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.

4. Results

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)

Survey responses

In March 2017 Children in Scotland circulated a call for examples of where children and young people had been involved in policy making. This survey collected 37 examples, from a diverse range of policy areas and local authorities [5] (see Tables 1 and 2).

Table 1: Policy areas that young people were engaged with on (Respondents' Indicated Areas)

1. Safety/crime prevention 2. Child's voice/Justice
3. Community planning 4. Gender-based violence
5. Education, Curriculum for Excellence 6. Knife crime
7. Wellbeing 8. Early years
9. Technology/Glow 10. Communication/engagement
11. Sport 12. Children's rights
13. Future planning 14. Food
15. Digital learning 16. Mental health and wellbeing
17. Learning (attainment gap) 18. Strategy
19. Stop and search 20. Learning disability draft delivery plan
21. Crime 22. Education
23. Education 24. Health
25. UNCRC reporting 26. Policing
27. Human rights 28. Organisational policy
29. Austerity 30. CYP priorities for local policies
31. Children's services 32. Sex and relationship education

Table 2: Local authority area

Local authority area Number of responses
Edinburgh (City of) 8
Fife 6
Glasgow 5
South Lanarkshire 4
Scottish Borders 4
Renfrewshire 3
Midlothian 3
Argyll & Bute 3
West Lothian 3
East Lothian 2
North Ayrshire 1
Aberdeen (City of) 1
Stirling 1
East Ayrshire 1
Perth and Kinross 1
Dundee (City of) 1
South Ayrshire 1
Inverclyde 1
Shetland 1
Falkirk 1
Dumfries and Galloway 1
Across Scotland (Undefined) 2
No data provided 15
Total 69

These results, while not comprehensive, illustrate the range of ways children and young people are supporting the development and implementation of policy making across a wide range of policy areas.

Case studies

Our case studies have also provided a more in-depth look at some of the ways in which children and young people are involved.

4.1 Stage of policy making

Wherever possible children and young people should be engaged throughout the whole policy-making process [6] : setting the agenda; developing the policy; and involved in its implementation and evaluation. The ROAMEF [7] cycle outlines the policy process as follows:

ROAMEF (Rationale, Objectives, Appraisal, Monitoring, Evaluation, Feedback) cycle

The six case studies illustrated examples of engagement work taking place at all stages of the policy making cycle, although not all case studies involved children and young people throughout the whole process.

Developing a rationale / setting objectives

Young Edinburgh Action ( YEA) and Renfrewshire Champions' Board utilised different models to involve children and young people at the early stages of policy development.

YEA's action research model utilises a co-design approach that allows young people to become involved at the earliest stage and decide what issues to focus on and then conduct the research on their chosen priority areas. Each year a gathering event is planned by young people, which gives them the opportunity to discuss issues of importance to them. This was the origin for the Better Sex Ed project. After gathering events, smaller action research groups are formed around the prioritised topics and young people are able to make autonomous decisions about which research group they wish to join. Following the research phase, young people then aim to directly influence policy decisions through meetings with representatives from City of Edinburgh Council and agree recommendations for action.

"We were both involved with the planning of the gathering, the event where young people come along and vote on the issues that are most important." ( CYP involved in Youth Edinburgh Action)

The Renfrewshire Champions' Board utilised regular meetings of the group to allow young people to drive the conversations and decide what issues to discuss. The regular meetings of the Board supported by WhoCares? Scotland have allowed the children and young people involved to identify the issues that affect them as care-experienced young people in Renfrewshire and take this to their corporate parents at six monthly meetings.

By enabling children and young people to set the agenda from the outset, policy makers improved their ability to make changes that reflect children and young people's needs and priorities.


Although children and young people were not involved in the development of the original Equally Safe strategy, they subsequently became involved in the strategy refresh and development of the Equally Safe Delivery Plan. Their involvement has allowed them to appraise the existing strategy, make suggestions for changes and improvements and inform the development of the delivery plan to support its implementation. This was undertaken through a series of meetings and events.

Similarly, the consultation on proposed new police powers to stop and search children and young people for alcohol also involved children and young people appraising a proposed new policy. Following feedback from a range of children and young people, the Scottish Government decided not to proceed with their proposal. It was widely felt that this was a very positive example of where children and young people's voices have had a direct and immediate impact on policy making.

"Children and young people aren't a homogenous group, they had different perspectives on this, it was a very interesting and intricate and nuanced area for us, so that was really great." (Stop and Search case study)

When considering the impact of the consultation, it should be recognised however, that the result did not necessarily reflect the views or preferences of all young people who took part. Two different consultations found that there was some support for the new powers among young people, but that this was qualified by various other scenarios or outweighed by other feelings. It is important to remember that children and young people are not a homogenous group.

Monitoring and evaluation

As part of their fifth periodic review of the UK's implementation of the UNCRC, the UN engaged with children, young people and the organisations that worked with them to gather alternative, independent perspectives on how rights were being upheld in Scotland, and across the UK.

