Engaging migrant communities in the promotion of the rights of the child


Home 9 Child development and wellbeing 9 5.3 Child participation and wellbeing

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By the end of this module you will be able to:

  • Discuss on the issue of child participation

Historically, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has been a catalyst for change in the field of children’s rights. Central in this regard is Article 12 of the CRC, which states as follows: “States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child”.

Child protection services are a sector in which child participation should be central because of their direct and indirect impact on the child’s life and wellbeing.

In the past children have often been denied the right to make decisions, to be heard on issues that influence their existence and being valued for their thoughts because they were considered incompetent and/or inexperienced.

The shift towards an increased involvement of children in a variety of cultural, social, and institutional contexts has been driven by three main aspects (Kellett, 2009: 44):

The recognition of children
as capable social actors

Children as consumers of products and services

Full recognition, protection, and promotion of children’s rights

Participation is strongly tied to children’s wellbeing and development. In addition to the legal perspective, which recognises and promotes their fundamental right to be heard, child participation is essential for their healthy growth, both at personal and community level. When children are empowered in decision-making processes and they are involved in matters affecting their lives, they bring up their unique perspectives generating a positive impact at different levels: on the community engagement, democratic process, and active citizenship.

Too often children’s ideas and opinions are not seriously considered by adults who lack of a child equality perspective and of a capacity to properly encourage, support, and facilitate children’s participation.

The concept of children’s participation has been debated at the theoretical level and different theories have been developed and criticised as well. Hart’s (1992) “Ladder of children’s participation” was the first model to acknowledge different levels of participation, from manipulation on the lowest level, to the highest level where decisions are made in partnership between child and adult, and the child’s initiative (Skauge, Skårstad Storhaug, Marthinsen, 2021: 1).


Roger Hart’s Ladder of Participation

Source: Hart, R. A. (1992), Children participation: from tokenism to citizenship, UNICEF International Child Development Centre, p.8.

He refers to the first three rungs on his ladder (manipulation, decoration, and tokenism) as non-participation and describes the four further rungs (assigned but informed, consulted, and informed, adult-initiated shared decisions with children and child initiated and directed). The eighth and top rung of the ladder are: child­ initiated shared decisions with adults. The Hart’s ladder has been considered by some a powerful evaluation tool, while others have criticised its sequential nature, the implication of a hierarchy of values and the lack of cultural context’s consideration.

Treseder presented a modified version of Hart’s ladder model, moving away from the hierarchical notion of the ladder and developing a circular model which comprises five degrees of participation and emphasises that different types of participation are relevant to different contexts and circumstances (Treseder, 1997).

Treseder’s circular model of child participation

Source: Treseder, P., Empowering Children and Young People, London, Save the Children, 1997.

Another relevant model of child participation has been developed by Lundy, Professor of International Children’s Rights at the School of Education at the Queen’s University of Belfast, and it provides a new way of conceptualising article 12 of the CRC. According to Professor Lundy, the successful implementation of article 12 requires a consideration of the implications of four separate factors: space, voice, audience, and influence (Lundy, 2007, 927-942). These concepts and their relationship with the two main strands of Article 12 and other relevant CRC provisions are represented in the figure below.


Source: Lundy, L. (2007), “Voice” is not enough: conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. British Educational Research Journal, 33(6), pp. 927–942.

It is based on four inter-related elements following a rational chronological order:



Source: Ireland Department of Children and Youth Affairs, National Strategy on Children and Young People’s Participation in Decision-Making 2015-2020 (17 June 2015), p. 21. Accessed on 07.02.2022 from:  http://dcya.gov.ie/documents/playandrec/20150617NatStratParticipationReport.pdf


  • Space: a prerequisite for the meaningful engagement of children and young people in decision making is the creation of an opportunity for involvement, a safe and inclusive space in which children are encouraged to form and express their views.
  • Voice: children must be facilitated to express their views. Article 12 states that children should be assured the opportunity to express their views freely, but in some cases, they need the help of others to form their opinion. Article 5 of the CRC gives children the right to receive guidance and direction from adults in the exercise of their Convention rights, including article 12.
  • Audience: their views must be taken into consideration by adults. Lundy highlights the need to ensure that children at least have a right of audience, a guaranteed opportunity to communicate their views to an identifiable individual or body with the responsibility to listen.
  • Influence: their views must be acted upon, as appropriate. Children and young people should be told what decisions are made, how their views are regarded and the reasons why action is proceeding in a certain way.



Hart, Roger A. (1992), Children participation: from tokenism to citizenship, UNICEF International Child Development Centre


Ireland Department of Children and Youth Affairs (2015), National Strategy on Children and Young People’s Participation in Decision-Making 2015-2020. Accessed on 07.02.2022 from:  http://dcya.gov.ie/documents/playandrec/20150617NatStratParticipationReport.pdf


Kellett, Mary (2009), Children and young people’s participation, in: Children and young people’s worlds. Developing frameworks for integrated practice (Montgomery, Heather and Kellett, Mary, eds.), Policy press, Bristol, 43


Lundy, Laura (2007), “Voice” is not enough: conceptualising article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 33 (6) British Educational Research Journal 927


Skauge, Berit, Skårstad Storhaug, Anita, Marthinsen, Edgar (2021), The What, Why and How of Child Participation. A Review of the Conceptualization of “Child Participation” in Child Welfare, 10 Social Sciences 54


Treseder, Phil (1997), Empowering Children and Young People. Training manual. Promoting Involvement in decision-making, Save the Children, London