How to increase participation

This page provides useful resources and information to support government and non-government organisations to create opportunities for children and young people to participate in democratic and decision-making processes.

Children and young people have a right to have a say in decisions that affect them and to have their views and opinions taken into account.

The ‘right to participate’ is set out in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the ChildThis right is a key principle of the Convention, meaning it is fundamental to the fulfilment of other rights, particularly for children and young people’s right to have their best interests promoted.  By listening to children and young people, and showing them that what they have to say is important, they learn that their voice matters and that they have rights and responsibilities in the same way that adults do.  They also learn the skills needed to become engaged and active citizens.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment No.12 (2009), “The right of a child to be heard” identifies participation as:

A term that has evolved and is now widely used to describe an ongoing process, which includes 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.

Benefits for Children and Young People

  • Improved services for children and young people.
  • Children’s rights are valued and used to improve policies, processes and practices across organisations or community groups.
  • Children and young people are seen as active participants in the development and implementation of policies and practices designed to promote their health and wellbeing.
  • Children and young people establish a sense of ownership and interest in decisions made within organisations.
  • Children and young people develop and expand their problem-solving, negotiation and communication skills and learn about democratic processes.
  • Children and young people learn the skills necessary to become active and responsible citizens.

Benefits for Organisations

  • Children and young people are acknowledged as part of the community of users of a service, ensuring that the services and activities offered are relevant to them.
  • The views of children and young people assist to plan, design, implement and evaluate existing services and activities to further engage and support children and young people.
  • Promoting children and young people’s participation enhances a culture of child safety and of listening to children and young people within an organistion.
  • Builds capacity within organisations to develop new skills, attitudes and ways of working to overcome barriers to children and young people’s participation.

Benefits for Society

  • Enables children and young people to engage with civil society to find solutions to current and future problems.
  • Promotes social integration and cohesion in society.
  • Encourages more children and young people to participate.
  • Improved policies, programs and services for children and young people leading to improved outcomes.

Many organisations, groups and individuals express an interest in involving children and young people in decision-making processes but may lack the confidence or knowledge to go about it.

Organisations and community groups may shy away from including children and young people in decision-making processes because of:

  • Scepticism about children’s capacity (or a belief that they lack capacity) to have meaningful input into decision-making.
  • A worry that giving children more control will undermine authority and destabilise particular environments.
  • Concern that children and young people’s participation will require too much effort which could be better spent on other priorities.
  • Time constraints and difficulty in providing the time needed to appropriately support children and young people’s involvement in the decision-making processes of an organisation.
  • Lack of resources.
  • Lack of specific skills to meaningfully engage with children and young people including an understanding of what participation means and what it involves.

These barriers can all be overcome by getting a better understanding of participation and taking gradual steps to increase children’s participation in your organisation’s decision making processes so you learn from the experience and refine the process.

Promoting children and young people’s participation is about creating opportunities for children and young people to express their views, share their experiences and engage in decision-making in a way that is safe, and developmentally and culturally appropriate.

Effective participation demands a whole-systems approach, combining five key elements:

  • Culture: The ethos of an organisation, shared by all staff and service users, which demonstrates a commitment to children and young people’s participation.
  • Structure: The planning, development and resourcing for participation is evident in an organisation’s structure.
  • Practice: The ways of working, methods for involvement, skills and knowledge that enable children and young people to meaningfully participate.
  • Review: The monitoring and evaluation processes that enable an organisation to evidence change effected by children and young people’s participation.
  • Process: If participation is to be effective, meaningful and sustainable, it needs to be understood as a process and not a one-off event and requires ongoing commitment in terms of time and resources.

Children and young people’s participation should include developmentally and culturally appropriate information, listening to their experiences and opinions and taking what they say seriously.

Children and young people should be asked whether they want to participate in decision-making processes. There will be occasions when children and young people do not want to be involved.

There are several models that provide a framework to guide meaningful participation and consultation with children and young people. 

More information on participation models can be found in the following document: Models of Participation and Empowerment

There are several effective ways for engaging with children and young people. Some of these examples include:

  • Face to face discussions with small groups
  • Focus groups
  • Brainstorming sessions
  • Inviting comments and feedback on particular pieces of work
  • Interactive websites and social media
  • Questionnaires and surveys
  • Creative interactive exercises
  • Community consultations

For more ideas and resources, please visit our resources page.

Members of the Commissioner’s Children and Young People Consultative Council in 2018 provided advice on how organisations could include children and young people in decision-making processes.