As a first step, some children and young people were surveyed through Together to gather views on their priorities. This shaped the visit of UN Rapporteur, Amal Aldoseri, who engaged with young people at various sites to understand their views on issues of children's rights. The delivery of engagement work was almost entirely led by young people, and as such offers a positive model for engagement that could be used in other circumstances. Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament ( MSYPs) took on the facilitation role and led discussions between the UN representative and the children and young people at different sites. Due to the time and financial constraints they were unable to be involved in the planning stages however.

"It's intrinsic within the UNCRC reporting system that there has to be alternative reports, and the only way you can do an alternative report is by involving children and young people." ( UNCRC Reporting cycle)

There was recognition by some organisations involved in organising the visit that children and young people should have been involved in a more meaningful way in earlier stages of the review process and that this did limit its overall impact. As with other participation activity, engagement across the whole policy cycle is recommended.


Feeding back to children and young participants is a crucial element of the engagement process, but unfortunately is an aspect that is often overlooked in the pressure to move on to other actions and priorities. Among our case studies, there were varying degrees of success in how well children and young people were fed back to about how their input had influenced change. Some projects were successful in providing feedback at certain stages but not at each stage.

The Perth and Kinross SNAP innovation, for example, has struggled to provide the young people involved or the youth worker who supported them with any feedback on the impact of the engagement or how the project had progressed since the event.

Conversely, the young people involved in Young Edinburgh Action ( YEA) received feedback directly from decision makers throughout the project, through regular meetings and discussions with council officials. They were also given informal opportunities to provide their feedback on the project throughout. However there was no formal accessible mechanism in place. The fluidity of the project was noted to make this slightly complicated.

Other young people who were involved in the YEA research were kept up to date through a child-friendly report that was shared with schools. However, it is unclear how widely this was disseminated among pupils. A film was also produced by the Better Sex Ed group to reflect on their involvement in the action research group and report on their findings, which was also shared with schools. This involved considerable consideration about confidentiality and anonymity.

However, there have been challenges of continuing the feedback loop to young people now that the better sex education project is finished. Due to the success of the project there are still impacts being felt, but as time passes since the completion of the project, it can be hard to ensure the young people receive word of this.

The Renfrewshire Champions' Board utilised fortnightly meetings to provide a mechanism for regular feedback on the progress of the work of the Champions' Board. Corporate parents also had the opportunity to feedback at the six-monthly reviews. On these occasions the Champions' Board are able to hear directly what has happened and to ask questions about progress. The young people are also given the opportunity to work with the corporate parents to co-design feedback methods to ensure that it was accessible and engaging for them. This is a positive development which could become more widespread practice in other engagement work.

"We would generally ask the corporate parents to feed back to the children and young people at their formal meeting.... young people had raised employability as an issue and Fire and Rescue have taken on a number of young people in very tailored work experience the meetings following they would then feedback to the young people about what they had done." (Renfrewshire Champions' Board)

As part of Equally Safe there were various methods of feedback to young people throughout the process. However, due to changes in personnel at the Scottish Government it was not entirely clear how far reaching this had been. Ongoing mechanisms for feedback between Scottish Government and young people were similarly unclear.

The Centre For Research on Families and Relationships ( CRFR) utilised an online message board to update the young people who were involved in the Equally Safe work. This was seen to be an accessible way for them to be involved. This was also seen as a potential method for allowing continued interaction and feedback between the young people and Scottish Government, with appropriate measures in place to ensure safety. CRFR will also be using an evaluation session to allow the young people to feedback on the overall process.

The feedback as part of the Stop and Search project is still ongoing. Organisations that were involved were informed that an announcement had been made. More detailed and tailored feedback is currently being developed for specific organisations involved in the consultation process. Additionally, a guide for young people is being created that will outline 10 key points from the code of practice to increase their knowledge of stop and search.

However, a number of issues around feedback were also expressed in relation to the Stop and Search project, particularly around a lack of ongoing dialogue with those children and young people who took part.

Feedback in the UNCRC Reporting project took a variety of different forms throughout. The groups involved in the visit received copies of the draft report that was to be sent to the UN to agree the outcomes. The report to the UN was designed to be accessible for children and young people and copies of the UN report were then passed on to organisations so that they could see the concluding observations, and pass this on to the children and young people who were involved. However capacity and resource meant that opportunities for young people to evaluate the process were limited. The Scottish Government updated on actions following from the Concluding Observations at a stakeholder event in January 2017, which was attended by representatives from SYP and the Children's Parliament.

4.2 Participation methods

Young people who are engaged in policy making should be given the opportunity to influence the methods of their engagement with the policy-making process [8] . This can include everything from: deciding on the structure and style of engagement opportunities; taking part in peer-led research; influencing how their views are reported on; agreeing how they would like to stay informed and involved with the work and how they receive feedback. Partnership working can be a useful method to facilitate engagement where policy makers do not feel they have the skills themselves. Adequate preparation time is vital to ensure that methods are appropriate, accessible and offer meaningful opportunities for children and young people.

