Listening to experts: Children and young people’s participation

Listening to experts: Children and young people’s …
01 Feb 2012

Social Work Now, Issue 49, pages 30-39.

Social workers who want their practice to be more child centred must learn to find new and better ways to listen to children and young people and involve them in decision making. This is important not only because it will create better decisions and practice, but also because children have a fundamental right to participate in matters that affect their lives.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC), ratified by New Zealand in 1993, provides us with a clear imperative to listen to children. Article 12 says children have “the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child” (UNICEF, 1989, Article 12).

Although UNCROC and associated national legislation gives children the legal right to participate, social, cultural and economic barriers to children’s involvement in decision-making persist. As we increasingly hear the vernacular of the rights and voices of children within international child welfare and youth justice arenas (Coad & Lewis, 2004) more evidence that suggests some of the barriers may be shifting. However, we must push harder and go further to give life to the rights of children.

At the heart of this transformation is our ability to change the way we think about children. Participative methodologies are diverse and scattered across the spectrum of interventions with children and young people. This article argues for embedding changes that support appropriate and effective means of including children in decisionmaking processes and supporting children to be future advocates, activists, leaders and decisionmakers. This paper also recognises that respecting, eliciting and utilising the views of children requires a culture shift that repositions children as active agents rather than passive recipients of policy, programmes or research. The first section of the article focuses on theory. The second part advocates ways to ensure their voices are heard and acted upon and provides practical hints for implementation.

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