Children's Participation

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Participation in relation to children’s rights is concerned with encouraging the child’s voice to be heard, recognising their views as important and involving them in the planning of activities and other areas of their lives. We have lived in an adult-dominated world where children’s views and opinions have been suppressed. Adults have held all the power in decision making and had control over access to information. This can limit and stifle children and young people and can be a barrier to them achieving their full potential.

With the introduction of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child attitudes are slowly beginning to change. This convention contains a number of articles relating to participation which aim to provide a supportive environment for children to gain the confidence and self-belief along with the knowledge and understanding to enable them to contribute positively to society, now and in the future. Article 12, in particular, requires that every child capable of forming his or her own views must be given the right to express those views in all matters affecting them and that their views will be ‘given due weight in accordance with the child’s age and maturity’.

Participation is a process requiring planning, consideration and evaluation. Many adults are reluctant to involve children and young people in decision making. They believe, as they have more experience or qualifications, that they should be the ones in control. Adults can be seen as “gatekeepers” to information. They may not consider the information to be appropriate for the child or that the child would not understand it. The balance of power needs to be shifted more in the direction of the children to enable shared decision making.

Models of participation are useful for highlighting different approaches to projects involving children and exposing bad practice. The Ladder of Participation was developed by Roger Hart (1992) as a way to measure the level...
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