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The participation of children and young people in decision-making

The importance of participation

Throughout the course steps on case management, we have highlighted the importance of children’s full and meaningful participation. In this video, Chrissie Gale speaks to Emily Delap. Emily is an independent international consultant with more than 20 years’ experience as a researcher, policy adviser, and programme manager focusing on child protection in low and middle income country contexts. Emily has extensive knowledge of child protection systems, alternative care, family strengthening and child exploitation.

Regardless of the situation, the full and meaningful participation of children in decisions being made about their own lives is important – including those of unaccompanied and separated children on the move. Children’s right to participate in decisions that affect them is central to making effective and appropriate decisions about their care. Therefore, listening carefully to children and taking their views into account is particularly important during the process of assessment as well as the development and review of Care and Protection Plans. Not just because it is their right, but we also know that it helps in better decision making. Children are the best informed of their own needs and wishes and their participation is far more likely to result in decisions that are more appropriate and sustainable. They are also less likely to be rejected by the child.

Emily tells us why it is important that children participate in a full and meaningful way in decisions that affect their lives. She reflects on how their participation is intrinsic to the effective implementation of the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. Emily also provides us with ideas about ways to facilitate and support the participation of children and young people, all of which are applicable in different settings and for unaccompanied and separated children you are working with.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) gives children the right to express their views in all matters affecting them. This encompasses:

  • The right of children to receive ‘appropriate direction and guidance’ from those legally responsible for them, in ways that are consistent with the child’s own evolving capacity – for instance their age and maturity
  • Children’s right to be provided with information in a language and form they can understand, and which is suitable for their age and capacity. This information must be realistic in terms of opportunities and support that is available, and not create false hopes. Children must feel able to freely express their views and not be pressured or constrained in any way

We should therefore:

  • Do everything we can to fully facilitate the participation of a child and empower them to express their views and influence decisions
  • Not just listen to the views of a child but truly take them into full consideration
  • Be honest with children, not raise their expectations and not promise things that are unattainable. This can create serious feelings of mistrust, of being let down, and may harm your relationship with a child
  • Provide children with information that reflects reality, and help them be part of making decisions that are actually achievable. For example, if there is a very limited choice of places where they might be accommodated, this should be made clear
  • Explain that others will take a role in making decisions they think are in the child’s best interests based on their professional skills and experience

Achieving participation can be assisted by the use of child friendly tools. For example, in the case of younger children or those with learning difficulties, their participation and how they express their feelings and wishes can be encouraged through different methods such as drawing, play or observation. Adapting your use of language to the age and development of the child also helps a child understand what is happening.

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Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

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