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Foundation Children's Rights


International Center of Childrens Rights is a non profit organization for defend the rights of the childrens worldwide and working as speciaL consultative status with United Nations Human Rights Council - OHCHR

They are laborers, soldiers, refugees, and orphans. In areas of the world torn by poverty, disease, and war, millions of children are invisible victims, deprived of home, family, and basic human rights. Their chances for a stable adult life are extremely slim.

(1) Children’s rights

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)

 Childrens Rights - Unicef - UK

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child


Children’s rights to participate in the decision-making process are enshrined in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (United Nations 1989). Article 12 grants a child who is capable of forming a view the right to express that view freely in all matters affecting him, and these views should be given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

So, for most practitioners and their agencies and the organizations involved the question now is not what to do or whether to do it, but how. These papers and the research studies will go to present, illustrate what works and what gets in the way. It should therefore be of use to practitioners working with children, their managers who set up the structures to enable children’s participation to happen and to students and academics who are interested in the policy and theories underpinning the thinking and recent developments in participatory practice.

In the UK, the Children Act (1989) was the main driver in requiring the involvement of children and young people in a range of decision-making arenas, the focus at that time being on their involvement in individual social work decision-making arenas. Subsequent legislation and guidance continues to encourage the rights of children to participate, the focus now being more on enabling their involvement in organizational policy and change. Every Child Matters (Department for Education and Skills (DfES) based its overall goals for achievement on the five outcomes on consultations with children,  and the Children Act (2004), contained legislation to further children’s participation in advising on new local authority structures, such as Children’s Trusts. A Children’s Commissioner for England was created with the intention of ensuring children’s rights are upheld and their voices heard in a range of arenas. Further opportunities for participation, especially in schools, were named in the 2007 Children’s Plan, Building Brighter Futures (Department for Children, Schools, and Families (DCSF), which set out strategic objectives for the next ten years. While the structures for enabling children to participate in organizations, in particular schools and youth forums, are improving there is less evidence that children are routinely involved in decision making at an individual level in social work, such as in assessments, in writing their records or in meetings. And there continues to be debate about how children’s rights should be exercised both by children in groups, and by children as individuals. While there is generally agreement that the nature and degree of children’s participation, both in policy and in the process of practice in the UK, will vary depending on the child’s interest, capacity and the decisions to be made, there are continuing concerns not just about the difficulties in process but also about definitions and, indeed, about the generality of the principle itself. On the one hand, there is a move to see children as individuals and social actors with capacity for self realization; on the other, there is also awareness that in some situations particular issues are raised for children by conflicting rights and notions of responsibility which involve some determination of capacity and protection by adults.

Questions arise as to whether all children can or should be taken seriously – and, if so, at what age? In the child protection arena there are key concerns about safeguarding: about managing the balance between the ethics of care and issues of rights. And there are concerns as to the extent to which the expression of their views might challenge power issues within the family and within the wider community and, if so, how and who will manage this? At the same time there is some ambiguity in policy and practice at government level where, alongside the participation agenda, run practices in health and social care which are directed at greater state control and surveillance of children and families, such as through electronic databases. There is increasing awareness of the ways in which participation can impact on children as individuals and about the role of professionals in enabling children’s effective participation at various levels and in acting upon what they hear. Research evidence of children’s participation in a range of arenas suggests that there are positive effects, such as increased self esteem and self confidence. There is also evidence that their views can influence service delivery, such as through Children’s Plans, in schools and in policy decisions at local and national levels. However, not all children wish to participate either in individual decisions or in matters of public concern. For them, respect and fairness may be more important than participation per se. There is also evidence that, in both organizational and individual decision-making arenas, bureaucratic management structures militate against relationship-based social work which is the cornerstone of empowering practice.

Currently we know little about outcomes, but what information we do have suggests that there may be critical differences where children are participating as a group on more general matters, such as in school councils, and where children are participating in individual situations, such as family meetings, reviews and child protection conferences. In those cases very personal material of a sensitive nature is being shared in a public domain, and skills and great care are needed to ensure their participation is experienced positively. Particular problems arise where, for example, their views on their individual care are in conflict with those of their adult careers or the professionals responsible for their care, such as where parents are separating or where they have been abused. The situation is nuanced and complex and the discourse of politicians, theoreticians, and researchers reflect these debates. These papers are an attempt to learn more about the views of children and young people in need on their involvement in decisions about their family life and their care, and to explore some of the transactions in decision-making processes between themselves and the professionals involved. How do children in the social care domain experience and make sense of the participatory processes they have experienced; what responses can or should professionals encourage and make of what they hear, both at individual and at agency levels; what skills and training do the professionals need and what contribution, if any, might participation play in children’s wellbeing or well becoming when they have been involved in decisions about their life?


Definitions of what ‘participation’ means and what it comprises abound. Kirby et al. describe it as a multi-layered concept which embraces notions of both process and outcome. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child 2009 General Comment (No.12) also notes the process and outcome aspects of participation, and describe how the term has evolved and is now widely used: …to describe ongoing processes, which include information sharing and dialogue between children and adults based on mutual respect, and in which children can learn how their views and those of adults are taken into account and shape the outcome of such processes. Most commonly the term ‘participation’ is now used in a broad sense to cover different types and levels of involvement, to describe a range of activities taking place in differing circumstances, involving different types of engagement, and including representation, consultation and advocacy in widely differing situations.

