Basic Guide to Participation

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Involving Children and Young People - an introduction

Involving Children and Young People – an introduction

The Hear By Right Young People's Participation Framework

The Hear By Right Young People’s Participation Framework

This guide to participation will help you quickly learn the basics of children’s participation.

You can also download these two excellent guides that have informed the CYP IAPT participation programme since it began in 2011.

Why Involve Children and Young People?

There are many reasons why children and young people should actively participate in programme and policy work. These include:

  • Participation is a basic human right for children.
  • Children are the only ones who can describe issues from their perspective.
  • Participation builds children’s self-esteem and confidence. It allows them to develop important communication skills.
  • Through participation, children learn to cooperate with adults and other children.
  • Programmes that allow children to participate are often more aware of and responsive to children’s needs.
  • Children’s participation raises public awareness of children’s needs.

How should children’s participation be delivered?

Participation may take different forms in different settings. Various things need to be considered when trying to find a good way of involving children. These include children’s age, sex, ethnicity, religion and family background.

There are a wide variety of creative ways of allowing children to participate. These include writing stories and poems, drawing pictures, forming their own organisations, playing games, attending workshops, drama, music, using puppets, sports and taking part in discussions and surveys.

Programmes need additional resources to allow for the participation of children. Children may require extra levels of support and they may require training to build skills and confidence.

Basic Ethical Guidelines

  • Voluntary involvement. Any involvement by children must be voluntary. They should also be given the right to change their minds during the process.
  • Non-discrimination. An inclusive approach should be adopted. For example, materials may need to be adapted for children with disabilities so they can participate effectively.
  • Provision of and access to information. Children who participate should understand what they are doing and why, and what are the expected outcomes and implications of their involvement.
  • Confidentiality and privacy. There is a possibility of causing emotional harm by asking sensitive questions; for example, about the death of a parent.
  • Avoid putting children at risk. Children may risk being identified if they participate. Confidentiality must be observed, particularly for activities that raise public awareness of issues affecting children. Careful consultation should take place before any activity that makes it likely that a child will be identified.
  • Flag up children’s contributions. Make sure that children’s views are properly considered during their involvement.
  • Provide feedback and follow up. Children should be told the outcome of decisions and given an opportunity to react and contribute beyond the consultation phase. Efforts should be made to make children’s participation an integrated part of decision-making and service development processes that will affect them.

Levels of Participation

Children may experience different levels of participation, including:

  • Being given information – but adults make the decisions
  • Consultation – children are asked their opinions and adults take this into account when making decisions
  • Adult initiated – adults start projects and share decisions with children. This is distinct from child-initiated projects
  • Partnership – children are supported by adults to come up with ideas and set up projects.

Children may be involved in projects in ways that appear as if they are actively participating when actually they are not. For example, they or their images may be used to promote a project although they do not understand what is happening. This is manipulative, as children are being used as ‘decoration’. Children may also be involved simply because projects know they ought to include them. This can lead to tokenism, where children but have little ability to influence decisions.

Key Messages On Children’s Participation

  • Children’s participation is important as a right. Children’s involvement in planning programmes and services means they are more likely to be relevant and appropriate.Participation builds children’s self-esteem and confidence.
  • In many societies children’s voices are rarely heard. They have little opportunity to participate, and adults often take decisions without talking to them.
  • Programmes need to address the issues and challenges that children’s participation raises, such as ethical processes, consent and confidentiality.
  • Children may participate at different levels. These range from being given information to full partnership. Appropriate types of participation will depend on children’s age and circumstances. Some forms of participation, such as tokenism and ‘decoration’, exploit children. They should be avoided.
  • Children may participate in a variety of different ways. There are many tools that can be used to promote children’s participation and that reflect their developing potential.


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