This library is a comprehensive collection of national and international good practice, policy, legal and academic publications, reports and resources on children and young people’s participation in decision-making.

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Global annual results report 2019: Goal Area 5 Progress, results achieved and lessons from 2019 under Goal Area 5: ensuring that every child has an equitable chance in life

This research brief is one of a series of five briefs, which provide an overview of available evidence shown in the Campbell-UNICEF Mega-Map of the effectiveness of interventions to improve child well-being in low- and middle-income countries. These briefs summarize evidence as mapped against the five goal areas of UNICEF’s 2018–2021 Strategic Plan, although it is anticipated that they will also be useful for others working in the child well-being space.

‘Speak Up’: Participation of children and young people in decisions about their lives in Tusla Services

The UNESCO Child & Family Research Centre at NUI Galway carried out a study to find out to what extent the voice of children and young people are being heard in decisions made about their lives by Tusla. This study forms part of the larger study. It aims to explore the experiences of children and young people involved with Tusla of participating in decisions made about their lives.

Child-Led Research: From Participation in Research to Leading it. Addressing inequalities in decision-making

Article 12 of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child recognises the right of children and young people to express their views on issues relevant to their lives. Countries who have ratified the Convention have a legal obligation to take appropriate measures to implement this right. However, implementing children and young people’s participation rights has been challenging for countries and existing structures, as it entails substantive changes in how children and young people are viewed by society, ways of working and priorities. Globally, efforts to realise children and young people’s right to participate have generally been tokenistic and have a minimal impact on decision-making. As models and programmes have been developed to address these limitations, child-led research has emerged as an approach that can provide children and young people with particularly meaningful opportunities to participate. Therefore, there is a growing interest in child-led research as a mechanism to enhance participation rights, based on the premise that children and young people bring particular expertise to the research process. This study explores examples of children and young people who led their own research and took actions based on their research findings.

Participation in practice: Making it meaningful, effective and sustainable

Children’s participation in decision‐making is complex: it is undertaken for different purposes and is reflected in different levels of involvement, different contexts and different activities. This paper reviews the current state of participation and, drawing on practice and research literature, highlights several aspects of practice where further consideration is needed if participation is to develop positively. This suggests that, if participation is to be more meaningful to children and effective in influencing change, it is necessary to move beyond one‐off or isolated participation and consider how participation becomes embedded as an integral part of our relationship with children.

Can you hear me? The right of young children to participate in decisions affecting them

Can you hear me? The right of young children to participate in decisions affecting them emphasises that participation enhances children’s self-esteem and confidence, promotes their overall capacities, produces better outcomes, strengthens understanding of and commitment to democratic processes and protects
children more effectively. Participation provides the opportunity for developing a sense of autonomy, independence, heightened social competence and resilience. The benefits are therefore significant, and adults with both direct and indirect responsibility for children need to acquire a greater humility in recognising that they have a great deal to learn from children. But the case for listening to young children goes beyond the beneficial outcomes. It is also a matter of social justice and  human rights. All people, however young, are entitled to be participants in their own lives, to influence what happens to them, to be involved in creating their own environments, to exercise choices and to have their views respected and valued.

Creating environments where these entitlements are fulfilled for young children will necessitate profound change. In most countries throughout the world, there
is a continued perception of young children as passive recipients of care and protection. Their capacities for participation are underestimated, their agency in their
own lives is denied and the value of involving them is unrecognised. Yet there is a growing and persuasive body of evidence to challenge these barriers.

Conceptualising children and young people’s participation: Examining vulnerability, social accountability and co-production

Children and young people’s participation in collective decision-making has become a popular policy and practice concern. Yet challenges persist, such as tokenism, limited impact and unsustainability. This article examines ways to address these challenges and realise children and young people’s participation, particularly in child protection contexts. Conceptually, the article investigates three popular ideas – vulnerability, social accountability and co-production. Each idea potentially suggests revised and more emancipatory relationships between the State and service users. Practically, the article matches these ideas to examples of children and young people’s participation. The article concludes that claims to vulnerability’s universality are persuasive; however, conceptualisations fail to address adult power. Social accountability addresses power, but insufficiently addresses the current challenges of participation. Co-production has the most potential, with participation examples that have been meaningful, effective and sustainable.