Participation as taking part

Participation literally means to take part or to share in. So at one level engagement in a social work intervention by the child or young person would constitute participation. Service users who do not engage do not participate. A key social work skill, be it in direct work with children, or in facilitating their involvement in consultations on the services they receive, is thus to engage the children and young people so that they are actively taking part in the process.

 Teaching Human Rights

Teaching Human Rights aims to serve as a user-friendly tool for human rights education and a multi-colored umbrella covering a number of basic human rights areas. Human rights may be generally defined as those rights which are inherent in our nature and without which we cannot live as human beings.

Human rights and fundamental freedoms allow us to develop fully and use our human qualities, our intelligence, our talents, and our conscience and to satisfy our spiritual and other needs. They are based on humankind’s increasing demand for a life in which the inherent dignity and worth of each human being are accorded respect and protection.

Their denial is not only an individual and personal tragedy but also creates conditions of social and political unrest, sowing the seeds of violence and conflict within and between societies and nations.

 The development of the human rights framework

 The history of human rights has been shaped by all major world events and by the struggle for dignity, freedom, and equality everywhere. Yet it was only with the establishment of the United Nations that human rights finally achieved formal, universal recognition.

The turmoil and atrocities of the Second World War and the growing struggle of colonial nations for independence prompted the countries of the world to create a forum to deal with some of the war’s consequences and, in particular, to prevent the recurrence of such appalling events.

This forum was the United Nations. When the United Nations was founded in 1945, it reaffirmed the faith in human rights of all the peoples taking part. Human rights were cited in the founding Charter as central to their concerns and have remained so ever since. One of the first major achievements of the newly formed United Nations was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948.

This powerful instrument continues to exert an enormous impact on people’s lives all over the world. It was the first time in history that a document considered to have universal value was adopted by an international organization. It was also the first time that human rights and fundamental freedoms were set forth in such detail. There was broad-based international support for the Declaration when it was adopted.

Although the fifty-eight Member States that constituted the United Nations at that time varied in terms of their ideology, political system, religious and cultural background, and patterns of socio-economic development, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights represented a common statement of shared goals and aspirations - a vision of the world as the international community would like it to be.

The Declaration recognizes that the “inherent dignity … of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” and is linked to the recognition of the fundamental rights to which every human being aspires, namely the right to life, liberty and security of person; the right to an adequate standard of living; the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution; the right to own property; the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right to education; the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; and the right to freedom from torture and degrading treatment, among others.

These are inherent rights to be enjoyed by all inhabitants of the global village (women, men, children and all groups in society, whether disadvantaged or not) and not “gifts” to be withdrawn, withheld or granted at someone’s whim or will.

Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in its early years, emphasized both the universality of these rights and the responsibility they entail when she asked:

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1998, Mary Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights, called it “one of the great inspirational documents of our human history.” It has served as the model for many national constitutions and has truly become the most universal of all instruments, having been translated into more languages than any other. The Declaration has inspired a large number of subsequent human rights instruments, which together constitute the international law of human rights. These instruments include the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), treaties that are legally binding on the States that are parties to them. The Universal Declaration and the two Covenants constitute the International Bill of Rights.

The rights contained in the Declaration and the two Covenants have been further elaborated in other treaties such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1966), which declares dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred as being punishable by law, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), prescribing measures to be taken to eliminate discrimination against women in political and public life, education, employment, health, marriage and the family. Of particular importance to anyone involved with schools is the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which lays down guarantees of the child’s human rights.

Adopted by the General Assembly in 1989, the Convention has been ratified by more countries than any other human rights treaty. In addition to guaranteeing children protection from harm and abuse and making special provision for their survival and welfare through, for example, health care, education, and family life, it accords them the right to participate in society and in decision-making that concerns them. Two Protocols to the Convention have recently been adopted, the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (2000).

 Chart of the Principal United Nations Human Rights Instruments


Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948

 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 1966

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), 1966

 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1966

 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,  1984

Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989

Promoting Human Rights

Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights have become central to the work of the United Nations. Emphasizing the universality of human rights, Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration that “Human rights are foreign to no country and native to all nations” and that “without human rights no peace or prosperity will ever last.”

Within the United Nations system, human rights are furthered by a myriad of different mechanisms and procedures: by working groups and committees; by reports, studies and statements; by conferences, plans and programmes; by decades for action; by research and training; by voluntary and trust funds; by assistance of many kinds at the global, regional and local levels; by specific measures taken; by investigations conducted; and by the many procedures devised to promote and protect human rights.

Action to build a culture of human rights is also supported by United Nations specialized agencies, programmes and funds such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and by relevant departments of the United Nations Secretariat such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Other international, regional, and national bodies, both governmental and non-governmental, are also working to promote human rights.

At the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna, Austria, in 1993, 171 countries reiterated the universality, indivisibility, and interdependence of human rights, and reaffirmed their commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They adopted the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which provides the new “framework of planning, dialogue and cooperation” to facilitate the adoption of a holistic approach to promoting human rights and to involve actors at the local, national and international levels.

 The United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004)

Not least of these activities to promote human rights is human rights education. Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration, the General Assembly has called on Member States and all segments of society to disseminate this fundamental document and educate people about its content. The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights also reaffirmed the importance of education, training and public information.

