Decision-making: children and young people's participation

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


We are committed to recognising, respecting, and promoting children’s rights, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The UNCRC developed General Comment 12 (Paragraph 134) to give more information about the right to be heard (Article 12). 

General Comment 12 sets out nine basic requirements for effective participation. Effective participation must be: 

  • transparent and informative
  • voluntary
  • respectful
  • relevant to children and young people
  • child-friendly
  • inclusive
  • supported by training
  • safe and sensitive to risk
  • accountable

Participation should be viewed as a process, not a one-off event, and tokenistic approaches must be avoided (i.e. where children and young people’s views are sought, but not adequately taken into account). 

It also emphasises ongoing conversation between children and adults, in a spirit of mutual respect: 

  • recognising and supporting children’s own actions, activities, and activism (which may not involve adults)
  • recognising the importance of inclusive, safe, accessible, and respectful spaces where children and adults feel comfortable to share their views and work collaboratively
  • an open attitude that ensures authentic engagement without tokenism

In addition, young people involved in developing this guide emphasised the need for participation projects to have:

  • clear aims and outcomes
  • processes/structures in place for monitoring
  • feedback and evaluation
  • use creative methods (such as play, art, music, drama or design), wherever possible

Benefits of participation

There is considerable research evidence that supports the view that participation in decision-making brings about:

  • effective policy making and decision-making
  • improved services design
  • autonomy
  • opportunities for action on the part of children and young people

Therefore, effective participation by children and young people really matters. Participation gives individuals the opportunity to have their say on a whole range of issues, to shape decisions and create positive outcomes and changes.  

There are many different types of participation - ranging from consultation to full co-design – including:

  • consultations
  • surveys
  • focus groups
  • activism
  • creative work
  • co-design
  • citizen assemblies

Children and young people often have fresh and unique perspectives on current issues as well as new ways of addressing them. By engaging with them, they have the opportunity to influence the Scotland that they live in today and in the future.     

There are many benefits and effects of children and young people’s participation including: 

  • recognition of children and young people as competent actors/players
  • the development of skills, understanding and awareness in children and young people about how to participate to make a difference
  • increased empowerment, engagement, and commitment by children and young people to participation in all spheres of life
  • a greater sense of inclusion, improved child-adult relations, and reciprocal trust, respect and feeling valued across generations
  • shared ownership in creating change
  • enhanced validity and legitimacy of decisions, since they are collaboratively arrived at
  • improvement in a range of service-specific outcomes for children and young people (for example, improved attainment and children’s wellbeing in educational settings, development of life skills)
  • improvement of policies, laws and service provision
  • improved practice and awareness of how to support and realise children’s rights among professionals and carers
  • the realisation of children’s rights

Throughout 2022, a team of 14 members of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSPs) worked with Scottish Youth Parliament staff, partners, and Scottish Government officials to develop resources designed to support decision-making adults and ensure the practice of meaningful participation with young people in their work.

Their work shows that The Right Way to engage with young people in decision-making will vary depending on several factors e.g. the young people involved, the policy area and who it impacts most, and timescales. The materials and resources on The Right Way website will support officials to build a process by which they plan and deliver meaningful engagement to meet the needs of everyone involved.

Differences between participation and consultation

There are some key differences between participation and consultation.

A consultation involves asking children and young people to share their views and ideas about something, recording their ideas and bringing these ideas to the people who are involved in the decision-making process. 

Children and young people may not be directly involved in the decision-making but their views can be taken into account. Sometimes they may not be told about what happens as a result of the consultation. However, there are some situations where consultation is appropriate e.g. when a large number of children’s and young people’s views are sought.

Participation is different. It involves direct and indirect involvement in decision-making or action to create change.

Children and young people's participation includes all of the ways in which children and young people engage in action, practices and dialogue with adults - parents, staff, carers, and community members - to create positive outcomes and changes. 

Further information 

  • Scottish Co-production Network shares learning about co-production activity in Scotland 
  • Participation Network is a learning community of practitioners and communities of people with lived experience in Scotland who share good practice and resources relating to participation


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