Decision-making: children and young people's participation

How to involve children and young people in decision-making.


Under Article 12 of the UNCRC, every child has the right to be heard in matters affecting them and to participate in the life of their family, community and society. 

The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 embeds this right (Article 12) in primary legislation under Part 1 (Section 1 (2) and Section 1 (5)). 

There are many sources of guidance on children and young people’s participation in decision-making available to help those who are engaging or thinking of engaging with children and young people. Our expert working group identified the following guidance on children and young people’s participation as being particularly useful.    

If you want to study children and young people’s participation in more depth, you can find a selection of research publications and organisations that can support you. 

Things to consider

You should:

  • always consult the specific guidance of your organisation/body/institution relating to children and young people before you start your engagement
  • tailor your project to the particular needs of the group that you are planning to engage (e.g. age, gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity, care responsibilities, location)
  • make sure you adhere to the latest guidance protecting vulnerable groups

Child protection and safeguarding

Everyone has a responsibility to make sure children are safe. The National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland 2021 describes the responsibilities and expectations of everyone who works with children, young people and their families in Scotland. It includes information on participation of children in child protection processes. 

All organisations working with children and young people must have their own child protection procedures in place and are required to comply with the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (PVG) Scheme, managed by Disclosure Scotland. You can find out more information on their website or by calling them on 0300 020 0040.

Child protection services are provided by each local authority, who can provide advice to anyone who has concerns over a child’s safety and wellbeing.

If you are concerned that a child is at risk of immediate harm or neglect you should contact the police by dialling 101 in the first instance or, if it is an emergency, call 999. 

Ethical guidance

When you are working with children and young people you should always follow relevant ethical guidance. Some professional bodies have their own ethical codes and guidance. Please ensure that you have appropriate ethical approval - if you are unsure, please take specialist advice. 

An important part of working ethically involves obtaining informed consent of the children and young people involved. This includes, for example, ensuring that they know what is being asked of them and why, that they have willingly agreed to take part, that guarantees have been given about confidentiality and anonymity, ensuring that feedback is provided to the participants, and so on. For more advice, see the links below. 

Examples of ethical guidance include A Code of Ethics for Community Learning and Development (CLD Standards Council Scotland). There is also online training available, such as Ethical Practice – Competent Practitioners.

If you are working in research there are a range of resources available such as:

Guidance on participation 

The UNCRC's general comment 12 (paragraph 134) is the basis for many other guidelines on participation.

This was developed to give more information about the right to be heard (Article 12).

The Seven Golden rules for Participation, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland (CYPCS), are designed to help anyone working with and for children and young people to support them to understand, experience and exercise their participation rights. They are informed by the UNCRC General Comment on Right to be Heard (Article 12) and they were developed in consultation with children and young people. They are available in two downloadable versions (one for those working with/for children and one for those working with/for young people), as well as a number of accessible formats and languages. 

‘The Right Way’ is a resource by the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) and funded by the Scottish Government’s Children’s Rights Unit. It aims to support and challenge officials and decision-makers, as duty bearers, to work to ensure young people’s Article 12 right is respected: The Right Way.

A Practical Guide to Including Seldom-Heard Children and Young People in Decision-Making, was developed as a joint publication by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (Government of Ireland) and Barnardo’s and written by Olivia McEvoy. The practitioners’ toolkit includes sections on: 

  • structures for groups of seldom-heard children and young people in organisations
  • creating a safe and friendly environment for seldom-heard children and young people
  • ways to engage with seldom-heard children and young people

The Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA) is used to identify, research, analyse and record the impact of a proposed law or policy on children's human rights and wellbeing.
It should be used by the Scottish Government on all new legislation and policy which impacts children, not just children's services. Even if the policy area has nothing to do with children or young people, all new policy needs to be assessed.

Children's Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment templates and guidance are available for public authorities and third-sector organisations to adapt for their own use. 

A list of published child rights and wellbeing impact assessments is also available.

Co-design Blueprint - Communic18, Year of Young People, was developed by young people who were directly involved in designing and delivering the Year of Young People (YoYP) 2018, and based on Young Scot’s Co-design methodology, the Co-design Blueprint is a guide for anyone looking to engage young people in decision making. 

