‘The World of Children, Book Project’ Piloting Children’s Participation in Academic Programmes – A narrative on the process Kids’ Own and the Children & Youth Programme Authors: Celia Keenaghan, Jo Holmwood, Orla Kenny
A new partnership The World of Children book project was the first collaboration be‑ tween the Children and Youth Programme (CYP) and Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership. The CYP is an academic, independent research programme, focusing on the well‑being of children and youth in Ireland and Northern Ireland, using a rights‑based ap‑ proach, led by the UNESCO Chairs at the University of Ulster and the NUI Galway. Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership is Ireland’s first and only dedicated publisher of books made by children for chil‑ dren.
The pilot project
The aims of this project were: • To support the CYP in exploring the role of the child’s voice on an ongoing basis within its programme; • To explore one model of engagement with children and young people, that might be extended and integrated into the next phase of the CYP; • To develop a collaborative publication that gives voice to cur‑ rent issues affecting children in Ireland, north and south, in A key feature of any rights-based programme is to ensure that the response to the general principles of the UN Convention on voices of children are present in matters affecting them. It is a core the Rights of the Child; principle of the CYP. However, as an academic programme with • To highlight issues around current policy and implementa‑ little direct contact with children the appliaction of this principal tion with children and young people through a practicecan be challenging. As well as sharing contemporary theory and based approach. practice and working with organisations who engage directly with children and young people, the CYP wanted to explore how chil‑ dren could more actively influence the work of the programme. Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which outlines the right of the child to be heard, was the guiding Kids’ Own adopts a distinctly rights-based approach, building on principle of this partnership: 15 years’ experience of working collaboratively with children and young people to develop their own culture-specific books and re‑ The right of all children to be heard and taken seriously constitutes sources. This unique brand of publishing which draws on a pedago‑ one of the fundamental values of the Convention. The Committee gy of mutuality (Bruner, 1999) empowers children to have a voice on the Rights of the Child (the Committee) has identified article 12 linguistically and culturally where they can be seen, heard and in‑ as one of the four general principles of the Convention, the others volved in designing and defining their most important concerns. being the right to non-discrimination, the right to life and development, and the primary consideration of the child’s best interests, The CYP and Kids’ Own work across Ireland and Northern Ireland. which highlights the fact that this article establishes not only a They both focus on developing and sharing best practice and the right in itself, but should also be considered in the interpretation production of published resources to support the work of policy and implementation of all other rights. makers and practitioners. The partnership suggested a particularly CRC/C/GC/12 : 1.2 appropriate way of piloting the involvement of children in the work of the CYP through a tried and tested Kids’ Own methodology This document reviews the process of this project according to where children publish for themselves and for other children. For the requirements of this article further information about Kids’ Own please visit http://kidsown.ie, (Appendix 1): for further information about the Children and youth programme please visit http://childrenandyouthprogramme.info
All processes in which a child or children are heard and participate must be child friendly, supported by training, safe and sensitive to risk, accountable, inclusive, relevant, voluntary, respectful, transâ&#x20AC;&#x2018; parent and informative. 3
There has been much attention paid to the child’s right to be heard in a wide range of settings and contexts (CYP, 2012a; Percy-Smith & Thomas, 2010; World Vision ND). The right to be heard has been explored through the concepts of participa‑ tion ranging in portrayal from the hierarchy of Hart’s ladder (Hart, 1992) to the chronological realms proposed by Francis and Lorenzo (2002). The complexity of understanding of this right is emerging as children are increasingly acknowledged as ‘capable and competent agents who, with adults, can imagine and create projects around their lives, instead of the projects that adults imagine and design for them’ (Malone and Hartung 2010: 32). Understanding the many ways in which children participate in their everyday lives through their own cultural practices, relationships and unique way of engaging with their environment calls for a focus on new ways to interact with and open up dialogue with children (ibid). Creativity as self expression has been well documented in the field of education particularly as a way of supporting all children to reach their full potential (Carlilie & Jordan 2012). Links between creative initiatives and wellbeing outcomes in other fields are emerging (McLellan et al 2012). Enhancing the ability to be creative is, at a macro level, recognised as a prerequisite to the skills and abilities for social, cultural and economic de‑ velopment (The Arts Council 2006 and 2008; Partnership for 21st Century Skills 2010 and 2011; Robinson, 2011). Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio approach to early childhood education, connected creativity and children’s rights by including the ‘real and imaginary events of a communicative world’ as key elements of children’s relationships and interactions alongside interactions with peers, adults, ideas and objects. The Reggio philosophy is based on subjectivity, dialogue, connection and autonomy and highlights specifically the centrality of the artist in ‘creating conditions where democ‑ racy, experimentation and encounter can be sustained’ and where ’think‑ ing and doing work hand in hand’ (Vecchi, 2010:). The methodology for this pilot project was designed cognisant of the adult-led structures and processes of its initiation. This was approached using the Kids’ Own methodology which involves ‘stand[ing] by children’s sides together constructing contexts in which they can explore their own ideas and hypotheses individually or in groups and discuss them with friends or teachers’ (Vecchi, 2010:xvii). Finally, it aimed to test a means of engagement that could be built on in the future development of the CYP. Children’s ongoing dependence on adults calls for the promotion of ethical practice that protects children from exploitation and abuse (Landsdowne, 2010: 16) and therefore step by step documentation of project process was undertaken and the key insights and learnings are presented in this docu‑ ment.
