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Building an inclusive Europe The contribution of children’s participation



Contents 03













SETTING THE SCENE 12 12 13 14 14 15


1. The legal framework 2. A UNCRC complaints mechanism 3. Ombudsman for Children 4. EU initiatives on child participation 5. EU study on child participation 6. The state-of-play on child participation

GOOD PRACTICE FORUM 16 16 17 17 18 18 19 19 20


Sharing good practice in youth participation Giving a voice to young people Giving a voice to the very young Participation of young people as citizens Participation in peer support (healthcare) Participation of young migrants Participation of separated children and guardians Participation in research Participation in political decision-making


A.Education B.Non-Formal Education, Play, Recreation, Sports and Cultural Activities C.Health, Prevention, Early Intervention, Family Support and Welfare Services D.The Child Protection System E.Public Decision Making







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Eurochild held its 10th Annual Conference in Milan (Italy), 13-15 November 2013 on the topic: “Building an inclusive Europe – the contribution of children’s participation”

This report seeks to provide an overview of the main ideas, messages, thoughts and discussion points of the Annual Conference.

It was organised in the context of the 2013 European Year of Citizenship with the aim of increasing recognition of children’s agency, empowerment and influence on their own lives, their families and communities, and on society as a whole as citizens. The conference sought to bring examples of policy and practice that demonstrate the specific contribution of children’s participation in the fields of: • Education • Non- formal education, play, recreation, sports and cultural activities • Health, prevention, early intervention, family support & welfare services • The child protection system • Public decision making. The conference hoped to give meaning to the ‘participation’ pillar of the 2013 European Commission’s Recommendation “Investing in Children” and build on the 2012 Council of Europe Recommendation on the participation of children and young people. To ensure that the voices of children and young people were included in the Conference, Eurochild organised a Valuing Young People’s Participation Event, 11-15 November 2013. This brought together young people from several European countries to discuss issues around participation relevant to their lives and to feed into the Annual Conference discussions.

The report is set out under the following sections: 1. Welcome and introductory remarks – providing short quotes from introductory speakers 2. Setting the scene – providing an overview of the international legal framework and political mechanisms for supporting children’s participation and the current state of play 3. Good practice forum – presenting short summaries of examples of good practice in youth participation from across Europe in a range of different contexts 4. Study visits and workshops – presenting the main messages and discussion points of five thematic workshops and associated study visits to relevant projects in and around Milan 5. The voice of young people – setting out the work of the Valuing Young People’s Participation Event and the main messages it provided to the Conference 6. Panel debate – providing an overview of the key messages and discussion points of a discussion panel of experts held on the final day of the Conference 7. Closing remarks – setting out the main ideas in the key-note speeches that concluded the 10th Annual Conference Quotes are highlighted in blue throughout the report so that the reader can easily skim the text and identify the main points addressed at the Conference. Further details on speakers and presentations are available on the Conference website: Contact: Published in March 2014.

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Acknowledgements Eurochild would like to thank the co-hosts of the 10th Eurochild Annual Conference: L’Albero della Vita Foundation, in co-operation with the Italian National Ombudsman for Children, the Municipality of Milan and the PIDIDA network. Thanks go to the staff and members of those organisations and Eurochild who helped make the event a success Thanks also to all the speakers, chairs, facilitators, rapporteurs and exhibitors, who contributed their valuable time and expertise. Particular thanks go to ‘People Dialogue and Change’ and the ‘University of Central Lancashire Centre for Participation’ for their work around the Valuing Young People’s Participation event and special conference sessions. Thanks go to Professor Laura Lundy (Centre for Children’s Rights, Queen’s University, Belfast) and Dr Helen Stalford (European Children’s Rights

Unit, University of Liverpool) for drafting the background paper which informed the conference discussions (and is available on the conference website). This report was written by Ed Thorpe of Thorpe European Services (external consultant). Contact: Eurochild gratefully acknowledges the financial support for this event provided by the Lombardia Region and the PROGRESS programme of the European Commission. The views expressed by Eurochild do not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of the European Commission. For more information see: employment_social/progress/index_en.html

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Executive Summary The 10th Annual Eurochild Conference brought together more than 270 experts on children’s participation, including young people, NGO representatives, researchers, politicians and officials. Together they highlighted the importance and value of children’s participation for children themselves, their families, the communities they live in and society at large. The Conference was able to reflect on a number of political commitments and initiatives to support the participation on children and young people. These covered the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the creation of National Ombudspeople and the EU’s Recommendation on Investing in Children. Everything we do involves children’s participation. When we give them a voice, we make better choices in how we use our resources.” Jana Hainsworth, Eurochild Secretary General “In all measures taken or planned, the goal should be to ensure as much as possible participation of children themselves.” László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion The Conference discussed and presented a number of good examples from across Europe of making the participation of children and young people work. This covered participation in a range of contexts from political decision-making to health services and from care arrangements to listening to the very young. Nevertheless, the participants identified a significant number of remaining barriers and obstacles to making participation work in practice. These vary from changing the attitudes of adults, supporting young people without controlling them, taking sufficient time, providing safe spaces, enabling different methods of communication and ensuring effective feedback and accountability in participatory processes.

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“I have heard many good practices, projects, commitments, and plans that are working. [But] many representatives of public institutions are still more involved in rhetorical practices than real engagement.” Vicenza SPADAFORA,

Italian National Ombudsman for Children

“Participation needs transparency, respect, training, safe environments and accountability. It is a challenge and we must admit that.” Gordana BERJAN,

Head of Unit Council of Europe Children’s Rights Policies Co-ordination

More needs to be done to support child participation. Young people at the conference made a strong appeal to be listened to, taken seriously and for their voice to make a difference.

“Listen to us and act. Make changes... based on our recommendations.” “It is important that what we write is not ignored or just confined to this conference.” Young People at the Conference


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Welcome Welcome to Milan. The contribution of ideas and experiences here will be a great opportunity to move from exchanging principles to identifying the best practice for respecting the rights of young people.


Director of Projects and Research, L’Albero della Vita

The conference took a year to prepare. Thanks to Eurochild, the Municipality of Milan and all the other partners who have worked on it. Pierfrancesco MAJORINO

Councillor for Social Policies and Health Culture; Municipality of Milan

We hope to have a dynamic debate with key people to challenge some of the work that has been done around child participation and plan for the future to deliver meaningful engagement with children.

This event is so important we have been here for two days already to prepare. We wanted to bring some young people to work together on the topic of participation.


Secretary General; Eurochild


Coordinator of Participation Group; PIDIDA

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President, Eurochild

I am delighted we chose to focus on the participation of young people. Every year we have children participating, but hopefully this year is something new and different – really incorporating young people well into the main programme.

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Introductory remarks Children are not a B class. We need lots of brave actions for the emancipation of young people, such as regional ombudsmen for children and young people. This is an area where no time can be lost.

Pierfrancesco MAJORINO Councillor for Social Policies and Health Culture; Municipality of Milan

Children represent the future of all our countries. But we should not only think of children as the future, they are also the present.

It is a challenge for all of us to understand how children view the world and not just to work for children but to work with children. Childhood in Italy is until 18. You need different tools and channels to talk to all those ages Lorenzo BOCCHESSE

Coordinator of Participation Group; PIDIDA

Some young people ask: ‘What is the point of talking if there is no follow-up?’ They are tired of words. They say: “I trust you as an institution, if you as an institution trust me.”

