Children's participation
Children's participation

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Children's participation

Activity 3

Skills for participation

Timing: 1 hour 0 minutes

We have identified the importance of a value base that promotes participation and we will now consider some of the skills that are needed to make it happen. For this activity listen to the audio accounts of Pete and Phil who are two participation trainers discussing their work with children and different agencies.

Compile a list identifying the skills that appear to contribute to effective participation work, based on their accounts.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Interview with Peter Duncan and Phil Treseder
Skip transcript: Interview with Peter Duncan and Phil Treseder

Transcript: Interview with Peter Duncan and Phil Treseder

What I do is – sometimes it’s advising and supporting other workers and organisations on how to involve children and young people in decision-making processes. At other times it’s facilitating – making sure that young people have the space to be able to give their views and be involved in decision-making.
I think it started for me as a young person – I got involved with International Youth Year – which was back in 1985 – and also ended up getting involved in The National Youth Council – the British Youth Council and I think the reason really really goes back to school for me and that feeling of being completely powerless in that system, and effectively kind of dropping-out of school – by the time I was 14, 15 – because I hated that experience so much – so I felt one of the kind of answers to that really was for young people to be involved in decision-making and having their voice heard – and that’s how it started for me.
I’m a participation worker because it works – I was on a social work course and got really angry with how young people are treated and I wanted to do something about that – so I got involved in setting up a training co-op and looking how we could make spaces for young people – to have more choices – and they’ve always managed to fill up all the spaces that we got them – conferences and days and big meeting with politicians – they always fill up the space and they always have ideas and they’re always very willing to commit to building better communities
There are a whole range of problems in provoking a greater level of participation – sometimes the adults are very scared about what might happen – sometimes it’s just unusual for the young people – don’t think it’s a real opportunity so they sometimes mess around until they believe it’s real – sometimes people want a consultation but haven’t actually got any resources or anywhere to go with it – so that’s very tokenistic and you normally try and set up as a worker to find out what’s going on and what will happen after you’ve been there – what systems or structures are in place so that the young people’s ideas can be put forward and acted on, so it part of the management structure or development. So there are problems with adults needing to do participation but not really knowing how. Its problems with the actual adults involved to break the myths and fears for them – and there’s one for the young people about getting them to believe it’s a real opportunity.
Communication skills are key in being a participation worker because you’ve got to get your ideas across, and you’ve got to listen, so that both sides of that are pretty critical – I’ve learnt by making lots of mistakes, and listening to young people, so you find out what they want, which is clear, non-patronising, open communication that’s respectful of them, and really genuinely wants to hear them, and once you start getting into that then you start improving your communication – and it gets better and better, so I’ve learnt from lots of mistakes, really.
An example of a project we’ve been working in where we moved it from what we thought was just consultation to more participation – was a healthy eating project, and they were looking at healthy schools and healthy eating – and their plan was to do an interview – 120 question interview – in schools with the Head Teacher, and the Chair of Governors, and some of the workers in the project felt that it was just a bit tokenistic and so young people should be involved, so we worked with them to develop the questionnaire into a series of games and activities, So it moved from a ‘tick-box’ questionnaire with adults, to young people’s workshops and young people’s participation in them taking responsibility for healthy lives and safer and healthier schools.
I think some examples of good practice that we’ve managed to develop – the establishment of ‘funky dragon’ which originally from its origins within a project was set up by the Assembly – it was to have a once-a-year event, and that was it, and young people pointed out that you meet the politicians once a year then nobody’s following up to say well this is what you’ve said what have you done about it – two months later – otherwise you end up with a completely different set of young people in a year’s time who don’t know what happened and what was discussed previously – some other examples I think – we were involved in the appointment for The Children’s Commissioner – so you know, involving children and young people in the recruitment and selection for The Children’s Commissioner, which I think at the time was the highest paid official ever interviewed by children and young people that might have changed them, but making sure that children and young people were involved in the process of recruiting staff. We’ve seen very good examples of that now.