Saying It Like It Is? Power, Participation and Research Involving Young People

Developments in the conceptualisation of childhood have prompted a fundamental shift in young people’s position within social research. Central to this has been the growing recognition of children’s agency within the landscapes of power between child participants and adult researchers. Participatory research has rooted itself in this paradigm, gaining status from its principles of social inclusion and reciprocity. While participatory research has benefitted from a growing theoretical analysis, insight can be deepened from reflexive accounts critiquing participation ‘in the field’. This article presents one such account, using the example of an ethnographic study with young people living in a ‘disadvantaged’ housing estate in the UK. It describes how efforts to ‘enable’ young people’s participation were simultaneously embraced, contested, subverted and refused. These, often playful, responses offered rich insight into how the young participants viewed themselves,
their neighbourhood, and ‘outsiders’ efforts to give them voice. The article concludes by emphasising the importance of conceptualising participation not simply as a set of methods, but as a philosophical commitment which embraces honesty, inclusivity and, importantly, the humour that can come from this approach to research

Too Vulnerable to Participate? Challenges for Meaningful Participation in Research With Children in Alternative Care and Adoption

In recent years, a significant amount of research has been conducted with children from a rights perspective, especially concerning the right to be heard and participate. However, children living in alternative care and adoption have often been excluded from participating in research because they are viewed as vulnerable children who lack agency and also due to an adult-centric perspective of protection. In this article, we challenge this idea under the view that participation is a main component of protection, children are experts in their own experiences, and their views should be considered through participative research design and methods. Particular challenges that protection contexts impose for research are analyzed and several ways in which these challenges can be faced are outlined. We provide principles and examples that can be implemented to ensure that children who live in alternative care or adoption have the right as any child to be informed, be listened to, and have their views considered regarding topics that affect them.

Voice, views and the UNCRC Articles 12 and 13

The voice of children aged 4 to 8 years is seldom heard in research circles, within the constraints of high-pressure academic model which is the current education system in England. Children are rarely listened to but expected to listen in the current normative societal cycle. This deficiency of active listening as an everyday occurrence impacts on children’s Mental Health. This article will give reference to an original empirical study, Hear Me and Listen. This study carried out in 2018 highlights the minimalistic practice of listening to children aged 4 to 8 years in the everyday. The research method used consisted of the Mosaic Approach. This approach provides various avenues for communication aside from the verbal. Data collected were analysed through a thematic approach. Themes which came from analysis included ‘This Is Me’, ‘Relationships’, ‘Environment’, ‘Curriculum’ and ‘Practitioners’. This article draws on this analysis and concludes that a change in the normative discourse of ‘hearing’ and not acting to one of ‘active listening’ and supporting is a path worth mapping.

Look who’s talking: Factors for considering the facilitation of very young children’s voices

Grounded in children’s rights, this article advances understanding of the affordances and constraints in implementing Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in educational settings with young children – those under 7. It starts from the premise that if we are to foster democratic skills and understanding in children and young people, we need to develop practices that support this from the earliest age. The article presents the outcomes of a seminar series facilitating dialogue among international academics working in the field and a range of early years practitioners. This opportunity for extended dialogue led to the development of a rich and sophisticated conceptual clarity about the factors that need to be considered if Article 12 is to be realised with very young children. Eight factors were identified as pivotal for consideration when facilitating voices with this age group: definition; power; inclusivity; listening; time and space; approaches; processes; and purposes. This article explores each in turn and proposes a series of provocations and questions designed to support practitioners in their endeavour to elicit young children’s voices.

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