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The importance of children’s full and meaningful participation

The participation of children and young people in decision-making
[Translator] What is your name and where are you from? My name is Victoria and I come from Moldova. Why do you think children should be part of the decision making process? I think children should be part of decision making because they know better what is good for them. [Translator] I think that children should be part of decision making, because they know better what is good for them. I’m Anna, and I’m from Croatia. Well, I think it’s important both for children and for people that are taking care of them, because it leads to their growing up. And it’s important for young people who will become independent to have skills of communicating and expressing their feelings and their needs and their fears.
And it’s important for them to be courage, to have courage enough to stand for themselves. And for the people that are taking care, of course, it’s important to know how to individually help them. What are their needs? I think that the most important thing that they should know is that we can do everything. We just need their help. I feel it’s vital for young people to be involved in decisions about their lives. And I feel that they won’t be able to make decisions as adults if they don’t have the experience of being involved in decisions, even about the most basic things. Like deciding what to wear, right up to what school they go to.
And, yeah, those big decisions that adolescents and young adults make. I think that– well, first of all, I think the biggest challenge, you know, to have all these strategies to make them to participate. But of course is the biggest, the most important thing, you know, is like, empower them to make decisions about what is good. What they want to do, what they don’t want to do. But I think that our responsibilities, as adults and people who work in care, is to provide them those options, you know. And I think that the most important thing is to talk about real child participation. Children themselves know best about what they want, what they need.
And this is very important for the protection of their rights, but as well as their security and the sense of, I don’t know, comfort, self-esteem. They need to be heard, as we know from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 12 depending on the majority, I mean, depending on the level of maturity. Their age. They need to be heard. Participation for the young people, the children, this very important. It is their voice, it is their emotion and spirit. Of course. That is one of their rights. They must be participants in their life journey, be able to put their plans into effect in the best way possible. And obviously their participation is vital in that process. Always. Absolutely.
It is essential to take the opinion of the boys and girls into account. In all processes that are related to their lives, especially if it deals with a measure that will involve them leaving their homes, or one of the modes of alternative care.
In this video, we hear Victoria and Anna tell us why it is important children and young people participate in decisions being made about their lives. You will also hear from care professionals from different countries of the world who attended a conference on child protection and alternative care held in Geneva in 2016. These videos were filmed before the COVID-19 pandemic but they still tell us about the importance of participation. Care professionals were asked the question ‘Do you think it is important that children and young people participate in decisions that affect their lives?’
Throughout the course steps on case management, we have highlighted the importance of children’s full and meaningful participation in decisions being made about their own lives is important. Children’s right to participate in decisions that affect them is central to making effective and appropriate decisions about their protection and care. We realise that may be challenging especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when it might be difficult to meet children and build the trusting and caring relationship you would wish to.
Even if communicating with children and listening carefully so you can take their views into account might be difficult due to restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still an important part of the assessment process as well as the development and review of Case Plans and Care Plans. Children know what they want and their participation is far more likely to result in better decisions that are also more appropriate and sustainable.
However, because of possible restrictions you may have to bear in mind the following:
  • We may not be able to interact with children directly and so we might have to explore ways to consult with them by phone or other remote ways of communicating – remember we also discussed the importance of safely meeting children face to face in high priority cases
  • We may not be able to interact with children for as long as we usually want to
  • We may have to adapt the way we share information with them so they are able form their own opinions and ideas.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, gives children the right to express their views in all matters affecting them. Based on information in the UNHCR on Guidelines on Assessing and Determining the Best Interests of the Child, and the handbook Moving Forward: Implementing the ‘Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children’ we have developed a list of things to consider – even during the COVID-19 pandemic – when supporting the full and meaningful participation of children including:
  • Do everything you can to fully facilitate the participation of a child and empower them to express their views and influence decisions without them feeling pressured or constrained
  • Make sure you have the informed consent of the child to conduct any meetings and if necessary, share the information they provide – whether meeting face to face or remotely. Get informed consent from parents or other legal or customary caregivers. (Please see course step 25 for further information about consent and assent)
  • Not just listen to the views of a child but truly take them into full consideration
  • Use a child-friendly manner that allows a child to express themselves. This may be particularly challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic if you are not conducting face to face meetings. But still think about ways you might use drawing and other ways a child can think about expressing themselves about their circumstances, wishes and needs
  • Regularly check that the child understood what you said. It is also important you check with the child to make sure you understood what the child told you
  • Identify the most appropriate way to communicate with children with disabilities – particularly children with visual, hearing or intellectual disabilities. They may need additional supports, such as sign language interpretation, communication boards or the presence of a support person, where appropriate
  • Be sensitive – children at risk may have lived through disturbing events and have difficulties in expressing themselves. It is recommended to involve experts – such as psycho-social professionals – if necessary
  • Be aware how social norms – for instance gender roles and gender identity, perceptions about disability – might influence the way children express themselves. Think how this can affect talking about issues and experiences that were painful, sensitive or they consider embarrassing
  • Provide children with information in a language and form they can understand, and which is suitable for their age and capacity
  • Be honest with children, do not raise their expectations and do 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
  • 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. Explain any decisions with appropriate sensitivity, care and empathy and the reasons why those decisions have been taken with full consideration of their best interests
  • If using an interpreter, make sure they are of a calibre to translate everything accurately. Make sure they are trained in child friendly and sensitive communication, have experience working with children, and of the appropriate gender.
Achieving participation can be assisted by the use of child friendly tools. For example, in the case of younger children their participation and how they express their feelings and wishes can be encouraged through different methods such as drawing, play or observation. One example of a child friendly tool can be found on the website of ‘Talking Mats’.
The ‘See Also’ section below has links to the documents we have used to create this course step and other reading material that may be of interest to you.
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COVID-19: Adapting Child Protection Case Management

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