Transparent and informative
Children must be provided with full, accessible, diversitysensitive and age appropriate information about their right to exâ&#x20AC;&#x2018; press their views freely and their views to be given due weight, and how this participation will take place, its scope, purpose and poâ&#x20AC;&#x2018; tential impact. 5
Project Design Key parameters that shaped the pilot included the all-island nature of the work, the prioritisation of principles of inclusion, non-dis‑ crimination and voice, and the resources available to the project. The age group chosen was 8–12 year olds. Our aim was to engage with children who have less opportunities to have their voices heard on these matters. While Kids’ Own and CYP would be very interested in engaging children younger than 8 in this process, this would have required more time than was made available to us. One urban school in Co. Sligo and one rural school in Co. Fer‑ managh were selected on the basis of their having pupils com‑ ing from a wide range of backgrounds and abilities. Each school liaised with Kids’ Own on how best to select the children for the project, but each ultimately chose a method of selection that they felt best suited their circumstances. In one school project staff went in and told the children about the project and those who were interested put themselves forward. Because there was more inter‑ est than could be accommodated, those in the final selection had their names drawn out of a hat. In the other school, project staff discussed the project with the principal and, guided by the objec‑ tives of the project, she selected children whom she felt would most benefit or who rarely had an opportunity to have their voices heard. The project was managed by Kids’ Own and all the communica‑ tion about the project to the schools came through Kids’ Own. Once the project began, the Kids’ Own artist and writers engaged directly with the children, with some, but very little mediation or engagement from teachers and principals of the school. For this reason, the initial dialogue about why the project was being under‑ taken and what the key aims and outcomes were, was crucial. In the school in Sligo, no teachers were present for any of the crea‑ tive sessions. However the children worked alongside one Kids’ Own artist and two Kids’ Own writers. In the school in Ferman‑ agh, a Special Needs Assistant was present at most of the sessions and the children worked alongside one Kids’ Own artist and one Kids’ Own writer. The continuity of artist and writer in both locations meant that information could be transferred across the schools about what the children in the other location were doing.
Voluntary Children should never be coerced into expressing their views against their wishes and they should be informed that they can cease involvemnet at any stage.
Participation must be inclusive, avoid existing patterns of discrimâ&#x20AC;&#x2018; ination and encourage opportunities for marginalised children, including both girls and boys, to be involved. Children are not a homogenous group and participation needs to provide for equalâ&#x20AC;&#x2018; ity of opportunity for all, without discrimination on any grounds. Programmes also need to ensure that they are culturally sensitive to children from all communities.
Ethics approval for this project was received from the University of Ulster with consideration given to issues of consent, inclusion and exclusion criteria and processes, the nature of activities, child safe‑ guarding procedures and permission relating to the use of photos. The four key principles that underpin the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child formed the starting point for Kids’ Own’s work with the children: • • • •
The principle of non-discrimination; The best interests of the child as a primary consideration; The right of the child to life, survival and development; Due weight be given to the voice of the child.
The workshops were 1 ½ - 2 hours in length and took place in each school once a week over 6 weeks, between September and October 2012. There were between 14 and 17 children participating in each session. This structure was defined by CYP’s own timeframe and aimed to produce an output within the timescale of the children’s school year.
Safe and sensitive to risk
In certain situations expression of views may involve risks. Adults have a responsilility towards the children with whom they work and must take every precaution to minimise the risk to children of violence, exploitation or any other negative consequence of their participation. 9
The hope of a start...
The Journey began with questions and a welcoming space. The ques‑ tions were formulated in response to the four key principles, which underpin the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and pro‑ vided the thematic frame of reference for the book to be created by the children. The questions aimed to provide a child-friendly way of initiating dialogue around their perception of children’s rights and their sense of self-worth and value in society.
