It has become increasingly accepted that children’s development and wellbeing are influenced by a wide range of factors in the environment in which they live. This social ecological perspective proposes that a child’s genetic make-up and individual characteristics interact with their immediate network but also with influences deriving from factors as diverse as their family’s economic resources, the nature of community in which they live, and even what they encounter on television and the internet, in fact, features of a whole array of broad economic, social and cultural factors. As outlined in the Introduction to this book, this perspective is most frequently described by a number of concentric circles representing layers of influence, drawing on Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) model of child development. Although these ‘layers’ are helpful to grasp the concept, their reality is complex, with interactions between the layers and some factors in a layer being more influential than others. It might also suggest that factors in the outer layers have only a peripheral impact, whereas, although family factors are likely to be the most influential, broad social influences — ‘forces emanating from more remote regions in the larger physical and social milieu’ (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 13) — can also reach deep into the centrality of children’s lives and have a significant effect on their wellbeing. This chapter will use this perspective to explore some examples of these ‘forces’ to illustrate the debates around them and their effects.
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