Children are not mini adults with mini rights. They are full rights holders from birth. Hopefully it is becoming more obvious that children are part of the discussion. Maria HERCZOG

President, Eurochild

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Setting the scene 1. THE LEGAL FRAMEWORK

2. A UNCRC COMPLAINTS MECHANISM On 19 December 2011, the UN General Assembly approved a third optional protocol to the UNCRC enabling individual complaints by children (or associations on their behalf ) regarding specific violations of their rights under the Convention and its first two optional protocols.

Margaret TUITE

Coordinator for the Rights of the Child European Commission, DG Justice, Child Rights Coordinator

Child rights are established in European and international law: • The promotion and protection of the rights of the child is an objective of the EU as set out in Article 3.3 of the Treaty on European Union. • Children are recognised as independent and autonomous holders of rights by Article 24, Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU • “A child’s right to be heard on matters which concern them in accordance with their age and maturity is guaranteed by Article 12, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)” UNCRC Article 12 is reflected in EU27 national legislation as follows: • In the constitution of 10 Member States • In one or more pieces of legislation of 14 Member States • Nowhere in national legislation of 3 Member States Article 12 is most likely to be reflected in legislation concerning: • Education - 27 Member States • Care - 23 Member States • Justice - 18 Member States For more information on the Legal Framework of child participation, see Annex One: The Background Paper.

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The Committee on the Rights of the Child is a body of 18 independent experts - including Maria Herczog, President of Eurochild – that monitors implementation of the UNCRC and its optional protocols. All States party to the UNCRC are obliged to submit regular reports to the Committee on how child rights are being implemented. It is also the Committee which will consider individual complaints by children under the mechanism provided by the third optional protocol.

Maria HERCZOG President Eurochild Member, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

“In the Committee on the Rights of the Child, we are pushing the third optional protocol of the UNCRC. However, [there is only so much we can do] as one Committee since we do not get extra funds for this work. [Therefore] we want extra mechanisms at local and national level for children to complain to, rather than having to go straight to the UN.” “Regional complaints mechanisms should offer good practice in terms of participation; children must be listened to and taken seriously.”


Question from the floor: Why is the protocol optional? Should we not be forcing governments to create the spaces for young people to complain?

“Participation is often seen as an occasional activity. Participation and listening should be considered a fundamental energy for defending the rights of children and young people.”

Answer: “All protocols to the Convention are optional. But even in the countries that ratify it, taking a complaint to the UN can only be a last resort. The debate about the issues of child participation and the local mechanisms for hearing the child are more important than the protocol itself.”

“The Office of the Italian Children’s Ombudsman was set up in 2011 and became fully operational in 2012. It took a long time to set up and many people worked very hard to have this truly useful service for young people. We hope children and young people can contact the Ombudsman directly to have a constant check on the respect of their rights.”

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has consistently encouraged States to establish special independent offices to promote the human rights of children. The Council of Europe’s 1996 European Strategy for Children also proposed the appointment of “a commissioner (ombudsman) for children or another structure offering guarantees of independence, and the responsibilities required to improve children’s lives.”

“We also have regional Ombudsmen. There has to be co-operation between all the bodies and institutions involved in all parts of the lives of the child at local level. However, we have found that different places are performing very differently. We are aware that it is the adults that are the main barrier to the participation of young people.”

3. OMBUDSMAN FOR CHILDREN Many European countries now have a dedicated Children’s Ombudsman – other Member States include the role more or less explicitly within another body such as the National Council for Children in Denmark or the broader ‘Defender of Rights’ in France. The main roles required are: to advise children on their rights and how to exercise them; and to work with children, listen to their views and complaints, and give them due consideration.

Bernard DE VOS

President of the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC)

“Many migrant children are not in a position to understand their rights. But, they have the same rights as children born in the country and to a future.” Bernard de Vos presented the trailer for a video called Children on the Move - Children First, which has been produced by ENOC and can be seen online.


Office of the Italian Ombudsman for Children and Adolescents

“The video gives a voice to migrant children who talk about the reasons they left their home country and the dangers of the trip, but also their hopes and dreams for the future. Governments often treat them like animals moving them from here to there as if the fact their lives were bad before makes it not so bad. The video was based on the principle that Articles 12 and 13 of UNCRC apply equally to all children regardless of their refugee status or the country they were born in.”

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ect and a Fundamental Rights Agency study on children’s involvement in judicial proceedings and approaches to the child’s right to be heard • a dedicated study of child participation in the EU (see next page)

European Forum on the Rights of the Child

Margaret TUITE

Coordinator for the Rights of the Child European Commission, DG Justice, Child Rights Coordinator

The EU Agenda for the rights of the child, adopted in February 2011, sets out the strong commitment of the EU Member States and institutions to defend the rights of the child. It strives to ensure that EU legislation and action is exemplary with regard to rights of the child, is clearly aligned with the UNCRC and has a focus on the child’s right to be heard. To support this, the European Commission has established two working groups on the rights of the child: an inter-departmental group to coordinate work internally and an informal expert group.

The 2012 edition focused on how implementation of the EU Agenda could support Member States’ child protection systems. It identified the need for better coordination, evidence-based decision-making and the importance of non-formal actors (families and communities). This year’s forum (17-18 December 2013) will seek further input for future EU Guidelines on child protection systems.


Recommendation on investing in children In February 2013, the Commission (EC) adopted a Recommendation which calls on EU Member States to step up their social investment targeted towards children to prevent problems of disadvantage. It makes child participation one of its three pillars to underpin EU and national activities. The EC also launched EPIC - a European Platform to promote good practice in Investing in Children.

Studies and data collection The European Commission has led and engaged with research initiatives to improve understanding and awareness of issues around the participation of children and the child’s right to be heard in EU28 countries: • overview studies of child-friendly justice in each EU28 Member State, including engagement with an European Parliament pilot proj-

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Margaret TUITE

Coordinator for the Rights of the Child European Commission, DG Justice, Child Rights Coordinator

“The discourse is shifting from if a child should be heard, to how a child should be heard” “The European Commission is just finalising a study to map legislation, policy and practice on child participation in the EU Member States and to evaluate the work done by the EU institutions on child participation. The study has looked at cultural attitudes to participation as well as enablers and barriers. There is also a child-led research strand.” “We have decided to publish the mapping in full, for each Member State, rather than reducing it to an overall analysis. The outputs will include a catalogue of resources that can be used to foster child participation and a catalogue of good practice. Participa-


tion is strongest at school and local municipal level, with some good examples to be found.” “However, sometimes children are seen as in need of protection, rather than as actors in their own right. Child participation rights for children with special needs are less likely to be respected if they are in mainstream schooling and participation of those with mental health problems or in alternative care is poorly defined in many countries.” “Child participation activities have typically arisen from cultural initiatives rather than a rightsbased approach. This creates a tendency for consultation but not really participation.” “Overall, the researchers found that child participation is viewed as a ‘soft’ policy area. There is little evidence of cross-departmental work on child participation and there is insufficient appetite for greater investment. The best performing countries tended to have a central coordinating body with responsibility for child participation. The most common barriers seemed to be a lack of understanding and awareness of the strong potential of participation.” “Respondents cited a lack of guidelines on how to implement international legislation on child participation. Some Member States have added additional constraints such as the imposition of age thresholds to participation activities, [often] excluding younger children who are deemed incompetent of exercising their participation rights.


