1.5 Involving children and others
Involving children in action planning can provide a valuable source of information about their needs and experiences. Children of all ages can be involved, providing the methods of involving them are age-appropriate. By listening to children’s views and taking them seriously, children are empowered and can contribute meaningfully to the action planning process. By enabling children to participate, you are helping them to realise many of their rights under the UN Convention and the African Charter. This includes the right of children to access information, to express themselves freely, to have their views taken into account and to be active participants in their communities. They are also being prepared to take on responsible roles as adult citizens.
Children can be involved at a number of different levels, depending on their evolving capacities. There are numerous techniques available to enable children’s participation. You can refer back to Module 4, Section 2.7: Advocacy with children, for suggestions on how to involve children. In addition, some helpful resources are listed in the Bibliography at the end of the module.
Here we will talk a little about some of the good practice and ethical issues you will need to consider if you are to involve children in action planning, or in monitoring and evaluation.
If children and adults are involved in action planning together, there are several important issues to bear in mind.
- Remember that there is a power imbalance between adults and children. Adults may be prepared to support children’s views, but they may not do so if they disagree with them. It is important to create space for children to say what they think without being intimidated by adults.
- Consent should be obtained from parents or guardians but children should also give informed consent. They should be aware of the purpose of their involvement and what is expected of them. They should not be forced to participate.
- Children should know about the boundaries of confidentiality and when it may be necessary to inform others about information they disclose.
- Children’s involvement should be valued, either through payment or other appropriate reward or recognition.
Child protection issues
Children should always be protected from harm. In any work with children, child protection is vitally important. Sometimes, if they get involved in community activity and speak out on key issues of concern to them, it may lead to a negative response from other members of the community. It is important to be alert to these issues. Children need to be informed and advised about possible risks, and protected from engaging in activities where they might be placed in danger. Wherever possible, it is helpful to identify a key person to take responsibility for ensuring children’s safety. Children need to know who that is and how to contact them.
Because children have diverse backgrounds, experiences and needs, one child or a small group of children are unlikely to be able to inform you fully. It is important when involving children in action planning, to involve children with different backgrounds and experiences as much as possible. This can be challenging, because of insufficient time, insufficient resources to pay or reward more children, and the capacities of particularly vulnerable children.
The following tips may help you in thinking about ways of reaching and involving children from different backgrounds:
- Think about all of the different children who could be affected or could benefit – girls, children with disabilities, children out of school, very young children.
- Think carefully about the method of questioning and involving children. Will any groups find it difficult to understand and to participate? What different methods might work better for different groups? For example, through games, role play, drawing?
- Children that are particularly vulnerable and those with scarce resources will be able to participate more easily if the activity takes place near their home, school or at a community group. Take the work to them rather than expect them to come to you.
- Use methods that allow less confident children to express their views, for example it may be helpful to separate boys and girls for some of the time, or to ask children to work together in smaller groups.
- Agree on ground rules so that children feel safe, and challenge inappropriate language or behaviour, such as sexist remarks.
When working with children and young people with disabilities, it is important to think carefully about their communication needs. Some children will not be able to communicate their views in what you might consider to be the conventional way.
The most important thing you can do when working with children with disabilities is to avoid making any assumptions about what they are capable of. You should ask them directly, or their parents or guardians or other adults that work closely with them, about how the child normally participates and communicates.
While you should ask about individual needs, there are a number of things you should always do when working with children. Working in these ways will help to improve accessibility for children generally:
- Use simple and culturally relevant phrases with common local usage, and words that translate easily to the local setting.
- Remember that language is more than just words – facial expressions and body language can say a great deal.
- When communicating in print and using visual aids, use legible fonts and font sizes.
- Speak clearly and slowly if necessary, checking that children understand before moving on.
- Face the children so they can see your lips and face while you speak, and keep the background noise to a minimum if possible.
Ten characteristics of a good action plan