How to facilite children and young peoples active participation

Why to facilitate children and young peoples active participation:

In 1991, the UK Government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This human rights treaty guarantees to all children and young people the right to express their views freely in all matters affecting them and for these views to be given due weight in accordance with the child’s age and maturity (Article 12).

Following on from that, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s (2009) General Comment on the child’s right to be heard develops the meaning of participation: A widespread practice has emerged in recent years, which has been broadly conceptualised as ‘participation’, although this term itself does not appear in the text of Article 12. This term has evolved and is now widely used to describe ongoing processes, which include information-sharing and dialogue between children and adults based on mutual respect, and in which children can learn how their views and those of adults are taken into account and shape the outcome of such processes.

Although there is no one universally accepted definition of participation, it is important to understand that the process of participating actually leads to change. It is more than the ability for children and young people to express themselves, but also whether this expression is heard and whether it affects change.

Benefits to Children and Young People

• Provides an opportunity to develop a sense of autonomy, independence and social responsibility
• Leadership skills
• Children and young people develop an increased sense of ownership and belonging
• Self-esteem increases
• Improved career choices
• Improved relationships
• Improved communication and collaboration skills
• An understanding of civic and political processes
• Increased motivation to achieve
• Allows them to claim their rights
• Empowerment

Benefits to Schools, Other Organisations and Society

• Gain new perspectives and fresh ideas
• Additional data to help improve services
• Greater acceptance of messages and policies as children and young people were actively involved in developing them
• Enhanced credibility of the service
• Better informed about issues, views and priorities of children and young people
• Better able to address the needs of children and young people
• Helps to make society more democratic
• Recognition of children and young people as experts on their own lives who are skilled communicators and active agents who can influence and interact with the world around them
• Improved status for children and young people generally
• Improved relationships between older and younger members of society
• Decrease in anti-social behaviours

How to facilitate the active participation of children and young people:

Young people from ‘Off the Record’ in Bath and Bristol developed an innovative way of measuring how their peers felt about safety and gender equality in schools. The ‘safe and equal gauge’ is a survey designed by young people, for young people. The answers can then form an evidence base to help to inform policy and practice.

You can download a copy of the Safe and Equal Gauge below for use in your schools (this can also be amended to be suitable for other settings – we have used it in youth clubs and housing associations for instance). It is useful to input the questions onto an online tool such as ‘survey monkey’ in order to do some simple evaluation and analysis of the results. The gauge has been provided as a word document so you can adapt questions to suit your needs but please ensure you reference the young people from ‘Off the Record’ who developed the tool.

The Safe and Equal Gauge

Case study: Youth Involvement Group

Off the Record (in Bath and Bristol) created a Youth Involvement Group who worked with the project lead to develop and deliver a comprehensive programme across their school.  The Youth Involvement Group began by working intensively to understand Violence Against Women And Girls and to audit current resources. They then wrote an education resource pack to be used within their own school that had clear session plans and guidance.  Then they created and used a Safe and Equal Gauge to identify the local issues in relation to Violence Against Women And Girls. The tool was piloted in IT lessons – this way students learnt about creating online surveys but also completed the survey themselves generating valuable data about how safe and equal the students felt in school. This was then used to inform teacher training and policy development. They also ran an interactive voting lunchtime session that engaged the whole school and resulted in sexual bullying being identified as the priority area that the group should work on. The students worked with the project lead to train teachers in sexual bullying and delivered PSHE lessons on this issue.

The Youth Involvement Group were felt to have created institutional change by amending the current school policy on sexual bullying and through meeting with the Head teacher to discuss actions that the school could take on this issue. This resulted in the Head teacher prioritising and pushing forward the project across the school.

The group have been active in being part of changing our bullying policy and this has had a massive impact on the school, the students feel strongly about something and they make it happen and we have to listen. This is a new cultural shift as we learn more about young people’s involvement and leadership (PSHE Lead, AVA 2012).