ntroduction to children’s participation “We need to be aware of our own prejudices on the capacity of children and ensure we are not preventing them from acquiring or demonstrating capacity.” “It is timely approaching the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to look at where we are now: what have we achieved and what still needs to be done? There has been a lot of progress with thousands of initiatives all over the world incorporating a range of approaches to child participation and a strong growth in child-led organisations.” “Participation can also be a risk for children – it exposes them to retribution like any group that speaks out and challenges an existing power base. Children need the opportunity to be heard, but they also need adult support to enable them to do so effectively and safely.” “We need to work in the political realities of the world we are in and provide evidence that allowing children to participate in decisions affecting their lives is better. At the same time we must remain strong in saying that this is an issue of fundamental human rights that should not need an evidence base.” “The Council of Europe has published a recommendation on child and youth participation and has been developing an assessment tool with 12 indicators for measuring the participation of young people. Many NGO partners are involved in the creation of a monitoring and evaluation toolkit on child participation. This can help identify best practice in supporting and enabling participation and improve the quality and impact of participation.” “We need to move on from a dependency on shortterm participation projects.” The constant arrival of new children and the departure of children into adulthood has important implications for the sustainability of efforts on child participation. Human rights education in schools is essential. We also need to formalise the creation of spaces for children to participate and not just school councils with no power or impact.”


International children’s rights consultant and advocate

“A priority now is to move beyond participation as a privilege for the few towards an entitlement for every child.”

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Good practice forum Even for those firmly committed to the concept of youth participation, working out how to deliver effective participation in practice can be a challenge. Twelve speakers presented examples of good practice in youth participation from three speakers’ corners during an inspiring forum session.

SHARING GOOD PRACTICE IN YOUTH PARTICIPATION The digital communications strategy for children’s participation Tricia YOUNG,

Child-to-Child Trust, United Kingdom

The Child-to-Child Trust (CCT) is an international child-rights agency located at the Institute of Education, University of London. It works to realise and mainstream children’s right to participate across the world covering public and private sectors of activity as well as NGO programmes. It has identified the need to share good practice in delivering youth participation. The CCT is establishing a digital hub to provide a forum for dialogue, debate, information exchange and communication on child participation. It is aimed at a global network of child participation practitioners and agencies. The core principle of the hub is that child participation works, but by working together we can make it work better. Through international exchange it seeks to improve standards in child participation and demonstrate the impact of good practice. The hub is to be launched in the near future and participants were asked to vote on its name.

PARTICIPATION IN A YOUTH ORGANISATION That’s youth participation…right? Challenges faced, lessons learned and successes in ensuring young people are actively influencing decisions of a national youth organisation. Sarah HASLAM, Foróige, Ireland

Foróige is a national youth organisation working with

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nearly 57,000 (1 in 8) people aged 10-18 in Ireland. Its purpose is to enable young people to involve themselves consciously and actively in their own development and in the development of society. Foróige introduced a Youth Participation Advisory Committee (YPAC) to actively influence its own work. The YPAC has led to some important changes in the organisation’s policies and service delivery, including: the inclusion of young people on Foróige’s interview panels; Foróige’s support to lowering the voting age to 16; and staff and young people attending training together. Foróige has long been clear that ‘youth participation’ must mean young people actively influencing decisions. Nevertheless, the organisation has learnt a lot about how to deliver youth participation effectively in practice, especially understanding the time, commitment, expertise and support required for young people, staff and volunteers to make the process work.

GIVING A VOICE TO YOUNG PEOPLE The OneMinutesJr – empowering young people to share their stories in short films Chris Schuepp,

UNICEF, Young People’s Media Network, Central & Eastern Europe and CIS

The oneminutesjr network is a non-political, non-commercial community supported by UNICEF seeking to give (especially marginalised) young people (12-20) the opportunity to have their voices heard by a broad audience. Young people from all over the world are supported to give free voice to their ideas, dreams, anxieties and viewpoints through the creation of a sixty-second video. In 5-day workshops, UNICEF and partners train around 20 young people in all aspects of film-making - including idea development, script-writing, acting, filming and editing. The participants learn a lot of skills, experiment with their talents and are empowered to tell their unique story in their own 60-second video. The films are shown at the end-of-week ‘big screen premiere’, made available online and used at conferences, film festivals, TV broadcasts and in schools.

The personal story-telling mixed with a group approach and a fun atmosphere leads to fascinating insights into the lives, fears, hopes and dreams of the young people in a short, sweet, visual and direct way. It also encourages them to keep sharing their stories. The videos can be seen online at and the network is keen to welcome new members.

GIVING A VOICE TO THE VERY YOUNG Small Children’s Participation – Stories by Us Johanna SOMMERSPIIROINEN, Save the Children, Finland

Save the Children Finland (SCF) is an experienced and nationally influential actor in the field of media education. SCF currently emphasizes children’s own media culture, participation and bringing out children’s voices. It has notably looked at how to create spaces and ways to hear stories, views and experiences from children - especially the very young. SCF has conducted the ‘Empowering Participation in Children’s Media Life’ project which focused on children under 9 and the adults working with them. It involved children as partners and informants in developing learning environments and activities for developing digital media skills. The project used digital media – including smartphones, video diaries and cameras - to capture children’s own thoughts, stories and experiences. The project strongly promoted learning and exchange between early-education professionals. Many practices have changed and professionals have shared a lot of inspiring new ideas. Children were em-

powered to express themselves in the project, but the most immediate changes were seen in the attitudes and pedagogical thinking of the adults.

PARTICIPATION OF YOUNG PEOPLE AS CITIZENS Young people as part of the Solution: the Foróige Youth Citizenship Programme Bernadine Brady,

UNESCO Child & Family Research Centre, Ireland

Foróige – Ireland’s largest youth organisation – developed a programme to promote community awareness and connection among young people. It has followed a youth-led model of civic engagement to facilitate young people from a variety of social backgrounds becoming agents of change in their own communities. Each year through the Foróige Citizenship Programme over 2,000 young people (12-18) in around 130 youth groups across Ireland identify and then respond to a community issue. The process is supported by an adult volunteer or staff member but is entirely led by the participating young people. Activities developed have included services to the elderly, responses to local crime, road safety initiatives, environmental improvements and intercultural exchanges. The young people are also helped to evaluate and learn from their actions. Every year an average of 150 projects are showcased at regional awards, from which 10 are selected to take part in a televised national awards ceremony. It encourages young people to feel more connected to their community and to be seen as part of the solution rather than as part of the problem.

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PARTICIPATION IN PEER SUPPORT HEALTHCARE Staying Well with a Long Term Condition: Young People’s involvement in their own health care management Amy JOSS,

Action for Sick Children Scotland, UK

Action for Sick Children Scotland’s (ASCS) is the only charity dedicated to informing, promoting and campaigning on behalf of the needs of all sick children and young people within the Scottish healthcare system. It developed an innovative participatory approach to help young people with a range of long-term illnesses to cope better with their conditions and live as full and healthy a life as possible. Stay Well Lanarkshire developed and delivered nine self-management workshop programmes for 51 young people (11-18) with a long-term health condition. They were not illness specific, but focused on the general impact long-term illnesses can have on quality of life and sharing experiences with other young people. As well as peer support, the sessions gave young participants the opportunity to make new friends and have some fun. The project (2009-2012) developed a DVD and a new leaflet ‘Talking about my Health Condition’. Feedback from the young people, their parents/carers, health professionals and teachers was extremely positive. They described huge increases in the young people’s self-confidence, communication, social inclusion and in their understanding of how to live more healthily with a long-term condition.