In response to the appeal by the World Conference, the General Assembly, in 1994, proclaimed the period 1995 to 2004 the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education. The Assembly affirmed that “human rights education should involve more than the provision of information and should constitute a comprehensive life-long process by which people at all levels in development and in all strata of society learn respect for the dignity of others and the means and methods of ensuring that respect in all societies”.

The Plan of Action for the Decade provides a definition of the concept of human rights education as agreed by the international community, i.e. based on the provisions of international human rights instruments. In accordance with those provisions, human rights education may be defined as “training, dissemination and information efforts aimed at the building of a universal culture of human rights through the imparting of knowledge and skills and the molding of attitudes and directed to:

(a) The strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms;

(b) The full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity;

(c) The promotion of understanding, tolerance, gender equality and friendship among all nations, indigenous peoples and racial, national, ethnic, religious and linguistic groups;

(d) The enabling of all persons to participate effectively in a free society;

(e) The furtherance of the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.”

The Decade’s Plan of Action provides a strategy for furthering human rights education through the assessment of needs and the formulation of effective strategies; the building and strengthening of programmes and capacities at the international, regional, national and local levels; the coordinated development of materials; the strengthening of the role of the mass media; and the global dissemination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 The process of human rights education in schools

A sustainable (in the long term), comprehensive and effective national strategy for infusing human rights education into educational systems may include various courses of action, such as:

• The incorporation of human rights education in national legislation regulating education in schools;

• The revision of curricula and textbooks;

• Pre-service and in-service training for teachers to include training on human rights and human rights education methodologies;

• The organization of extracurricular activities, both based on schools and reaching out to the family and the community;

• The development of educational materials;

• The establishment of support networks of teachers and other professionals (from human rights groups, teachers’ unions, non-governmental organizations, or professional associations) and so on.

The concrete way in which this process takes place in each country depends on local educational systems which differ widely, not least in the degree of discretion teachers may exercise in setting their own teaching goals and meeting them.

The teacher will always be the key person, however, in getting new initiatives to work.

The teacher therefore carries a great responsibility for communication of the human rights message. Opportunities to do this may vary: human rights themes may be infused into existing school subjects, such as history, civics, literature, art, geography, languages and scientific subjects, or may have a specific course allocated to them; human rights education may also be pursued through less formal education arenas within and outside schools such as after-school activities, clubs and youth forums.

Ideally, a human rights culture should be built into the whole curriculum (yet in practice, particularly at secondary level, it is usually treated piecemeal, as part of the established curriculum in the social and economic sciences and the humanities).

In the classroom, human rights education should be developed with due attention to the developmental stage of children and their social and cultural contexts in order to make human rights principles meaningful to them. For example, human rights education for younger children could emphasize the development of self-esteem and empathy and a classroom culture supportive of human rights principles.

Although young children are able to grasp the underlying principles of basic human rights instruments, the more complex content of human rights documents may be more appropriate to older learners with better developed capacities for concept development and analytical reasoning.



(2) Children’s rights


What are child rights?


Participation as engagement at different levels and in different arenas

Participation takes place in a range of arenas and at different levels, from inclusion in individual decision making, such as in initial child protection conferences and reviews, to involvement in promoting organisational change at local, regional, national and international levels. The levels of participation involved in these arenas vary both in terms of power sharing between children and adults and with regard to the nature and context of the event. In both individual decision making and in organisational change the effectiveness of participation depends both upon the skills of the practitioners supporting them, and also on the culture and organisation of the officiating body. The two are, of course, interdependent.

 Participation as achieving different outcomes

Participation is also aimed at achieving different outcomes, from personal empowerment in individual decision making to organizational change. In these diverse situations, as Sinclair, Wilson and Gibbs (2004) point out, the frequency and nature of the participatory activity will vary widely, as will the children and young people involved. For example, effecting the participation of looked-after children in reviews over a number of years is a very different process from involving children in schools in youth forums, and the outcomes to be achieved will also be different. A positive outcome of children’s engagement in their reviews could be increased self confidence. The outcome of a child’s involvement in a school council could mean that the play space is altered. Unpicking the difference between these participatory transactions and the skills involved is important if we are to understand the dynamics of relationships and organisations that endeavour to promote children’s participation, and to explore what gets in the way.

We use the terms ‘childhood’ and ‘children’ in the way defined by the law - as the period and stage up to age 18, the age of majority. We most commonly talk about ‘children’s’ participation, within which young people are subsumed. However, we are cognisant that there is, as James and James (2004) point out, a danger of using terms such as ‘childhood’, ‘child’, ‘children’, and ‘youth’ as a collective, since each child/young person is unique and his experiences and conditions hugely various. Government legislation and guidance for working with children is written as if  these differences did not exist. They do, and they impact profoundly on practitioners’ skills and capacity to involve children in important decisions that affect them. Hopefully the content of these texts does address these issues and takes into account and reflects individuality. Of course, the question of where the boundary with adulthood should be drawn is a tricky one, particularly when considering children’s competence to take part in decision making. In determining their competence, three factors are key: age, ability and culture. For example, in considering whether or how to involve a child in a child protection conference, age is significant. On the face of it a 16-year-old may present her views clearly and be less disturbed by what she hears than would a 9-year-old because she is ‘more mature’. But this does not take into account her intellectual ability, emotional capacity, family support or background. Neither does it allow for consideration of other abilities, such as mobility or communication – not necessarily linked to age. Nor does it take into account the disadvantages engendered by cultural difference, such as language, gender and custom.

