In accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, we believe that children have a right to participate in decisions which affect their lives, and to do so need information and, depending on the age and development of the child, support from adults to ensure that their participation is realised and is meaningful.
To support meaningful participation of children, we have developed the following basic guidelines:
- Need to acknowledge that children’s right to participate in matter affecting their lives is a not a ‘favour’ or given through the good will of adults but that it is their right both under international law, and in many cases domestic law.
- The best interests of the child should always be the primary consideration. Children should not be placed at risk by their participation. If adults do not think it is in children’s best interests to be consulted or involved in a particular activity, this should be explained and discussed with children in an open manner and their views considered.
- All actions to promote children’s participation must be respectful of the rights and dignity of the child.
- Adults should be honest with children about why they are seeking children’s involvement, and what the possible outcomes may be. For example children should not be given the impression that what they want will automatically happen.
- Expectations of the level of participation by children should be appropriate according to the child’s age, skills, gender and evolving capacities. Even very young children can be consulted over decisions that affect their lives and it is the responsibility of adults to find ways to ensure that this can happen.
- Children and adults should agree what information is confidential and how sensitive information will be used.
- Participation must be voluntary and children should be made aware that they can ‘opt out’ at any point, without recourse – although this will mean that adults will not be able to take into account their views (eg if not given) which could affect decisions made.
- Permission should be sought from parents and guardians.
- Processes for boys and girls to participate should be equitable, non-discriminatory and as inclusive as possible. Special measures should be taken to ensure that children who want to participate are able to do so. This includes taking into account children’s other time commitments such as school, work and household chores.
- A child-friendly environment should be created that convinces children that their participation is respected.
- Adults facilitating children’s participation should be skilled and confident in their role and responsibilities.
- Children should always be informed of the outcome of the participatory process.