Learner Participation in Educational Settings (3-18), Education Scotland, was developed as a result of research commissioned by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and illustrating the importance of effective learner participation, this resource provides: 

  • a new definition of learner participation for Scottish education (ages 3-18)
  • an evidence-based rationale and set of potential benefits of participation
  • principles and practices for authentic participation
  • a four-arena framework for understanding and self-evaluation

National Standards for Community Engagement, VOiCE, are good-practice principles designed to support and inform the process of community engagement, and to improve what happens as a result. They were originally launched in 2005 and have since been widely accepted by a range of practitioners in Scotland as key principles for effective practice. During 2015/2016, the Standards were reviewed and updated; the aim of the review was to update the Standards and bring them into line with the developing policy and legislation relating to community empowerment in Scotland and to build on the growing range of practice across the country. 

National Youth Work Outcomes, YouthLink Scotland, is a toolkit for youth workers and volunteers who deliver and manage youth work in Scotland, either in the voluntary sector or in local authorities.

The Lundy Model of Child Participation, by Professor Laura Lundy, Queen’s University Belfast, provides a way of understanding a child’s right to participation and it includes four key elements – space, voice, audience and influence – that have a rational, chronological order. The model was featured and endorsed by the Irish Department of Children and Youth Affairs in their National Strategy on Children and Young People’s Participation in Decision-Making (2015 – 2020). 

The Participation and Engagement of Children and Young People: Our Principles and Guidelines, Children in Scotland, support meaningful engagement with children and young people within their own work and organisation, but they may be useful for other organisations that are similarly engaging or thinking of engaging with children and young people. The principles and guidelines are underpinned by the UNCRC and they cover key themes including planning and coordination, feedback and evaluation. 

Resources to support Participation with Children under 14

Engagement with children under the age of 14 will be different to participation with older young people. This is because their needs are different, and you should pay closer attention to things like space, activities, time, and accessible information.  Below are some specific resources that may help guide your journey:

Babies and young children also have a voice that must be listened to, The Voice of the Infant Best Practice Guidelines and Infant Pledge have been co-produced by a short-life working group, on behalf of the Infant Mental Health Implementation and Advisory Group, which is part of the Scottish Government's Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Programme Board. The intention is to provide guidance on how to take account of infants' views and rights in all encounters they may have with professionals in statutory or third sector services, or in public spaces such as shops, libraries or galleries: Voice of the Infant: best practice guidelines and infant pledge.

Look Who’s Talking: factors for considering the facilitation of very young children’s voices, University of Strathclyde, was developed by academics at the University as part of a project that brought together academics, policymakers, and practitioners. It seeks to help researchers and practitioners engage with and listen to young children (birth to seven), and it includes eight factors (definition, power, inclusivity, listening, time and space, approaches, processes, and purposes), as well as a series of questions and posters, designed to support those working with young children. Although created for those working with very young children, it can be used across a range of groups.

Some examples of projects with younger children can be found here:  Childcare & Early Years Archives - Children and Young People’s Evidence Bank.

Additional resources

  • How Good is Our School? (Education Scotland) is designed to promote effective self-evaluation as the first important stage in a process of achieving self-improvement in schools
  • Hear by Right (National Youth Agency) is an organisational development tool on a framework of seven standards with 20 indicators that describe best practice, supporting organisations to plan, develop and evaluate their participation practices and provision
  • Participation Models: Citizens, Youth, Online (Creative Commons) is a useful summary of a number of different participation models, strategies and practices
  • Save the Children has published various toolkits for monitoring and evaluating children’s participation. It has also published So you want to consult with children? A toolkit of good practice, which is a resource pack of guidelines and good practice for enabling safe and meaningful participation with children
  • The Voice against Violence Standards Booklet was made by eight young experts who  developed participation standards to help and empower children and young people to participate and break down barriers for children who have experienced domestic abuse
  • Embedding a children’s rights perspective in policy and decision-making is an EU publication which provides an overview of the extent to which children’s rights are promoted and taken into account in policies and practice


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