PARTICIPATION OF YOUNG MIGRANTS The Cost of Waiting: Young migrant’s research and campaigning on the UK immigration process Laura MAXWELL,

Praxis Community Projects – Right to dream, United Kingdom

Praxis Community Projects is a charity with 30 years’ experience in human rights and social jus-

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tice. Praxis has worked with partners to support ‘Brighter Futures London’, an active group of young asylum seekers, refugees and migrants (aged 16-26) with roots in a variety of countries and continents. In 2013, the self-advocacy youth group Brighter Futures carried out a participatory research project on the costs to a young person of waiting for a decision from the UK Border Agency on their immigration case. The young people received training on research methods and ethics before using interviews, focus groups, and photo voice to hear the views of other young migrants. The young people analysed the data from the research and co-authored a report: The Cost of Waiting. The report provides powerful testimonies of the negative impact of a ‘life in limbo’ waiting for an asylum decision. The group made strong recommendations on the immigration process and the rights of young migrants to work, to education, to personal development and to access mental health services.


States. They talked about the qualifications and responsibilities of the guardian in relation to reception, return, legal procedures and a durable solution for the child. Separated children stated what they would do if they were guardians. Their voices helped inform the development of core standards for guardians. The core standards were launched in the European Parliament in 2011. Whilst the hope is that countries will harmonise guardianship of separated children around the core standards, individual guardians can already use them as a guide for their work. A follow-up project is now involving separated children and guardians on overcoming the barriers to implementation of the standards.

PARTICIPATION IN RESEARCH Pressure points of participation: where the institution meets the ideology Joanne WESTWOOD,

University of Central Lancashire, UK

PARTICIPATION OF SEPARATED CHILDREN AND GUARDIANS Closing a protection gap: ‘If I were a guardian…’ Separated children and guardians speak up Martine GOEMAN, Defence for Children International, The Netherlands

Defence for Children International (DCI) is an independent NGO promoting and protecting children’s rights across the globe. DCI identified that separated children - under-18s living outside their country of origin and separated from their parents or their previous primary caregiver - receive drastically different guardianship protection from one EU country to another. Furthermore, the voice of both guardians and separated children is largely missing from the policy-making. The DCI-led project ‘Closing a protection gap’ collected the views on guardianship of 127 separated children and 68 guardians in eight EU Member

The Centre for Children and Young People’s Participation in Research is a research group in the University of Central Lancashire. Set up in 2008, its primary aim is the meaningful and sustainable participation of children and young people in research which concerns them. In 2012, it hosted the 2nd International Childhood and Youth Research Network (ICYRNet). Children and young people are actively involved in managing the CYPP research group, planning the programme, designing projects and carrying out research. For example, young disabled people have researched the impact of welfare cuts on their group; young people have evaluated an advocacy project which aimed to support them; and young people took ownership of participatory processes to assess the performance of their support workers. The Centre has on several occasions been commissioned to do research with children and young people and currently has three funded research students working on aspects of children and young people’s participation. The Centre runs a lively seminar/webinar programme, which it promotes internationally through social media.

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Young People as Partners in Research Elinor BRUNNBERG, Mälardalen University


Örebro University,Sweden

ICU CHILD is a Swedish research programme bringing together academics from a range of disciplines to look into children’s rights and participation in health and social welfare. Based on the idea of ‘I See You’, the programme has the sub-title ‘Interested in Children, Youth and their Understandings’. The programme engaged young people as research partners to look into the perceptions and experiences of young people in schools. The universities sent an invitation to students in (upper) secondary schools (15-19), including schools for pupils hard of hearing. Selected young people met every other week for more than six months, helping design both a survey and focus group sessions with creative elements aimed at young people in schools. They remained involved in collecting and analysing the data and producing the final report. The team had no leader, but was facilitated to bring in all the voices. For the researchers, the involvement of young people provided new perspectives and challenged existing perceptions. The young researchers appreciated that their knowledge and opinions on young people in schools were valued and listened to. They also learnt about the Rights of the Child and advanced research techniques. An interesting finding was that additional strategies may be needed both to reach boys and to improve accessibility in and between meetings.

date, mainly by delegates nominated by the Student Councils of secondary schools. It holds plenary working sessions every two months and an annual parliamentary session on a chosen theme. The work of the CCP has influenced national political decisions, for example around the appointment of the Ombudsman for Children’s Rights, abolishing corporal punishment in schools and improving the accessibility of school buildings. The CCP has recently focused on raising issues around the needs of migrant and refugee children, and children living in situations of poverty. The CCP is now in the process of establishing a monthly dedicated radio program to bring forward issues of importance to them and a permanent newspaper column (in 2 different newspapers) to disseminate their ideas, suggestions and concerns regarding the implementation of children’s rights.

PARTICIPATION IN POLITICAL DECISION MAKING Partnership with children – for a stronger influence of children in society Mila JELAVIĆ & Davorka OSMAK FRANJIĆ, Croatian Ombudsperson for Children

The Ombudsman for Children in Croatia has looked at different ways to encourage children to express their views including visiting schools and receiving groups of children in the office.


In 2010, the Ombudsman’s office created a Network of Young Advisors (NYA) comprised entirely of children to act as an advisory body. The NYA uses an online forum, surveys and consultation sessions to gather the views of young people. The work of the NYA has achieved a change to the criminal code raising the age of consent for sexual activity to 15, launched a Croatian parliament debate on how sex education should be taught in schools and contributed messages to a national campaign to prevent violence against children.

The Cyprus Children’s Parliament (CCP) was established in November 2000. It is a permanent institution with the aim of achieving the active, collective participation of children in decision-making. The 80 members are elected for a two-year man-

The Ombudsman’s office has learnt that: whilst it can bring up topics for discussion, it is often better to let the young people take charge right from the start and raise the topics they want to address; there is no need to shrink back from difficult topics; and there is no need to be afraid that children will find political issues boring.

PARTICIPATION IN POLITICAL DECISION MAKING Organised children can make a difference on the national decision making level Cyprus Children’s Parliament

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Study visits and workshops Children and young people’s participation in:



School ITSOS Albe Steiner

Experimental Institute Rinascita Livi

Foundation ACRA CCS – participants met 16-17 year-olds who produce their own blog, films and radio programmes through a project which has been running for nine years. Around 100 children are currently involved in the project.

Participants met the School Council children of a middle-school, which is one of only three of its type in Italy. It is state-run, but has a longer school day with time for ‘social activity laboratories’, including music and art groups.



Participants saw that the young people had a strong sense of ownership of their (social) media products. However, they were interested to note that the original project framework was not created by them, but proposed by the school, working with the foundation.

Participants were struck by the confidence and eloquence of the children and the ease of their relationship with adults. Teachers seemed to really listen to the children and parents were also strongly engaged with the school. Participants left enthused and encouraged.

WORKSHOP PRESENTATION WORKSHOP PRESENTATION What about mediation between pupils and teachers?

MIRA - Migration, Integration, Reflection, Attitude HASHEMINIK,

Huddinge Municipality

Albert SABAT

Apprentis d’Auteuil, France

Abdullahi MAHMOUD MOHAMMED, Sweden

“Peer mediation programmes can be great at resolving conflict and difficulties between young people. Fondation d’Auteuil has developed a different approach to mediation in schools, involving not only pupils, but also their teachers. Students learn how to resolve disputes with words instead of physical confrontation. Teachers also learn how to resolve better their own disputes with pupils.” “Children participate in the fitting out of mediation rooms, and assist adult mediators. Testimonies from young co-mediators show that they learn a lot from the conflicts they observe but do not personally take part in.”

