– December 2 2020
Children are the experts on their own lives
Interview with Arianna Tripodi, Youth Participation Advisor, Youth & ICT4D and Gabriella Rask, Coordinator of the International Youth Coalition.
The participation of children and young people is a right. Nonetheless, it is often still considered an additional luxury. Participation is often limited to only older children, children and youth are only invited as passive listeners or they are otherwise not considered to be equal participants in conversations that affect their lives. Gabriella Rask and Arianna Tripodi explain in this interview what child and youth participation should be like.
Why is it crucial to promote child and youth participation?
Arianna: Child and youth participation is a right guaranteed through the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This means that it is not some added luxury treat that children and young people ask for, but something very important when working with them. For this reason, meaningful participation of children and young people has to be implemented at all levels.
For organizations providing care and family support such as SOS Children’s Villages, it should be a main component of the programs. It substantially contributes to children and young people’s personal development, and empowerment improves the quality of programs.
What should genuine child and youth participation look like?
Gabriella: Children and young people should be empowered to participate from an early age. It is about providing the space for their participation and to express their views, according to their evolving capacities. This means that everything we do for children and young people should involve them. They are experts on their own lives.
Child and youth care professionals need to be aware that fostering child and youth participation is part of their role in guiding children and young people. This means we also need to build the capacity of caregivers in this respect.
When children are empowered to voice their views from an early age, it enables adults to pick up on things that might not be going well in their daily lives earlier. Caregivers and others working with the children and young people have to find the balance between protection and their participation. Every young person’s needs are different. They should be asked what makes them feel good and safe.
Arianna: Child and youth participation starts within the family or the care setting, in the context of everyday routines and decisions, such as what to have for dinner or what skill or language they want to learn. It can also be actively participating at the community level and international level, such as children and youth advocating for their rights with the state and local authorities.
It is not about children and young people getting what they want but more about power-sharing between children, young people and adults. This way, children learn to take ownership and are better equipped for their adult life.
Children and young people need to be provided with opportunities to become aware of their rights and build their skills to enable them to participate. There are, of course, cultural differences and norms but we need to challenge the general tendency to assume that children and young people are not capable of taking decisions.
What initiatives exist within SOS Children’s Villages to promote child and youth participation?
Arianna: A new Global Youth Participation guide, which will be released this year, provides the global frame for participation and its implementation steps. It aims to offer guidance to staff of SOS Children’s Villages on how to enable young people to participate within SOS Children’s Villages in the areas of advocacy, the support of youth-led initiatives and in the programs.
This year, we also launched a program called Youth Power to promote youth-led initiatives and strengthen participation. Young people and youth workers from 18 countries attended the five-day virtual program, received trainings, presented their work and boosted their knowledge on youth-led initiatives and participation to drive the change for a better world.
Gabriella: The International Youth Coalition (IYC) began in 2015. It is a platform composed of 20 young participants from 10 countries. The aim is to strengthen youth participation at national and international levels, empower young people to share their views on various topics and exchange knowledge and experience with their peers.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the IYC met in person, annually for a full week, to receive training and meet each other. Currently, we are meeting regularly online, which is working very well.
The young people discuss topics such as the range of suitable care options, youth participation, education and skills development, the skills care professionals should have, their preparation for independent life and health and well-being, including mental health. They are also encouraged to develop their own solutions with support from peers and adults for issues they want to work on.
The group’s input is included in various projects. For instance, the young people’s consultations on how technology can improve youth care and development led to key takeaways, including recognition for the need to remove barriers to technology access, increase awareness of opportunities for technology and that staff should have training in online safeguarding.
How can this benefit children and young people individually, especially considering the situation of children living in alternative care and those at risk of losing parental care?
Arianna: The young people acquire leadership skills, build networks and engage in peer-to-peer exchange. The experience enables them to grow their communications skills and they exchange knowledge, resources and ideas amongst each other.
Gabriella: We also see that their self-confidence and motivation improves. Through interactions with peers across the globe, young people are inspired to engage in various activities and skill development opportunities.
How should children who grow up in alternative care or who have experienced challenges in their families be empowered to take part in decisions affecting their lives?
Gabriella: It starts the moment a child or young person enters our care program, regardless of their age. Care professionals have to be equipped to involve children in decision-making processes. This means to give space for dialogue so that they can find the best solution together.
Arianna: Child and youth participation is everyone’s responsibility, and it should happen in all spheres. It is not only the caregiver’s responsibility but also that of the program lead and the organization itself. It is a cross-cutting topic at all levels.
We have to see it as a partnership: we have to shift from working for children and young people to working with them and consult them as experts on their lives.
Learn more about how SOS Children's Villages advocates for the rights of children and youth.