaw, Policy Studies Institute

Funding programme:

Open Door

Grant amount and duration:


December 2010- December 2012

Project website