Bouma & López López

Illustrations by Sara Fernández

Meaningful participation

The participation of children in child protection is considered to be important for them and can influence the outcomes of care. Embedding this in legislation and policy is the first building block for the meaningful participation of children in child protection practices.

Meaningful participation is defined as the experience of children being listened to and taken seriously (Defence for Children, n.d.; Pöllki et al., 2012). The theoretical models of Hart (1992) and Shier (2001), which formed the basis for several empirical studies on children’s participation (e.g. Charles & Haines, 2014; Kriz & Roundtree-Swain, 2017), present a hierarchical ladder of children’s participation, including two core dimensions: hearing the child and giving the child the opportunity to influence decision-making. The General Comment on Article 12 (Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 2009), which explains the participatory rights of children, adds a third dimension: informing children. The General Comment as well as scientific studies in which article 12 forms the basis for the explanation of ‘participation’ (e.g. Archard & Skivenes, 2009; Berrick, Dickens, Pösö, & Skivenes, 2015) present the following three aspects: children should be adequately informed as a prerequisite for participation; children should have the option and be encouraged to express their views; and children’s views should be considered when making decisions. A further analysis of the General Comment and the scientific literature on the experiences of children participating in child protection helped us to operationalize the three main dimensions of meaningful participation (informing, hearing, involving; Anonymous, 2017).

Informing

Sara Fernández

Informing children is seen as a prerequisite for participation (Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 2009; Kriz & Roundtree-Swain, 2017). The General Comment firstly states that children should be informed about their right to participate and to grow up without any form of violence (article 19 UNCRC; Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 2009). Second, the General Comment as well as several studies emphasize the importance that the child knows about the reasons of a child protection investigation and the process of investigation (Cashmore, 2002; Cossar et al., 2014; Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 2009). Third, children need information about the possibilities to participate, the focus of participation and the potential impact and consequences; only then, they can make a deliberate decision (Cashmore, 2002; Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 2009). Finally, information should be provided about the decision made, what this decision means for the child and how the child’s perspective is taken into consideration in the decision-making (Cossar et al., 2014; Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 2009; Pöllki et al., 2012; Van Bijleveld et al., 2014).

 

 

Sara Fernández

Hearing

Children should be enabled and encouraged to express their views (Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 2009). Children express that they can provide valuable information, relevant for the decisions to be made; for example, about whether possible solutions would be successful (Pöllki et al., 2012; Van Bijleveld et al., 2014). To ensure that children can really express their views freely, an individual meeting can be important, as well as an open, child-friendly dialogue in which willingness to listen to the child is shown. Children value genuine interest and flexibility of professionals communicating with them. This enables them to tell their story (Archard & Skivenes, 2009; Cossar et al., 2014; Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 2009; Dillon, Greenop, & Mills, 2015; Pöllki et al., 2012; Van Bijleveld et al., 2014).

 

 

Involving

Sara Fernández

To involve children in decision-making processes, their perspectives should be considered. Therefore, it is needed to hear their opinions and views beforehand and to discuss the decision and decision-making process with them (Cossar et al., 2014; Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 2009; Pöllki et al., 2012; Van Bijleveld et al., 2014). Both the General Comment and the scientific literature emphasize the importance of participation as an ongoing process instead of a one-off event. In the context of child protection, this means that the child should be included in the overall process of identifying maltreatment, investigating maltreatment and the interventions needed, intervening, monitoring and evaluating interventions (Cossar et al., 2014; Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 2009). At every step, children should be informed, heard and involved.

Our analysis resulted in a model on participation of children in the child protection system as an ongoing process. The model shows the topics children should be informed about, the conditions which make children feel they are really listened to and the conditions enabling them to influence the decision-making process. The following conceptualization brings together these three dimensions of participation and participation as an ongoing process.

Building a trust relationship with professionals is important according to children (Bell, 2002; Cossar et al., 2014; Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 2009). They are dependent on professionals for any opportunity to participate (Archard & Skivenes, 2009; Dillon et al., 2015; Pöllki et al., 2012), and they communicate most effectively when the relationship with the professional is based on trust, privacy, and honesty (Cossar et al., 2014; Dillon et al., 2015). Building a trust relationship is even more important for children entering the child protection system, as they may have a history of being let down by unreliable adults (Dillon et al., 2015; Pöllki et al., 2012).

Profesora Araceli Giménez

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