Why are children important? Because we are indivdual We are young We are smart We bring happiness Why should people listen to children? Because we have something important to say
Who are children important to? Toy makers Parents Themselves Teachers Community Parish School They are important to God
Whats important to children? Santa Farming Football Gadgets Jokes Friends Sweets God
The Issues on which children have the right to express their views must be of real relevance to their lives and enable them to draw on their knowledge, skills and abilities. In addition, space needs to be created to enable children to highlight and address the issues they themselves identify as relevant and important.
Yes we have started... Through talking, drawing, printing and sticking, ideas begin to emerge...
The children used different art techniques in the making of their work. They did printmaking, and began to assemble collages, which combined their prints, their photographs and their draw‑ ings. The collages were based on the themes from the discussions that each child felt they wanted to explore further. Taking the time to speak with and listen to the children in these sessions was important so that the direction of the project was led by the children’s own responses. The children were always keen to get active (doing), but the dialogue was an important part of the process (thinking) – to allow the themes to emerge in a meaning‑ ful way, through focused discussion.
Enviroments and working methods should be adapted to childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s capabilities. Adequate time and resources should be made availaâ&#x20AC;&#x2018; ble to ensure that children are adequately prepared and have the confidence and opportunity to contribute their views. Consideraâ&#x20AC;&#x2018; tion needs to be given to the fact that children will need differing levels of support and forms of involvement according to their age and evolving capacities. 13
Keep going... Staying with the same quesâ&#x20AC;&#x2018; tions, expanding on what we are saying and adding to it.
Engaging in a meaningful process of book-making informed by the childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s own responses, thoughts and ideas. As the children became more familiar with the media and techâ&#x20AC;&#x2018; niques they gained more confidence in using these art forms to give representation to their thoughts and ideas. Through further group discussion, and one-to-one conversations with the writers, the children were able to think more deeply about the themes of the project. The writers engaged in more focused conversation, asking questions relating to the childrens ideas that they had already expressed or referring to things which had been written on their brainstorm sheet. According to the themes that the children had chosen to explore, the children worked in groups of two, three and four, to bring their collages together into a single-page or double-page spread, and they chose the key messages that they felt were important to include.
Why are you important to your parents? Because we are the best thing they could ever have...
Childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s views have to be treated with respect and they should be provided with opportunities to initiate ideas and activities. Being proud of yourself is important because then you can acheive something... My family mean a lot to me because they love me. They care for us. They say well done to you if you acheive something. Thats important if what you acheive is important to you.
working and re-working Final designs and layout
The final sessions were focused towards the book. The children’s sense of ownership over the professional published book is really im‑ portant. The final two weeks were dedicated to laying out their pages – arranging all the text and images into their final page layouts. The artist guided the children on how they could do this.
Making decisions 16
We are laying out this book to say what we want to say and we need to show it...
The Launch - A Super Event
This book is important because it will persuade adults to believe in children... Children can have a voice by talking and by writing
The book was launched in December 2012 at the MAC creative arts venue in Belfast. Prior to the launch the children were consulted about the roles they wanted to take and what should happen at this event. The children presented their work to each other, to policy makers, politicans and to the Northern Ireland Childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Commissioner. The professional publication of the book and subsequent launch aimed to give value to and celebrate the childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s work and cheivement and demonstrated a commitment towards honouring their voices. This publication also adds a new title to the unique library of books made by children for children - A body of work that has a highly dictinctive aesthic equal to existing literature created by adults for children.
Best book of all time...
Good for us...
The project aimed to create a process for dialogue between children and the CYP that would empower the children directly involved in the project with awareness of their own rights and building their creative capacity to enjoy those rights. The Kids’ Own methodoglogy which supports all children to develop their own indivdual creative expression through arts activity and pub‑ lishing enabled the CYP to initate a dialogue with children. This is one model of engagement that represents a child-centred and collaborative approach, which was appropriate in light of the driving principles of the CYP, and the desire to explore how the voice of the child could meaningfully be brought into informing future work. As a pilot, it goes some way towards highlighting the potential for chil‑ dren’s voices to inform an academic programme focused on children’s rights and well-being. A more in-depth and longer-term project would allow for a greater number of children to input into this process and for children to be‑ come more involved in defining the parameters of the project itself. It would also allow for the CYP to respond to some of the themes of the children’s book and to begin a process of dialogue with children that would ensure the outcomes become embedded into the work of the CYP. Any other organisations or agencies initiating a programme with children should be cognisant of Article 12 at every stage of the process.