.Participation as taking part

Two of the dictates of social work today are working in partnership and promoting engagement in the process of change through direct work. Involving children in social work interventions is the basis of practice that is effective and empowering - of participatory practice. Indeed, children who have not taken part in the work or felt respected as individuals in their own right are unlikely to engage in the process of change at all. There are both process and outcome goals of empowerment. Braye and Preston-Shoot define empowerment as ‘the process of taking control of one’s own life’, of moving from a position of vulnerability or lacking power toward a position of enhanced power. Individual empowerment is thus about personal development where feelings of self worth, strategies for coping and the idea of choice is instilled. Those processes – and so the outcomes that depend uponthem – can only happen where the children take an active role in their social work.

To illustrate some of the ways in which children can be helped to take part in their social work I give an example of an intervention with young children. I have chosen to describe a group work activity with young children in order to demonstrate that:

• The age of the children does not preclude their capacity to take part or be empowered

• A variety of social work methods – in this case group work with puppets - can be employed to achieve engagement

• Engaging children in a social work intervention can have as its outcome behavioural change which is empowering.

The example here is of work with young children, aged from 4 to 10, taking part in a parenting programme devised by Webster Stratton (Webster Stratton and Hancock 1998). In this programme, group work is undertaken with young children with behavioural problems, alongside the groups where their parents are being taught parenting skills. Part of the task is to engage both groups in the group work process and to sustain that engagement in order to teach them new skills and strategies for managing their relationship and personal problems. For the children, the objectives are to teach them to   manage their feelings, to make friends and to learn social and problem solving skills.

Here a 7-year-old boy describes his learning from the puppet, Tiny Turtle, and the technique he learned to manage his anger: ‘Stop – go into your shell [Tiny Turtle, the puppet’s shell] and do three deep breaths…going along, feeling angry – then, stop, go into your shell and take three deep breaths – feels better when he comes out of his shell…I did that when they were being nasty to me at school. And, yea, I will use it at other times – when I’m an adult. When I get into my car instead of smashing windows you go and ask them to move the car, don’t you.’ (Bell and Fisher 2004)

His participation in the work of anger management resulted in an important learning process which should enable him to better manage destructive emotions in the present, with all the positive knock-on and longer-term effects that skill could have for him in terms of his capacity to participate in wider issues and in later life.  

Other studies, such as the evaluation of Sure Start by Williams and Churchill (2006) have also identified practices which encourage empowerment in young children, such as self help and mutual support. The effects on the confidence and learned skills of children, even young children, are clear from these studies, and the knock-on benefits in terms of the rights agenda will be explored in more detail later. However, the picture is not all rosy. There are a number of difficulties in seeking the views of children on personal matters. A recent review on the literature on children’s participation and focus group interviews conducted with children by Participation Works (Davey 2010) found that in the most personal decisions that affect them children’s views are often not sought. This study covers individual health care, private law proceedings, child protection investigations, the immigration and asylum-seeking process and school exclusion as being areas where children’s views are often not sought, and where, if they do appear, they often have little impact.

Turning to taking part in organisational change, participation has become a key target for organisations in both the voluntary and statutory sectors. Investing in Children (see Cairns and Brannen 2005) provides a good example of an organisation that has had some success in engaging children and young people from a range of backgrounds and in promoting their opportunities to contribute to political debate in County Durham. It is a multi-agency partnership, begun a decade ago, that has successfully completed a number of projects to improve public services. The ‘730+’ was one project run by children with diabetes who wanted to improve their treatment. They interviewed hospital staff, organised focus groups and produced a report which resulted in better facilities at the local hospital and greater understanding of their needs.

However, while some specific projects in this initiative achieved success, others, such as better access to community resources, did not impact upon the political agenda. Williamson (2003) conducted an evaluation of Investing in Children and concluded that many of the changes ‘require a change in attitudes or in mind sets’, and that the developments would be difficult to sustain over long periods of time. Sustaining the enthusiasm and commitment of young people in organisational change is a challenge, especially where the results are unclear to them. In Danso et al.’s study (2003), where children within the care system had been given the opportunity to express their views, they felt that they were not taken into account. Danso suggests there is ‘consultation fatigue’, and reports ‘What’s the point?’ responses from children when asked if they want to take part in yet another consultation exercise. A particular problem was that the deadlines for completing projects and tasks were too tight, resulting in disillusionment all round. Lightfoot and Sloper (2003) also found that disillusionment sets in quickly if the ideas of the young people are not implemented, or they feel that their ideas are fed back to adults rather than to them (a process common with children with disabilities) and they sense the process was tokenistic. Linked to this is that they needed evidence that any participatory processes they had been involved in had some positive outcomes. While anecdotal evidence is relatively easy to come by, rigorous evaluations were not often demonstrated. So, while taking part is an essential starting point for children’s participation, and the values, skills and commitment of adults to engagement are similar whatever the arena, openness, honesty and clear feedback about results and outcomes is necessary to ensure the children do not end up thinking their voices were sought but not heard, and that the process was tokenistic.



(3) Children’s rights

We ask for our Rights (Children's Rights to Education and Health) (Video)

Children’s Rights


Participation at different levels

 Levels of active engagement can helpfully be seen in terms of the degrees of power sharing between adults and children. The earliest conceptualization of these aspects of power was delineated by Arnstein in 1969. In describing planning processes in the United States, she constructed a ladder of participation which delineated three levels of power sharing, from degrees of tokenism to degrees of citizen power.

