The impact of children and young people's participation on policy making

A report commissioned by the Scottish Government to explore the impact children and young people’s participation has had on policy-making in Scotland.

2. Introduction

Background to this study

Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ( UNCRC) states that children have a right to be listened to and to be taken seriously. This right should extend to all aspects of their lives, from family settings, schools and communities to society as a whole. However, we know that how children's voices, needs, ideas and recommendations are gathered and used varies considerably. Shier (2001) outlines five different levels of engagement:

1. Children are listened to
2. Children are supported in expressing their views
3. Children's views are taken into account
4. Children are involved in decision-making processes
5. Children share power and responsibility for decision making.

There are many reasons why good quality engagement with children and young people within policy making is worthwhile, alongside ensuring that their rights are upheld. Hudson (2012) states these include:

  • The development of better policy that more clearly reflects children's views and understanding
  • The development of skills, knowledge and understanding of civic rights and responsibilities amongst participants
  • Increased confidence and self-esteem amongst participants.

Participation in Scotland

There has been clear progression within Scotland over recent years in terms of involving children and young people in policy making. The development of the previous Child Poverty Strategy and peer led approaches to substance misuse education are two good examples [1] . More recently the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 [2] introduces provision to take account of the views of children in decisions that affect them and has resulted in the introduction of the Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment ( CRWIA) [3] . Alongside this, various organisations have developed considerable levels of knowledge, skills and experience in engagement work to support policy development and implementation.

However, we also know that there is still much progress to be made. Together's report on the State of Children's Rights in Scotland (2016) recognises that engaging children and young people in policy making is still "ad hoc" and leaves some groups underrepresented (particularly younger children and children with additional support needs) [4] . Furthermore, while more children and young people may be involved in consultations, the extent to which their input has resulted in direct changes to policy making or implementation is unclear.

About this study

Children in Scotland was commissioned by the Scottish Government to explore and evidence the nature and type of impact children and young people's participation has had on national and local policy making in Scotland. The study utilises six qualitative case studies, illustrating a range of participation and engagement work across Scotland. Case studies were selected from responses to a national survey seeking examples of where children and young people had been involved in policy making. Data collection included qualitative interviews from policy makers, organisations supporting engagement activity, and where possible, children and young people themselves. Key findings from across the case studies are discussed and conclusions and recommendations for future action are made to support future policy making. A detailed methodology is available in Appendix A.

Key questions the research addresses are:

  • In what ways do organisations involve children and young people in national and local policy making in Scotland? (including which methods they use; at which stages of the policy making process children and young people are involved, and the extent; on which types of questions children and young people are involved)
  • What types of impact does children and young people's participation have on organisations' decision-making process and the decision reached?
  • What lessons can organisations share on what is working well and what could be improved in involving children and young people in national and local decision making?

The first two research questions are addressed in the results section of this paper, while the third is answered in the discussion section.

Limitations of this study

The study relied on 6 case studies. It was not within the scope of the study to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the entire extent of children and young people's participation and engagement work within Scotland, or to be able to fully identify and quantify the impact this activity has had on policy making. Rather the intention was to describe and illustrate different ways in which participation work has developed in Scotland and to identify some key success factors and limitations to support effective child and young people-orientated policy making in the future.


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