A commitment to follow up and evaluation is essential for example, in any research or consulative process, children must be informed as to how their views have been interâ&#x20AC;&#x2018; preted and used and, where necessary, provided with the opportunity to challenge and influence the analysis of the findings. Children are also entitled to be provided with clear feedback on how their participation has influenced any outcomes. Wherever appropriate, children should be given the opportunity to particpate in follow up processes and activiâ&#x20AC;&#x2018; ties. Monitoring and evaluation of childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s participation needs to be undertaken by the children themselves.
Appendix: Extract from CRC GENERAL COMMENT No. 12 (2009) The right of the child to be heard D. Basic requirements for the implementation of the right of the child to be heard 132. The Committee urges States parties to avoid tokenistic approaches, which limit children’s expression of views, or which allow children to be heard, but fail to give their views due weight. It emphasizes that adult ma‑ nipulation of children, placing children in situations where they are told what they can say, or exposing children to risk of harm through participation are not ethical practices and cannot be understood as implementing article 12. 133. If participation is to be effective and meaningful, it needs to be un‑ derstood as a process, not as an individual one-off event. Experience since the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted in 1989 has led to a broad consensus on the basic requirements which have to be reached for effective, ethical and meaningful implementation of article 12. The Committee recom‑ mends that States parties integrate these requirements into all legislative and other measures for the implementation of article 12. 134. All processes in which a child or children are heard and participate, must be: (a) Transparent and informative - children must be provided with full, accessible, diversity-sensitive and age-appropriate information about their right to express their views freely and their views to be given due weight, and how this participation will take place, its scope, purpose and potential impact; (b) Voluntary - children should never be coerced into express‑ ing views against their wishes and they should be informed that they can cease involvement at any stage; (c) Respectful - children’s views have to be treated with respect and they should be provided with opportunities to initiate ideas and activities. Adults working with children should acknowledge, respect and build on good examples of children’s participation, for instance, in their contributions to the family, school, culture and the work environment. They also need an under‑ standing of the socio-economic, environmental and cultural context of chil‑ dren’s lives. Persons and organizations working for and with children should also respect children’s views with regard to participation in public events; (d) Relevant - the issues on which children have the right to express their views must be of real relevance to their lives and enable them to draw on their knowledge, skills and abilities. In addition, space needs to be created to enable children to highlight and address the issues they themselves identify as relevant and important; (e) Child-friendly - environments and working methods should be adapted to children’s capacities. Adequate time and resources should be made available to ensure that children are adequately prepared and have the confidence and opportunity to contribute their views. Consideration needs to be given to the fact that children will need differing levels of support and forms of involvement according to their age and evolving capacities; (f) Inclusive - participation must be inclusive, avoid exist‑ ing patterns of discrimination, and encourage opportunities for marginal‑
ized children, including both girls and boys, to be involved (see also para. 88 above). Children are not a homogenous group and participation needs to provide for equality of opportunity for all, without discrimination on any grounds. Programmes also need to ensure that they are culturally sensitive to children from all communities; (g) Supported by training - adults need preparation, skills and support to facilitate children’s participation effectively, to provide them, for example, with skills in listening, working jointly with children and engaging children effectively in accordance with their evolving capacities. Children themselves can be involved as trainers and facilitators on how to promote effective participation; they require capacity-building to strengthen their skills in, for example, effective participation awareness of their rights, and training in organizing meetings, raising funds, dealing with the media, public speak‑ ing and advocacy; (h) Safe and sensitive to risk - in certain situations, expression of views may involve risks. Adults have a responsibility towards the children with whom they work and must take every precaution to minimize the risk to children of violence, exploitation or any other negative consequence of their participation. Action necessary to provide appropriate protection will include the development of a clear child-protection strategy which recognizes the particular risks faced by some groups of children, and the extra barriers they face in obtaining help. Children must be aware of their right to be protected from harm and know where to go for help if needed. Investment in working with families and communities is important in order to build understanding of the value and implications of participation, and to minimize the risks to which children may otherwise be exposed; (i) Accountable - a commitment to follow-up and evaluation is essential. For example, in any research or consultative process, children must be informed as to how their views have been interpreted and used and, where necessary, provided with the opportunity to challenge and influence the analysis of the findings. Children are also entitled to be provided with clear feedback on how their participation has influenced any outcomes. Wherever appropriate, children should be given the opportunity to participate in followup processes or activities. Monitoring and evaluation of children’s participa‑ tion needs to be undertaken, where possible, with children themselves.