Level 1 - Manipulation and tokenism: On the lowest rungs were manipulation and tokenism – both non-participant, the aim being to cure or educate the participants. The response of young people in the UK to Anti-Social Behavior Orders (ASBOs) provides a good example of how a policy intended to gain young people’s engagement in change, to ‘cure’ their bad behavior, has been experienced as tokenistic, and has been unsuccessful in achieving either their co-operation or a change in their behavior.

Level 2 – Informing, consulting and placation: At the second level, informing, consulting and placation are seen as legitimate steps. Providing information, for example in relation to how an assessment will be carried out, is an essential beginning to engaging young people in the social work process from assessment to review.

And information and feedback about what has happened are key aspects of motivation and engagement. Children’s participation at all levels depends upon the information that is made available to them at the outset, as well as whether their views are taken into account as an outcome. Consultation is also a key part of gaining the views of children, for example about their wishes in cases of parental contact. However, those processes can also involve degrees of tokenism. If a child is consulted but her views not taken into account the process is tokenistic and can result in a loss of trust between the practitioner and the child. Placation, also, can be tokenistic – for example, where selected ‘worthies’ are voted onto committees, or where, in individual work, children are assured that ‘everything will be all right’, when this cannot be guaranteed.

Level 3 – Partnership to citizen control: Finally the last three rungs of Arnstein’s ladder comprise degrees of citizen power which include partnership. Partnership comprises a redistribution of power – from delegated power through to citizen control. The redistribution of power is central to the process. Participation without redistribution of power is an empty and frustrating process for the powerless. It allows the power holders to claim that all sides were considered but makes it possible for only some of these sides to benefit.

Arnstein did not, of course, have children and young people at the centre of her conceptualization of power sharing. As we have already indicated, there are particular issues relating to adults’ ability to share power with children, and vice versa, which have more recently become central to the consideration of children’s participation. However, despite the fact that other writers have subsequently modified or adapted Arnstein’s ladder to reflect a process rather than a hierarchical view, all models do contain essentially the same components and are applicable to children and young people.

In considering social workers working in partnership with families in child protection Thoburn reduced the levels of partnership to three: information provision, consultation and active participation. At this time, following the publication of The Challenge of Partnership in Child Protection which outlined 15 principles for working in partnership with children and families, research commonly focused on unpicking social work practice to analyze what, within the client–worker relationship, promoted the empowerment of clients. Bell analyzed the transactions between professionals and 83 families involved in initial child protection conferences; Marsh and Fisher explored the relationship between social workers and service users in Bradford. While the detail of the analysis focused on social work practice – for example, the need for explicit consent and the use of negotiated agreement between client and worker – the conclusions of Marsh and Fisher were broader based in turning the focus from social workers’ practice skills onto organizational issues, in particular culture.

Users can play a key role in informing the development of policy and practice…but that belief in the value of partnership contrasts with the low recognition of users’ views. Staff may resist change towards participation, openness and information because they ‘do this already’.

Interest in refining conceptualizations of participation and partnership continued. Hart’s  ‘ladder of participation’ also comprises eight rungs, each rung describing different aspects of power sharing from nonparticipation – manipulation and tokenism – to degrees of participation.

The bottom three rungs continue to comprise manipulation, decoration (for example, where children wear T-shirts promoting a cause), and tokenism, where children’s views are heard but not acted upon (for example in some court proceedings). The remaining five rungs all include some genuine participation, up to the top rung where children initiate processes and share decisions with adults. These are situations where ‘children initiate their own project’ and where ‘they should be allowed to direct and manage the project.

Hart’s ladder is thus very similar to Arnstein’s although the discourse – reflecting the increasing concerns about children’s rights and children’s disempowerment – involves children as well as adults. Again, the structure is hierarchical and based on power, although Hart differs somewhat in where he draws the line between non-participation and degrees of participation. On Hart’s ladder the lowest three rungs are all non-participant.

Following this, the validity of the hierarchical concept of the ladder or pyramid, with the objective of striving for the top rung, was further questioned. In New Zealand Treseder developed a circular model to demonstrate how children and young people can be involved to varying degrees in project decision making. This model recognizes that in certain areas, such as schools and councils, children’s involvement will never result in children and young people completely controlling the decision that is made although they have contributed to it.

Treseder’s circular model takes into account the wide range of activities in which children are participating and the context in which decisions are made. His definition continues to be used. Participation Works base their review of children’s participation in home, family and school on an adaptation of his definition: ‘Participation is a process where someone influences decisions about their lives and this leads to change.’

An interesting dimension here is the association of participation with the ‘successful’ outcomes of influence and change, since this implies that, if change does not happen the process has not been participatory. Certainly, as will become clear when we look at the research on children’s experiences, the relationship between process and outcome is not straightforward. Children can feel they have participated, as they do in some of the family group conferences even if the outcome is not what they hoped for. The outcome the child is endeavoring to achieve may be different from the outcome the parent or social worker is aiming toward. So, although the outcome in terms of the decision made will be determined differently in terms of ‘success’ by the actors involved, the process can be empowering for the children because they have felt included. It is now more generally accepted that different levels of involvement and different mechanisms will be appropriate for different tasks and will also depend upon the outcomes to be achieved. Shier adapts the ladder to enable practitioners to determine which of five levels of participation is best, from listening through to sharing power. He also advocates organizations to think in terms of ‘openings, opportunities and obligations’.