there are some areas that we go in to that are quite challenging and risky – we do work on children’s safety and child protection and stuff there are issues around that about if children have a right to be protected, and they have a right to a say and what happens about their say if they say where they want to live is different from your perception about safety – so we’ve done some difficult and challenging issues with young people with very risky lifestyles – about sex and drugs and health and stealing cars, and getting them to look at taking responsibility. As adults we have a duty about reporting, and the duty of care to them – so sometimes there are issues around that, which will be familiar to students and social workers around duty of care. But we go and work with young people about issues around their life, so you have to think about how to support them during it, how to get involved in those group dynamics, one-to-one work, how are you going to support them afterwards, and who you’re going to pass that case on to if there are issues around that disclosure, and issues that concern you about health.
I think we have to deal with some issues quite sensitively – there’s occasions, for example, in school where you may be discussing issues such as bullying – you have to be careful about how you phrase the questions – rather than sort of talking about whether or not anybody’s being bullied, you know, you ask the question of “Do you know anybody who has been bullied?” – you know, it’s just the way its phrased – in terms of just being sensitive and protecting the children in terms of allowing them to be involved in the discussion without getting into personal details.
I think in terms of skills it’s about being sensitive and being aware and being aware of where to take things in terms of child protection procedures and you know because very often we’re drawn in to an organisation where we don’t know the children – we’ve never met the children and young people before – we might only have been with them for a day – and certain issues might come up – which you feel that needs to be passed on to the teacher, social worker, whoever, so knowing where to go with that kind of information – but just being sensitive and being aware of the kinds of issues that might sort of come up in some of the discussions.
It’s important to think about how you look after yourself when you are engaging with young people – about challenging or difficult issues – I never do things solo – I always co-run stuff and that seems very important – if there’s an issue come up, one of you can work with the young person and one can work with the rest of the group. We always feed-back afterwards and check with each other if we’re alright – I have a kind of supervisor-mentor system, and there are networks you can tap into about Children’s Rights workers and advocates – so it’s always handy to have those and know where they are, and regularly go and get peer support – supervision, management support, so you need to look after yourself – because some of the things you hear are quite challenging and difficult –and obviously you feel that as well.
I think society’s changing and I think young people need to be citizens now – I don’t think you wait till you’re 18 to be grown up into a citizen – I think young people take part in society now, so part of the work that I do is about giving children a voice now because actually they’re part of solutions and solving stuff
If you’re working with people in different settings with different abilities or impairments maybe, you start off and negotiate about what people’s specific needs are, then we design a program around that to make sure they are inclusive. For example we worked with the Royal National Institute For The Blind – and we did the values line that today we ran on the floor, then we did it with a rope with knots in – so we would look to do that – we also have stuff in a box that would be more inclusive – when we work with children, particularly with learning difficulties, we give them cards, with red, yellow and green cards – like a traffic light – and they can hold up a green card if they’re happy or a yellow one if they need something re-explained, or a red one if they want it to stop because it’s too much – so you can give young people mechanisms to say when they are not doing it, so we use buddy systems and small groups and if children have very specific needs we try and find out what they are – we start from the fact that young people have a right to be heard and a right to be included and if that’s their right then the issue is for us to adapt the activity to make them included.
It is tiring, it’s physically tiring and mentally working on lots of levels but it is great and actually when it works it’s incredible it goes off like a rocket. The young people have loads of ideas and loads of enthusiasm and loads of energy – much more than us – so once you actually get it going it’s great – sometimes quite hard to stop. We don’t do participation because it’s the law – or it’s a duty – we do participation because it works – gets better young people better system and better skills and a better society.
End transcript: Interview with Peter Duncan and Phil Treseder
Interview with Peter Duncan and Phil Treseder
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There are clearly many skills needed to make participation happen, some of the important ones are listed here:

  • genuine, non patronising and respectful communication skills;

  • ability to deal sensitively with children’s issues;

  • being aware of child protection and your responsibilities to protect children;

  • convincing children that you are serious about listening to them and taking action;

  • ensure that what you are doing is not tokenistic and that systems and structures are in place to act on children’s views;

  • knowing how to access and effectively use resources;

  • creating inclusive environments by negotiating with children and providing them with choices about mediums and methods of communication;

  • ability to work with a co-worker;

  • looking after yourself as the work can be tiring;

  • learning from mistakes as part of an ongoing evaluation;

  • convincing other adults to work in new ways.


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