One of the fundamental challenges that schools and organisations that support young people face is how they can develop an authentic culture of information sharing and reporting by the young people under our care.
Ironically, in 2018, our initial and fundamental motivation for developing The Student Voice tool was to provide young people with brave spaces to share their concerns and to be active participants in their own school communities.
Professor Lundy’s model puts meat on those bones and provides us all with a framework that can guide and support schools in their quest to create an environment in which young people have the capacity to participate in their school community.
What participation is and what it is not
What it is:
In practice, participation means that children and young people should be involved in decision-making in everyday life and situations as well as in strategic developments, such as school policies, programmes, and services. Children and young people have expertise in their own lives, but they are not the only ones. Adults also have considerable expertise in the lives of children and young people, but do not always know how children feel, what they think, or what they like. Accordingly, it is important for adult decision-makers to listen to children and young people and give due weight to their views.
Although providing students with a voice that will be heard is obvious and central to any safeguarding culture; how this is effectively achieved is not always clear or understood.
What it is not:
There are a number of misconceptions about children and young people’s participation, some of which may serve to restrict their involvement in decision-making. To clarify, children and young people’s participation in decision-making is not:
- Handing over power to children and young people. It is about adults making decisions in ways that involve children and young people as fully as possible.
- Believing that children and young people are the only experts on their own lives –it is a combination of the adult’s and young people’s expertise that will enable better decisions to be made.
- Allowing children and young people to do things that are harmful or unsafe or that violate their other rights. Children and young people’s right to have their views given due weight may need to be balanced with their right to be protected from harm. In all cases, they are entitled to have decisions made in which their best interests are a primary consideration. Any decision about their best interests should consider the impact on their rights and should take children and young people’s views into account.
Giving due weight to children and young people’s views does not necessarily or always mean doing or achieving what children want. An effective way to give due weight to the views of children and young people is to give them information that helps them reach a clear position, respect and acknowledge what they want and discuss the safest, most realistic and best decision(s) with them. It is important to be transparent when explaining what is, and what is not possible and the reasons why decisions are taken.
Being realistic with young people and how to follow up on children and young people’s views and give them feedback
We have a responsibility to advise children and young people on effective ways to be realistic about their expectations and to be clear that children and young people may not always get the results they hope for. Although children and young people can be powerful and effective advocates for their own rights, their youth and their relatively powerless status means that they can only sustain this role when adults facilitate the process. Providing effective and realistic feedback to their views and voice is, therefore, a fundamental aspect to removing barriers to reporting.
Lundy recommends a four ‘Fs’ feedback process for consultations or collective decision-making processes with children and young people.
- Full: Provide comprehensive feedback to children and young people outlining which of their views were accepted, which were not accepted and the reasons for these decisions. This feedback should also note who is implementing their views and what is happening next.
- Friendly: Feedback or responses given by decision-makers to children or young people need to be in a format and language that they understand. They need to be informed about the findings of a consultation or survey and about how their views were given due weight.
- Fast: Children and young people quickly grow up and move on from things they are involved with, so decision-makers need to give them feedback acknowledging their contribution, outlining initial progress and giving information on next steps as soon as possible. This applies to all key stages and developments.
- Followed-up: Decision-makers need to provide ongoing feedback and information to children and young people throughout the policy or decision-making process.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends the integration of nine key principles that will support the successful implementation of student participation into school life:
- Transparent and informative– children and young people must be provided with full, accessible, diversity-sensitive and age-appropriate information. They must be told about their right to express their views freely, their right to have their views given due weight, and how their participation will take place, its scope, purpose and potential impact.
- Voluntary– children and young people should never be coerced into expressing their views against their wishes and should be informed that they can stop participating at any stage.
- Respectful– children and young people should be provided with opportunities to initiate ideas and activities, and their views should be treated with respect. Adults also need to understand the socioeconomic, environmental and cultural context of their lives.
- Relevant– the issues on which children and young people are asked to express their views must be of real relevance to their lives, enabling them to draw on their knowledge, skills and abilities. They should also be asked to address issues they themselves identify as relevant and important.
- Child friendly– all environments and working methods should be adapted to children and young people’s capacities. Resources must be available to ensure that they are adequately prepared and given the necessary confidence and opportunity to contribute their views. Different levels of support and forms of involvement (according to age and evolving ability) are needed.
- Inclusive (non-discriminatory)– participation must be inclusive, avoid patterns of discrimination, and ensure opportunities for marginalised children. Consideration must be given to ensuring that children enjoy equal access to the digital environments necessary for online participation. Children and young people are not a homogenous group – it is essential that equal opportunity is provided for all individuals within that group, so that all voices are heard. Every effort should be made to ensure that programmes are culturally sensitive and free from discrimination.
- Supported by training– adults need preparation and support to facilitate children and young people’s participation. This includes listening, effective cooperation and knowing how to engage with their evolving capacities.
- Safe and sensitive to risk– in certain situations, expressing their views may put children and young people at risk. Adults must take every precaution to minimise the risk of violence, exploitation or any other negative consequence of participating. This includes the development of a clear child protection strategy, which recognises the particular risks faced by some groups and the extra barriers they encounter. It should also pay particular consideration to the risks in the digital environment if children are participating online. Children and young people must be aware of their right to be protected from harm and know where to go for help. Investing in working with families and communities is important for building an understanding of the value and implications of participation, and for minimising the risks.
- Accountable – follow-up and evaluation are essential. This includes informing children and young people on how their views have been interpreted, used and, where necessary, giving them the opportunity to challenge and influence the analysis of the findings. Feedback on how their participation has influenced any outcomes is essential. Participation should be monitored and evaluated, where possible, with the children and young people themselves.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child’s statement in Article 12, that children and young people have the right to express their views provides schools and organisations that look after young people with clear guidance as to how we can remove barriers to reporting. Not only do we have a definition of what is and what is not student participation, but we also have a guiding set of principles and an effective model of feedback to frame our work. Next week’s blog will provide a practical guide as to how we can apply Lundy’s model to our settings and, in turn, promote and develop student voice and participation in the life of our schools.
By doing so we have the opportunity to remove barriers to reporting for all forms of harm and discrimination and will, in the process, be teaching future generations how to effectively use their voice and positively participate in the running of their and our communities……