Williams further develops the process view by stressing that the process is not a hierarchy where the ‘aim’ is to reach the top of the ladder. Kirby’s model is also circular, nonhierarchical and process based  Certainly, this shift in the conceptualization of process, from Arnstein’s steps on the ladder to Treseder, Kirby and Williams’ notions of circularity, does allow us to see children’s participation in both individual decision making and in organizational issues as progressive and nuanced. While some engagements may be experienced by a child as tokenistic, others may be fruitful, depending upon a wide range of factors. For example, the Participation Works survey of organizations and participation workers suggests that the age of the children was critical to their engagement. Secondary-school-aged children were more likely to be involved in decision making than primary-school-aged children. For example, children at Park View secondary school in Tottenham elect their own year representatives to take their views to the youth forum where decisions about catering, safety in school and saving for charities is discussed. From a girl in Year 8: ‘I’d like to make the school a happier and safer place and make sure everyone has a say.’




(4) Children’s rights

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Participation in different arenas

Clearly, the outcomes to be achieved by children and young people’s participation vary according to the arena in which the participation is happening. Theoreticians differ in their definitions of arena. Sinclair and Franklin separate private (within the family or between individuals) and public (service) arenas, but make a further distinction between decisions relating to an individual, and those relating to a group.

Kirby delineate participation as taking place in three areas:

• Where individual decisions are being taken about children’s own lives

• Where services for or used by children are being delivered locally

• Where national policies are being developed or evaluated.

Wright reduces this to two by collapsing the latter two together into ‘collective involvement in matters that affect them’, be they local or national services or policies.

A further way of defining arenas has been suggested by Moss, who conceives public provisions as ‘children’s spaces’. Spaces can be social, such as relationships, cultural, such as values and rights, and discursive, such as dialogue or deliberation. One of the key points illustrated by the research studies, is the importance of the ‘social space’ of relationship in facilitating children’s participation in decision making. Time and again, and in a variety of situations, such as in assessments and in leaving care, it is the children’s

relationship with their social worker that enables them to engage and take part. At an organisational level also, for example in school councils, the culture and dialogue of the interaction also contribute to the child having a voice which is heard suggest that the concept of children’s spaces alters ways of thinking about the relationship between professional and service users, so that both groups contain expertise and knowledge while the professionals are the facilitators. As we know from serious case reviews the information children can provide to professionals can be essential to safe decision making. Again, the idea of process and inclusion is central to this conceptualization of arenas and relationships, while the acknowledgment that all stakeholders bring expertise highlights a positive feature: that child also hold power although it may be expressed and experienced as different from adults.

These concepts convey different emphases in thinking about the connections between context, process and arena. Whatever the discourse, there is agreement that the participatory activities in which children and young people are involved occupy different spaces – and range from service planning and service development to situations where children may be involved as subjects in their own right Participation as achieving different outcomes.

Turning to the outcomes to be achieved in these varied arenas, there is some common ground that relates to process. Children’s engagement in both individual decision-making arenas and in organizational change, for example, shares features such as taking part and being committed.

From another pupil at Park View School: ‘School is not just about what my school and teachers can do for me, it’s also about what I can do for my school.’ (Bell 2011)

The capacity to present views clearly and to be heard is also important to achieve change, irrespective of the arena or the purpose of the enterprise. However, there are also differences in the intended outcomes.

In the case of individual decision-making arenas the outcome to be achieved is a personal one, often involving key decisions about where the child can live, who he or she can have contact with…and so on. The family group and the child are the most affected by the decision. In the case of organizational change, on the other hand, the objectives are to bring about change outside of self, that is, with the organization or policy. The process of participation will therefore also include some different aspects, such as consulting others in the group and presenting views effectively to a number of audiences. This girl from Park View School, representing Year 9, puts this succinctly: ‘Even though this is a leadership role, I don’t want to be seen as a leader. I would like to be seen as a representative.’ (Bell 2011)

And in the arenas of local services and national policies the mechanisms, skills, tasks and opportunities for being involved also differ. The Who Cares? Trust, for example, has resources, contacts and experience of meeting with ministers at national level which are not available to local groups involved in community initiatives – and their purposes may differ.

Despite the different goals of the participatory practice and the arena in which it takes place, there is evidence that positive outcomes are achieved by children’s participation, both in personal and in organizational domains. Although children’s estimation of the services they receive varies, a consistent finding is that they do value involvement in decisions which concern them, and that they are therefore more likely to maintain engagement which underpins change. All social workers and social work programmes, with all ages of children and young people, should therefore provide evidence that they engage children and their careers in the change process. Positive involvement and engagement underpin participatory practice, irrespective of the arena in which it takes place.

In relation to personal empowerment, the benefits for children of participation at both individual and organizational levels include learning new skills, such as presentation and negotiation, as well as increased self confidence and a stronger sense of self worth. This can happen at an individual level, in meetings and reviews, for example, as well as at an organizational level, in forums, councils, etc. The research carried out by Participation Works (Davey 2010) showed that children developed confidence and public speaking skills as a result of being a member of a school councilor youth forum. They had opportunities ‘to negotiate and think through problems from different angles and to use their own initiative’. Mostly these decisions were around what food they wanted rather than deciding how school budgets should be spent.