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“MIRA is a project that uses non-formal educational tools in high schools to build capacity and empower newly arrived young migrants to participate in different aspects of life, including their own education process, cultural life and social activities. The methods developed include reflection on both the migration and integration processes for the young individuals.” “The initiative has proved particularly beneficial for breaking social exclusion patterns at an early stage for newly arrived migrant and refugee students, including unaccompanied minors in the early introduction phase. The workshop saw a video of the pilot activity in one of the four high schools in the municipality. A toolbox is being developed for use in other schools.”


Children and young people’s participation in:



Consortium SIS

Gruppi di Volontariato Vincenziano

Participants visited a youth center running a web radio project reaching the south-east outskirts of Milan. The aim is to foster social cohesion by having young people from different ages and socio-economic backgrounds participating in planning and broadcasting.

This project involves a network of youth centers on youth participation in the cultural life of different Milan districts. The young people bring their ideas and creativity to four thematic areas: art, music, video and advice towards career options.

WORKSHOP PRESENTATION WORKSHOP PRESENTATION The adoptive adolescents group: giving voice to children Francesca SILVA

Centro Italiano Aiuti all’Infanzia (CIAI), Italy

In 2008, CIAI responded to requests of local teenagers by launching a series of activities to facilitate connection between adopted young people (1418). The teenagers share stories, doubts and questions – notably about their lives, their self-identity, adoption and how they feel in their families and in society - in a very informal and natural way. The adolescents created a relatively stable group over time and became increasingly active in driving activities. They discussed topics related to their experiences, creating a short film ‘With Our Eyes’, writing a song and producing a calendar about children rights. They are increasingly empowered to talk and be listened to by adults and to realise what they are capable of.

Switch Kind Radio: youth participation to rebuild local community Valentina RIZZI,

ACRA-CCS Foundation,

Dylan CARMONE (20), Silvia RAHO (20) & Marco LASTELLA (21), CIAI, Italy

Switch Kind Radio (SKR) is an informal youth group (15-25) that met in 2011 through a project promoted by Cornaredo Public Library to enhance youth participation in local cultural initiatives. The group ‘learnt by doing’ a full range of tasks related to internet radio, including interviews, advertisements, live transmissions and music programmes, in both scripted and unscripted formats. The young people soon started broadcasting live online programmes, reporting local events in partnership with other civil society organisations. SKR members have always managed all the broadcasting tasks by themselves, establishing roles and responsibilities according to their abilities and preferences. The success of the initiative has now secured public funding for several years.

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Children and young people’s participation in:



Cascina Cuccagna

Associazione Il Balzo

Participants met professionals, parents and young children in a centre for families with children between 0 and 3. The role of the professionals is to work with the parents and children, to facilitate their interaction and help with problems.

Participants met professionals, parents (especially mothers) and youngsters with disabilities who use a donated property as a meeting place. Participants cooked together.


There were a lot of workshops and learning activities to empower the young people with disabilities, such as cooking and running restaurant nights. The project was also an important social support network for the mothers.

OBSERVATIONS A lot of principles for participation were present, even for the very little ones, such as asking the babies for permission to be massaged.

WORKSHOP PRESENTATION WORKSHOP PRESENTATION 2 Children’s participation in hospital – a practical guideline Hester RIPPEN,

Stichting Kind en Ziekenhuis, the Netherlands

“We work towards creating child-friendly hospitals with a great emphasis on the participation of children. We tested various methods for hearing the voice of young patients in ten hospitals and established a children’s advisory board in one hospital.” “Methods including statement boxes, wish walls, diary rooms, photovoice, online chats, and a guided tour of the hospital wards by children, revealed the tangible (and often simple) things that the hospital could do to improve the children’s experience of hospital care.” The experiences led to positive changes in the hospitals. We produced a practical handbook with lots of advice for other hospitals on how to carry out successful and worthwhile participation processes with young patients. It is crucial to let the children know that their voice will lead to changes. “Don’t stop after one try, with one method. Keep thinking about the possibilities and challenges with children’s participation.” Participation is also important for each individual’s medical case. Understanding what is happening to them is a big issue for children. ‘Don’t make decisions when I’m not there!

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Involving young people with disabilities in the development of regional child and youth disability services Maurice LEESON,

Participation Network, Northern Ireland, UK

The Children and Young People’s Strategic Partnership (CYPSP) plans and provides services for children and young people in Northern Ireland. The partnership created a strategy for child participation based on the Partnership Network’s “ASK FIRST” standards. It aims at a person-centred plan for every young person through self-directed support. CYPSP ‘Regional Sub-Groups on Disability and Transitions’ undertook extensive engagement with young people with a range of physical, sensory and learning disabilities – including many with severe disabilities. Facilitated by Sixth Sense – a self advocacy group for young people with disabilities - the young participants not only became more aware of their rights, but generated very valuable ideas for improving services. Important lessons were that professionals need to have a relaxed and ‘can-do’ attitude to young people and not to see challenge or new ideas as complaint. The workshop also observed that: “Parents

of children with disabilities or suffering an illness need to be heard, but they also need to be careful not to become overprotective and thus deprive their child of their own voice and their own space for participation.�

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Children and young people’s participation in:

D. THE CHILD PROTECTION SYSTEM STUDY VISIT The Foster Care Service of the Milan Municipality Participants met social workers, young people who have grown up in foster families and foster parents to discuss their experiences. They saw two short videos about two foster families.

OBSERVATIONS A young girl, originally from Africa, explained how her foster mother has raised her in Italy since she was 14: “Today, I can say this is my real family.”

WORKSHOP PRESENTATION ‘Child Law: Action For An Innovative Methodology’ (CLAIM) - a participative approach to child-friendly justice Francesca SANGERMANO,

Matteo Delmonte, Emerson J. Penaherrera & Morteza Khaleghi; Save the Children, Italy

“Child-friendly justice is justice that is accessible, age appropriate, speedy, diligent, adapted to and focused on the needs and rights of the child.” The CLAIM project established legal clinics offering free legal advice to children and their families. It also ran workshops where adolescents helped produce child-friendly information material on their legal system and the rights of minors. Italian, Greek and Spanish teenagers met to compare their experiences. A video of young people from several countries highlighted their lack of faith in the legal system and notably the police. The presenters stressed the need for governments to do more to improve the situation of children in the justice system.

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STUDY VISIT Agevolando association Participants heard about a project in Bologna providing support, guidance and encouragement to young people leaving the care system.


on each other’s toes’. The young people produced: a booklet setting out the issues they discussed in their own words and with their own artwork; ; an animated film exploring healthy relationships with peers, families and professionals; a leaflet for professionals to print and share; and a set of clear messages for respecting young people affected by sexual exploitation:

Young people who have previously lived in care are a significant provider of support through a dedicated telephone helpline. The current generation of young people leaving care can also access support and interactive information online.

Workshop participants were shown a poor and then a better worker response to a young person who has raised issues of sexual exploitation. Important aspects that were stressed included not acting shocked, not leaving without explaining what will happen next and respecting confidentiality – if another professional needs to be involved, ask the young person first.


Be Healthy: a youth participation project improving sexually exploited young people’s access to health service provision Lindsay STARBUCK, Taylor AUSTINLITTLE, C J HAMILTON & Tequilla FERGUSSON, Association for Young People’s Health & University of Bedfordshire, England, UK

The ‘Be Healthy’ project recruited young people who were interested in researching the health needs of young people affected by sexual exploitation and in becoming Health Advocates. They worked together to consider questions such as how care workers and health service providers can better protect young people from sexual exploitation. The project brought the voice of young people into discussions around child sexual exploitation and worked to combat the isolation and shame of young people who have lived this experience. The work of the group highlighted the diversity of young people affected by sexual exploitation (race, gender, class, location etc) and also helped them to learn to work together ‘without treading

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Children and young people’s participation in:



City Council of Children of Milan – participants visited Borsi primary school and heard the children’s experiences in participating in decisions affecting their school and communities. Children’s Councils have been developed in the nine districts of the city through a project of the municipality of Milan

City Gardens project Participants visited Narcisi primary school and met children who are participating in a project to restore and improve school gardens.

WORKSHOP PRESENTATION WORKSHOP PRESENTATION ‘I matter’ campaign - Young people from Care advocating for their rights to better policies and provisions in the preparation for leaving care Kristine VEISPALE & Eristjana KARCANAJ, SOS Children’s Villages, Latvia

From 2009 to 2013, 18 SOS Children’s Villages associations from CEE/CIS Baltic countries implemented the ‘I matter’ campaign, advocating for improved policies and practices for young people leaving care. Young people from different forms of care were part of the design and implementation of the campaign, advocating for themselves. Young people from care (16-24) conducted peer research, created networks and clubs of their peers, set up youth resource centres and influenced stakeholders and decision-makers through the drafting of proposals and holding of meetings etc. Facilitators had firstly empowered and strengthened the young people with the skills and knowledge for the implementation of these activities. The young people from care had the opportunity to learn about the experiences and challenges of other young people in the same position, to gain new professional skills, to speak about their rights and to influence decision-making. Young people from Albania presented peer research results to EU decision-makers in Brussels. In Croatia, young people from care were involved in the creation of the social care system’s ‘systematic framework for leaving care’.

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Child-Led Evaluation: Elevating child participation in community development programming Emily BOWERMAN & Mireta PETRAJ, World Vision Albania & Kosovo

World Vision Albania & Kosovo (WVA&K) strives to advance children’s rights among families, communities, and civil society. In 2011, it decided to create a space for children to participate in the mid-term evaluation of one of its Area Development Programmes (ADPs) in Vlore. This represented a step up from standard procedures, which would include children, but typically only within interviews and focus-group discussions led by staff. The process began by consulting children, explaining the evaluation process, the responsibilities involved, and providing several different options for their involvement. Ten children (1316) volunteered to be part of the evaluation and chose to be involved at all stages of the process: developing questions; conducting focus groups; and analysing data. The children decided to lead data collection with their peers, whilst WVA&K staff interviewed adults. “The children we work with are facing patriarchal mentality issues - the background culture discourages them because they are always told they are not good enough.” Overall, the child participation provided significant added value. The perspectives that the children brought gave richness and nuance to the data collected. The team is now working with children on the end-of-cycle evaluation. They are

supporting the children to increase the rigour of their work and record-keeping, and are including them more in joint data analysis work with the adult team.

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The voice of young people 1. PARTICIPATION EVENT Eurochild organised a five-day Valuing Young People’s (VYP) Participation Event that ran during the week of the Annual Conference. Facilitated by Dan Moxon of People Dialogue and Change, the event enabled 23 young people from six EU countries Italy, Sweden, Malta, Bulgaria, Greece, and Spain – to meet, discuss issues of importance to them and prepare their input to the Annual Conference. The young people were invited to be ‘investigators’ on the overall question: “How can youth participation and children’s right to a voice be improved across Europe?” They met in workshops with appropriate adult facilitation to cover questions such as: • What does participation mean for us? • What participation experiences have we had? • What problems have we faced to get our voices heard? • How can youth participation be promoted? • How can we disseminate work from this event in our own countries?

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As well as attending the Annual Conference plenary sessions, the young people designed and led a Special Session for Children and Young People. This brought together the VYP young people with the same number of selected adults. Together they considered ways to overcome the obstacles to successful participation that the young people had identified. Parallel to the special session, other conference participants attended a workshop: “On the outside looking in: Café style conversations on widening children’s inclusion in participation”. They used activities to think about how it feels to be excluded and what strategies can be used to enable participation. They used this as a starting point for thinking about how the obstacles to child participation identified by the VYP might be overcome. In the conference’s closing plenary session, the VYP group presented their findings, including both the obstacles to participation that they identified and their recommendations for overcoming them.


2. OBSTACLES TO PARTICIPATION OF YOUNG PEOPLE The VYP event identified: “Seven principle problems that young people face when trying to get their voices heard”: 1. “It is difficult to share our ideas effectively with adults” It is difficult to find common means of communication or even to find the time when both young people and adults can discuss problems. 2. Social status can exclude young people from having our voices heard” Children from less wealthy or less powerful families are less likely to be heard. 3. “There are differences between generations – adults did not have the same experience of children’s rights when they were young” They tend to think we should be raised the same way they were. But we have access to more information as well as often having more education.

4. “Some adults don’t ever want to listen to us” Some adults thing they know everything and that we are immature. We start to discuss our problems with them but they interrupt us and we lose our flow. 5. “Some adults listen to us but have a negative perception of the views of young people” Adults that aren’t used to collaborating with young people often get their ideas of young people from stereotypes, their fear, their imagination and isolated bad experiences. 6. “Some adults listen to us but don’t act on what we say” Our voice needs to influence thinking and decisions in a tangible way. Listening but not responding to what is said is no better than not listening in the first place. 7. “It takes a lot of commitment from a young person if you want to have your voice heard” It is easy to give up when things don’t change. Young people have to remain committed and be supported in a positive environment that makes them feel confident.

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3. VYP RECOMMENDATIONS FOR OVER COMING OBSTACLES TO PARTICIPATION The VYP group presented 22 recommendations to the conference, which will be taken up by Eurochild’s Participation Working Group. The following is an overview of the detail presented, grouped into some overriding themes:

Change attitudes to young people: • “Support us more by being more open minded, more respectful of our own ideas and by listening more” • “Adults should relate more, adjust to the age of the children and remember how they felt when they were young” Raise awareness about youth participation: • “Spread the word and get more information about youth participation and children’s rights” • “Better education (and higher salary!) for teachers.” Support and encourage children (particularly the most vulnerable) to participate • “Young people should be taught to participate and raise their voices from an early age - by parents, teachers, relatives, friends and government.” • “Keep young people from lower social status informed about conferences and events (like this one) and give them the opportunity to participate Provide informal opportunities to build collaboration: • “Support young people to move around and meet other young people and adults... Interactive programmes and projects to get a better relationship.” • “Build youth centres where young people can organise and communicate properly with young people and adults” Create formal participatory structures: • “Organise weekly meetings for young people in schools and municipalities.” • “More youth councils should be created, which should be part of decisions.”