There is evidence that enhanced self esteem and greater self confidence are built upon children’s experiences that their views are valued. Research studies demonstrate that, where children are engaged in the therapeutic social work process, the objectives, for example, to teach new skills and strategies, are achieved. In some cases practitioners work specifically with a child to teach them how to manage their anger, as described previously in the account of the Webster Stratton children’s groups earlier in this chapter. In others the development of new skills can result from the self worth experienced as a result of the positive relationship and care devoted by the practitioner who can become the child’s ‘secondary attachment’ describes the importance of the role practitioners can play as a secondary attachment figure in child protection investigations.

However, before outlining some specific outcomes of personal skill development as a result of participatory practice, a note of caution. From the child’s perspective an outcome could be that they feel better, have a positive attitude, feel respected, and so on. Difficult to measure! From the agency’s perspective a positive outcome could be that more children have attended reviews or child protection conferences whereas, in fact, representation by other means might have been the child`s preference and more effective.

In practice, the young person may have experienced their review as a waste of time and boring or the young person may find that the school policy on bullying does not reflect the views she carefully presented in the school council – the process therefore may feel tokenistic and not worth the time and effort. Similarly, the child’s contribution to a social work record could be monitored, but would not necessarily provide evidence that the child had felt included, nor would it portray the quality of that transaction, nor of its effect on future events. This could really only be rated by the child and by longitudinal research.


(5) Children’s rights

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Positive outcomes: personal

Partnership and negotiation skills

Strategies learned in participatory practice provide excellent models of the transaction for the children involved. For example, in working toward partnership in the social work relationship, children are required to give their explicit consent to the involvement, where the contract of the engagement is negotiated and what it comprises. This can give a level of influence and an element of choice about the provision offered which can help young service users to understand their own wants and needs, as well as to learn and practise some of the processes of negotiating and prioritising. For example, a written contract, signed by the child, may include an agreement about times of meeting, what will be discussed and what it is hoped to achieve. Where social workers have worked toward such a contract, or helped children to include it in their records, it is far more likely that they will engage and co-operate. And these skills will stand them in good stead in future transactions, be they personal or business.

Feelings of self-worth and better behaviour Where young people have been engaged constructively in their social work or in consulting on policy issues, this also carries with it benefits which will further their capacity to participate in wider issues. Developing confidence and feelings of self-worth can enable them to deal with personal and family problems more constructively. Next texts will describe children’s experiences of child protection investigations. This quote from a 9-year-old boy illustrates how the gain in his self-confidence meant his behaviour substantially improved: ‘Since the ICPC things have got better because I’ve been going out and coming in at proper times and going to bed when I’m told. I’m fine now - my confidence has improved…speak better, sleep better…

at school, things are better because I used to fight nearly every day - but at this school I’m good.’ Such positive experiences can also empower children to become involved in issues outside the family, such as in community initiatives or school councils.

Voice and choice

Starkey introduces the notion of voice - that is, having a say in service provision - as a way of enabling young service users to be aware of choices, to exercise choice and to have the opportunity to voice dissatisfaction. This quote is from a 15-year-old girl who had been using drugs, and was talking about how her participation in a family group conference really helped her, as reported in next texts: ‘…I had the choice whether I wanted to go [to the drug scheme] or not and all the family around me decided whether it was a good idea and whether it was good for me. I think it was me that made the decisions really. So that’s good because I’ve never been able to do that before, I’ve just had social workers just making decisions for me, you know, without even consulting me, so that was really brilliant, because you get to decide yourself.’

It also provides a good example of what Lister conceptualises as ‘agency’ as it describes the process of acquiring the confidence to act in a purposeful, autonomous way, and to positively experience being taken seriously.

Identity and self-esteem

Having an awareness of agency contributes to identity and self-esteem and is, in turn, influenced by them. So, it is important that professional practices enable opportunities for the agency to be effected. Such processes provide important learning which can then be extended to the wider arena. Looked-after children who have good experience of assessments, conferences and reviews are well placed to transfer their learning to organisational issues.

The involvement of looked-after young people in the Who Cares? Trust can be seen as a product of their positive experience of and skills gained in a social work intervention. In 2009, the trust ran a project called Building Futures, where young people took part in an intensive three-day course to build confidence and prepare for the workplace before embarking on a fortnight’s placement. The overall aim of the project was to provide care leavers with work experience opportunities, which would enable them to gain valuable skills and experience to enhance their employment opportunities.

Better decisions

Participation can lead to more accurate, relevant decisions which are better informed and therefore more likely to be implemented. The importance of listening to what the child has to say in situations of child protection or domestic violence can not be over-stressed, as child abuse inquiries have many times brought home. And better decision making in agencies can also be a result of listening to children’s experiences of service delivery.

Positive outcomes: service delivery, policy and training Enhanced skills

In working toward organisational or policy change and in youth forums and councils, young people have developed skills of communication and presentation - verbally, in writing reports and in their use of technology. For example, in talking to a group of trainee social workers about her experience in care, Marie produced a brilliant PowerPoint presentation, some small group exercises for the trainees to work on and a role play exercise. Such experience and skills will stand her in good stead in an employment capacity.

Better services

At an organisational level, the benefits are that services become more responsive to the needs of children and young people, and more accessible and efficient as they are providing a more effective service. The study described in next texts illustrates a number of ways in which the local authority took on board the views of the children. For example,

the complaints procedure for young people was revised following consultation with a group of young people who had complained. As a result, the complaints officer was upgraded to the senior management group and a hotline to the assistant director was set up. This ensured that complaints were taken beyond the individual level and that the feedback was also given to the Area Child Protection Committee and to team managers. Clear time scales and the use of advocates from a voluntary agency ensured that the young person knew what had happened as a result of their complaints.