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Bring feedback and accountability into participation activities • “A regular report on how children’s opinions and ideas have been brought to action.” • “Children should be kept up to date with this work.” Protect children’s rights • “Work on the laws so that everyone follows them; make them more modern and up to date.... A special branch of the police should be created.” • “Organisations for children’s rights must exist and support children’s opinions and protect their rights”

4. WHAT NEXT? COMMITMENTS AND REQUESTS Young people’s follow up The VYP group set out their commitments to follow up on the event. These centred on the implementation of their dissemination plan for the messages they generated. This included the following actions: • Translate the material into the country languages • Disseminate the material online • Create an open Facebook group • Present the material to their schools • Contact local media • Create songs about children’s rights and youth participation

What the VYP asks of Eurochild The VYP presentation made clear and precise requests to Eurochild and its members: 1. “Listen to us and act.” 2. “Make changes to your own work based on our recommendations.” 3. “Take our recommendations to other adults in Europe and throughout the world who can make changes elsewhere.” 4. In 1 year’s time - tell us what you have done with what we said and who you have shared it with.

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Panel debate The panel debate highlighted a number of emerging themes on child participation that are here grouped as follows:


ATTITUDES TO CHILDREN 1. Challenge our basic attitudes towards young people “I can’t stand the term ‘minors’. Minors to whom? To us??!” (CB) “There is an incorrect attitude that children are somehow in deficit until they become whole.” (GL) “If a group of older people assemble, it’s seen as social capacity and building up the community. If a group of young people gather in the same way, they are often seen as threatening or anti-social.” (PD)

Anne McHardy Journalist


“When resolving an adult’s problem, we look at the issue, then the behaviour, then the person. With young people, we tend to go straight to the person as the problem.” (PD) “People don’t think it’s worth listening to babies, so they grow up not thinking it is important to be listened to.” (MH)

Fredrik Malmberg (FM)

Swedish Ombudsman for Children

2. Do more to break negative cycles and prevent abuse “Many adults are troubled themselves, so we have to look at that. Often adults lack the confidence. They weren’t respected on many occasions, so they carry on the system.” (MH) “If you see a child in danger from crossing the road, you would step in and say be careful and help, but people do not have the same reflex with child protection issues. Children are more likely to be helped by a family member, but also more likely to be harmed by a family member.” (PD)

Abdullahi Mahmoud Mohammed (AMM) Young Active Member of Voices of Young Refugees in Europe (VYRE)

“We need to act earlier in people’s lives to prevent problems such as abuse. The fire brigade goes into schools to teach children what to do if there’s a fire, but no one is saying what to do if there is abuse in the home.” (FM)

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“Vulnerable young people always need at least one person that they can trust and turn to – they can be rescued. It just takes one person.” (MH)

CHILDREN’S CAPACITIES 3. Accept that children do not always need ‘saving’ “We’re into a hyper-protectionist approach – children must never be left alone because there’s danger out there!!” (CB) “Adults say they want to protect children, but the result is that they start being treated like victims and have little influence. Children hate this.” (FM) “I know that adults who offer to help want the best for me. But often they think that something has to be done in a particular way and there can be conflict when you say you want to do things a different way. You can still give them advice, but young people have to be respected enough to be allowed to make their own decisions.” (AMM) “We have a false notion that we always know what is best for our children.” (MH) “Interesting research on parents’ attitudes has shown that they feel they are protecting them by not talking to them about problems in the family. Often the worst part for children is not knowing what is going on.” (GL) “Dismantle the industry that exists around children – victims are a great group to work with and for, but it keeps them as victims.” (CB)

4. Recognise the capacities and resilience that children demonstrate

identified the strategies children were already using to cope with their problems, rather than simply identifying the problems.” (GL) “A group of children will often take care of issues within their group themselves. Peers can be better at tackling bullying than involving police or other adult agents.” (CB)

THE BENEFITS OF CHILD PARTICIPATION 5. Participation offers a new and more meaningful way of working for society “The democratic model is very tired, what message is that for young people when 50% of people don’t vote.” (CB) “Even the most deprived families are much more competent in their own life than any trained social worker or psychologist. If you’re not listening to people about their own lives, you can’t provide the right support.” (MH) “Child participation represents a different way of thinking and it can spread into effective community participation. People need to be involved in their communities and then a new generation will grow up as citizens.” (CB) “If we bring up a generation that is clear that everyone can exercise their rights, then this will be passed on to the next generation. (MH)

6. Children often know most about the problems they face and the solutions they need. “We’ve had experiences where councils have evaluated the money they have spent on expensive products for children. They were trying to second guess their needs - the kids didn’t care about them.” (CB)

“Children have agency and are often much more resilient than we give them credit for.” (PD)

“You have to engage with children - they know what problems they face, where the dangers are and some of the solutions.” (FM)

“Many children do amazing things to protect themselves, their family and their friends.” (FM)

“Children also have a valid opinion on what is best for them.” (AMM)

“We should look at capacities and strengths instead on only exploring weakness and vulnerability. A study on an Iraqi refugee camp in Jordan

“Children are not idiots, they often ask for very tangible things that directly affect their daily lives.” (PD)

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7. Children can be an invaluable resource for researching problems and solutions “The benefits of having young people as researchers are incredible. They are likely to notice things that adults might miss.” (CB) “Six and seven-year-olds went round the town mapping what was beautiful, what was dangerous etc. They identified so many things that adults hadn’t seen. The young people later became guides for other younger children. That is real participation.” (CB) “The child-friendly cities approach saves cities money because of the involvement of children.” (CB)


Director, UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, National University of Ireland

8. Being heard can clearly benefit children in their own lives, but it can also be used to help other children “An example from the UK saw a failing school successfully turned around by using the children as a resource – e.g. as mediators and guardian angels for children having a tough time.” (GL) “Children are often best placed to inform other children about their rights.” (FM)


Psychologist, Child Protection Center of Zagreb

“It can be therapeutic for children who have experienced trauma to be heard and to give a meaning to their experience to help other children.” (BP)

SUPPORTING THE PARTICIPATION OF CHILDREN 9. Child participation will not happen on its own. We need to invest in it. “Often, the only thing that stops us making things better is bureaucracy.” (PD)

Gerison LANSDOWN (GL) Independent International Affairs Professional

“We need to invest in children, identifying what is important for them.” (GL) “We need to risk trust and invest in children. We need to give them the keys to their own lives until we find some reason why we can’t trust them.” (CB)

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“Investment is also investment in time and in places. We can save money and values by building something different.” (CB)

10. In many cases participation needs to start with active outreach to young people and especially to the most vulnerable “Many children – particularly migrant children - think that nobody cares about them. It is because they do not know where to go or who to talk to. You have to go to them and say ‘I want to listen to you, what can you share with me?’” (AMM) “Children in the most difficult situations typically find it hardest to get listened to” (FM) “Some of the greatest difficulties are faced by children with disabilities – the risks of abuse are 3 -4 times higher, but they also have far less access to their rights. They are a silent significant minority of children. Little is being done to create a space for them to be heard.” (GL) “It is especially important for vulnerable children to be heard, but you have to talk to them very sensitively in what are difficult situations.” (BP)

11. Adults have to get over their mistrust of children and give up some of their power over them “Politicians are often very nervous about participation and do not know what to expect. But they are usually pleasantly surprised.” (FM) “Politicians are often afraid that children will ask their rights and they will have to do something.” (PD) “Our main problem is adults. We need to have a mentality revolution. We need to give up some of the power system.” (CB) “People are afraid in a school or institution that they will lose their job from a complaint etc.” (MH)

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12. Adults working with children need to be supported “It is essential to be educated as adults, how to speak with children, not to patronise them but to give them a real opportunity to be heard.” (BP) “You have to prepare decision-makers to work with children.” FM “It can be traumatising for adults who cannot help the children when there are not enough resources. If the adults working with children aren’t being listened to and supported, they are not in a position to defend children’s rights.” (MH)

REQUIREMENTS OF EFFECTIVE PARTICIPATION 13. Real participation can only occur when the child feels safe “If we don’t give a child a feeling of a safe space to be heard, it can be manipulation and another form of abuse of the child.” (BP) “In many countries there is a culture of retribution if children complain. It is important to give a safe space. In Nigeria had to develop tools that were completely anonymous before children felt able to say anything at all. Need to construct procedures that children themselves feel confident in.” (GL)

14. Adults need to really listen and not seek to predefine the terms or content of dialogue “We have to move beyond an approach of consulting children on issues which have been pre-decided. We need to help children identify what is important for them.” (GL) “Sometimes there is patronising rather than real engagement with young people.” (CB)


15. Different children will need or prefer different means of communication “It is important to give young people different ways to communicate, particularly for younger children. This means not just talking with words, but also seeing how children are communicating through drawings, body language, the games they play and so on. Professionals who organise participation programmes have to be very creative in ways to activate the children.” (BP) “Children communicate in very different ways from birth to 18 – it is the responsibility of adults is to listen to what children are already saying. People with learning disabilities and even babies communicate a whole load to us if we know how to listen.” (GL)

Christoph Baker (CB)

Italian National Coordinator, UNICEF Child-Friendly Cities Programme

16. Real participation means taking action and feeding back on what you have heard “You have to give the children feedback and tell them how people listened and what difference it has made.” (FM) “Sometimes we invite children to express their right to participate but then do nothing about it, which is even worse. We have a great tradition of asking questions and also providing the answer at the same time. The least we can do is actually listen to them.” (PD)

Maria Herczog (MH) Eurochild President

“Adults need to hold themselves accountable for ensuring the voices are taken seriously.” (GL)

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Closing session MODERATOR



Director of Projects and Research, L’Albero della Vita

Secretary General; Eurochild

We have received so much inspiration on how we can continue our work. We have to think about how we bring these questions down to earth. What will happen in reality?

CLOSING SPEAKER Children are more likely to suffer from poverty and social exclusion than the overall population in most Member States... We need to invest more in children now... let’s break the cycle of disadvantage.

The European Commission Recommendation on Investing in Children highlights an approach [to social investment] based on children’s rights and that makes the child’s interest a primary consideration... [It] looks at how to guarantee an adequate living standard for children and empower them from an early age.

In all measures taken or planned, the goal should be to ensure as much as possible participation of children themselves… [In this context, we] need to learn from each other what works. The European Platform for Investing in Children helps in doing this by gathering and sharing evidence-based good practice.

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László Andor

European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion

We need to give hope for a better future to our young people. If they feel left behind we risk turning parts of the next generation away from the EU and its democratic values. I congratulate Eurochild on its excellent work and look forward to continue working together for a stronger social Europe with full respect for its children.

CLOSING SPEAKER The Council of Europe has a commitment to foster youth participation. In 2009, it devised a ‘Roadmap for Council of Europe actions on participation of children and young people under the age of 18’. It aims at a system of co-management based on genuine participation, real decision-making and the power to deliver change.

Gordana Berjan

Council of Europe, Head of Unit, Children’s Rights Policies Co-ordination, “Building a Europe for and with children”

Participation needs transparency, respect, training, safe environment and accountability. It is a challenge and we must admit that, but in many areas we are making progress. For example, children in alternative care told us how to make a child-friendly version of a guide to their rights and inputted into our recommendations on children’s rights and social services.

The Council of Europe has developed a pilot Self-Assessment Tool on Child and Youth Participation to provide a checklist of measures for assessing compliance with the right of the child to meaningful participation. We hope it will be tested and shared widely and transparently across all sectors. We are looking at opportunities for children to participate in the monitoring processes.

The Council is also helping to generate an empirical base.... around 8000 children responded to surveys and discussion groups on participation.

We rely on your continued support and expertise working with children and young people.

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We funded some research on child participation in Italy. There are many experiences with participation at local level, mainly in our large cities. Now we are trying to experiment with how to share experiences that are successful.

After the earthquake in Abruzzo, we decided to let children participate in working groups to rebuild public spaces. Local authorities and schools were very impressed. A very dramatic time turned into a positive experience because the children were heard.

Beyond simply changing our institutions, we need a cultural revolution. We who are parents need to change our attitudes to ensure full participation of the younger generations and make them feel a full part of our society.

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Raffaele Tangorra

Director General for Social Inclusion and Social Policies. Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policies

In Italy, 17% of children live in a family with serious deprivation. The situation is very dramatic in Italy and Europe. It is clear that we will not achieve the EU’s poverty reduction targets. In this context, child participation can seem a secondary issue. However, the reality is that children’s views are fundamental to providing added value in policy making. With child participation, the current crisis becomes an opportunity to make a better, more sustainable world.


I have heard many good practices, projects, commitments, and plans that are working. It is encouraging as it provides an idea of what can be done for the participation of children and young people.

Many representatives of public institutions are still more involved in rhetorical practices than real engagement. I have seen situations where participation of young people was guided - not free or democratic. There is very little interest for young people to engage with this and very little can be learnt from the results.

We need not only to talk about the work we are doing individually, but to look for ways of working together and strengthening our activities through coordination.

I met children in a PEDIDA project. You can see the difference in a child who has been supported to speak freely.

The best promise we can make to the children who spoke (and all in Europe) is that we as adults are more consistent and more authentic in our commitments to them. Good teachers, social workers and parents who are conscious of the children’s rights and capabilities can create a positive multiplying effect on society.

Vicenza Spadafora

Italian National Ombudsman for Children

We tend to label each generation and say that today’s young people are afraid of the future and lack confidence. But there are extraordinary young people in this country, with all its problems, doing great things in their local community. They are resilient and resist.

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We have heard the young people’s messages and we have enjoyed very rich discussions, new connections, and sharing of good practice. Participation is a vision for the whole of society, in all the power relationships that exist. It is about our relationship with children, but also other groups that are not heard enough and our responsibilities to each other.

Jana Hainsworth

Secretary General, Eurochild

Listening to children and child participation is not an add-on. Everything we do involves children’s participation. When we give them a voice, we make better choices in how we use our resources.

Let’s also challenge the language of human capital as if we only think of children in terms of the contribution they can make to the economy (as adults). Let’s think about the contribution that children can and do make to building an inclusive Europe. It is crucial in a time of austerity and crisis to think differently and make our decisions differently.

Our vision is that over the next four years, we will build platforms in each continent on how children are advocates of changing society, not just in Europe, but globally. We have heard that the young people want us to feed back to them on what we do next and we will do that.

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Furthermore, by enabling children and young people to make a contribution, they feel value. This will enable children to fulfil their own potential throughout their lives and not just up to 18. Yes, children have vulnerable and often difficult lives, but let’s challenge the idea of ‘children as victims’ and instead focus on capacities.

In Eurochild, we will continue our fight to promote the welfare and rights of children, with increased participation of children and young people a central component of that. We can feel quite optimistic that we have people at high levels committed to this agenda and facilitating children’s participation to build a social Europe.

Supported by

AC2013 Report: Building an inclusive Europe - The contribution of children’s participation  

EUROCHILD ANNUAL CONFERENCE MILAN, ITALY, 13-15 NOVEMBER 2013 The conference was organised in the context of the 2013 European Year of Ci...

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