Contributions to other organisations, such as charities and research

The value of listening to the views of children has been demonstrated by the National Youth Agency, which maintains a database on participation. Their report (2008) says that 80 per cent of statutory and voluntary sector organisations currently involve young people in decision-making. Many children’s charities include an advisory group of young people.

And it is now considered good research practice to have a steering and/or consultation group led by or involving young people. An example of this is described later, where a young people’s group worked together with the researcher to identify what research questions about the Integrated Children’s System might engage the young service users as well as the most opportune environment for carrying out the research.

Input to resources and training

Young people, especially those who are looked after, are increasingly being involved in information distribution and advertising, and in training. Participation Works is a UK organisation set up to provide ‘online access to the world of children and young people’s participation’, including access to information and resources on, for example, rights and governance. Young people aged 16-19 are approved as trainers, and help to run workshops on Hear by Right (HBR), a tool designed to enable organisations to map and develop the extent of young people’s participation in their organisation.

Hear by Right comprises a set of standards for the active involvement of children and young people. The National Youth Agency (NYA) based the standards on the ‘Seven S’ framework, which forms a practical evidence-based model of how to achieve change in organisations and is thought to promote a shared dialogue between service providers and their users. The framework comprises:

• Shared values

• Strategies

• Structures

• Systems

• Staff

• Skills and knowledge

• Style of leadership.

The NYA have a brief to work with Children’s Trusts to embed Hear by Right, and many organisations, such as West Kent Housing and Cheshire Youth Groups, are using the tools created to improve their services. Young people are also involved in the delivery of training courses such as Ready Steady Change, a course introducing agencies to tools and materials to increase young people’s effective participation in decision making; and to the consultancy package, Building a Culture of Participation. Investing in Children, described earlier, also has a programme of staff development training which it delivers to partners and organisations. The training is delivered by two adults and two young people, its overall purpose being to create a greater understanding of the issues faced by children and young people in society. LILAC is an organisation, initiated by A National Voice (an organisation run by young people in care and care leavers), that recruits and trains young people in care to inspect local authority children’s services. The inspections are based on standards that the young people themselves have set, and the evaluation of pilot projects that they have carried out has demonstrated that they are able to open up and share truths with experienced inspectors (see

Influence on national and international policies

At national level, different groups of young people have taken on responsibility for influencing political decision-making and debate. The Children’s Rights Alliance, for example, seeks to promote the rights of children and young people and is proactive in encouraging young people to participate in their projects. The Alliance has appointed young people as full trustees on its Board of Management, and have recently taken part in England’s ‘Get ready for Geneva’ project, which campaigns for children’s rights in England to be respected and better protected. They are also involved in the international debate. Through the Geneva project, they form part of the United Nations’ reporting process for the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Also at an international level, the Who Cares? Trust is involved with the rights of young people in Zimbabwe.

Evaluating outcomes

However, although we can list a number of positive outcomes of children’s participation in organisational arenas, researchers do continue to evidence that, even when structures to promote participation have been put in place and models developed, there are continuing problems in evaluating outcomes. Wade (2003) suggest that there are two main questions organisations need to ask themselves: is there evidence that children and young people have been actively listened to, and is there evidence of change as a result?

There is evidence that local authorities do not formally evaluate the impact of their initiatives. Oldfield and Fowler found the limited use of monitoring and formal evaluation procedures in both the voluntary and statutory sectors. Franklin and Sloper also found that participation was fragile and often rested on a few individuals within an organisation. Where key staff had a wider remit this aspect was not always prioritised. There was a need for dedicated funding, not always available now nor in the longer term. And while there are requirements on local authorities and the courts to progress children’s participation, there are no formal mechanisms in place for evaluating outcomes.

In relation to children with disabilities, Franklin and Sloper found that more than half of the social service departments they researched could not indicate change resulting from the involvement of young people. Where change had occurred it referred to changes in the activities offered, rather than at a decision-making level.

Kirby et al. suggest four reasons why organisations fail to evidence outcomes:

• They lack confidence, being at an early stage in the process.

• They focus on monitoring rather than on outcomes (so they describe what they’ve done rather than what has changed).

• They have difficulty in evidencing possible outcomes, such as increased self-esteem.

• They find it difficult to attribute the change to the young people’s participation.

However, the problem does seem more endemic than Kirby thought.

The 2010 report by Participation Works identifies the same three key barriers to involving children.

The first was the low number of organisations who were proactively measuring the impact…the second and third…concerned the need for better promotion of the benefits…and…the need for better senior management commitment to children’s participation.

Overall, then, it seems outputs, rather than outcomes, are being evidenced. The Social Care Institute for Excellence’s review of service user participation also found little evidence of achieved outcomes. The worry is that the uncertainty about how to involve children in ways that bring about active change, including managing organisational change, is continuing. Some of these issues are explored in detail in next texts which report on a study in one local authority of the structures in place to collect and respond to children’s views.

This text has explored what participation means, discussed evolving definitions of the use of the term and looked at the outcomes that can be achieved in the different arenas in which children’s participation takes place. There are a number of ways in which children’s views can be elicited and represented, and these will be discussed in the next texts.



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