Our research identified that a variety of methods have been utilised to involve children and young people in policy making in Scotland.

Co-design approaches

Young Edinburgh Action ( YEA) use co-design approaches to identify young people's priorities and agree the methods for pursuing their research questions. As outlined below, this initially involves an engagement day developed by young people for young people. In the case of the Sex Ed project, the young people involved in the project then developed surveys with YEA staff to gather the views of young people across Edinburgh. The results of the research were then taken to a 'Conversation for Action' meeting with decision makers at Edinburgh City Council to agree how to progress the research recommendations.

Co-design approaches like that developed by YEA offer substantive and meaningful opportunities for children and young people to get involved in policy making, while still offering support and expertise from professionals. This can at times be a balancing act for the professionals involved:

"We have a lot of debates within Young Edinburgh Action about whether it's youth led or not, and my personal view is it's a partnership between young people and adults…we all bring our own views and experiences to the table." (Young Edinburgh Action, organisation lead)

"As a researcher and a youth worker I'm constantly treading this tightrope between wanting to support young people to do the best research that they can but also wanting to respect their agency and their ideas and what they want to do." ( YEA, organisation lead)

Positively, YEA appear to be very alive to these tensions and work them through with the young people involved.

Children and young people-led research and facilitation

A key feature of the Equally Safe project was an engagement event with decision makers which was designed and facilitated by a group of young people. This was felt to be quite a challenging role for the young people to take on, particularly as the event proved to be bigger than originally anticipated. It was, however, successful and rewarding for all. One key success factor identified was that the young people had previous involvement in the Voices Against Violence project and therefore had some experience of working with professionals on a similar topic area.

"Basically the young people ran it, they chose the methods of engagement, they devised the whole programme, and I gave information (about the scope) because they weren't fully involved [in that aspect]." (Equally Safe organisation lead)

In the case of the UNCRC Reporting project, the UN rapporteur's visit was almost entirely led by young people. MSYPs took on the facilitation role and led discussions between Amal Aldoseri and the children and young people at different sites. It was felt that this created a more positive, inclusive atmosphere where children and young people were more able to participate and share their views:

"So the great thing about this was the fact that it wasn't "ta da, it's the UN!" - it's about Amal being in a place where they felt comfortable, where they felt safe, where they felt able to talk about their lives." ( UNCRC Reporting organizational lead)

This opinion aligns with wider evidence which indicates that peer research and facilitation enables participants to feel more comfortable and able to share their views and perspectives. [9]

Creative methodologies

The case studies offered many examples of where creative methodologies, including fun activities, games and visual arts had been utilised to increase the accessibility of events and evidence gathering sessions.

The SNAP innovation pilot project utilised creative methods to facilitate the involvement of children and young people and support them to contribute in a way that made them comfortable. This involved various elements of group work and then drama-based methods to allow them to provide feedback to the group at large. The facilitation at the event was viewed very positively in terms of making the young people in attendance feel comfortable enough to participate openly and honestly on the subject of human rights, even when they had negative opinions to raise.

"There were very creative ways of doing feedback, almost like the news reports, where they had this cardboard cut-out TV and young people stand behind that and feed back what they had done in small groups to the bigger group." ( SNAP Innovation, organisation lead)

The consultation on police powers to stop and search also involved different methods of engagement for different groups of young people due to the variety of organisations delivering this work. Children's Parliament utilised creative arts-based participative approaches that are their standard for such projects, and these were helpful, particularly in enabling younger children to approach the complex issue. Children in Scotland utilised a round table approach to bring young people together with adults to discuss the proposed legislation.

As with peer research, creative methodologies are another supportive and effective mechanism to enable children and young people take part in policy making, and are likewise recommended for future activity.

Youth-led reporting

A key feature of the Renfrewshire Champions' Board model is regular meetings with strategic leaders in Renfrewshire Council. This offers Board members the opportunity to report directly to individuals with the power to make changes to local services. Through this route they had been able to achieve a range of changes including providing free leisure passes for care-experienced young people and altering the timing of children's hearings so they did not fall in exam periods. However, the group did recognise that ultimately they wished to move beyond helpful practical steps to more strategic change.

"I think sometimes you need your quick wins like your access to leisure, stuff like that...but there needs to be a change at the end of it. So I think that's the bit we are continually working with the council to make sure happens. And I think it is happening to be fair." (Renfrewshire Champions Board, Organisation Lead)

This is an important observation, and one we will return to in the discussion section below.

4.3 Challenges of participation


Several organisations involved in supporting children and young people's engagement indicated that they would have liked to have had the opportunity to involve children and young people earlier in the policy making process, where they could have had the opportunity to influence the scope of the policy work and shape the engagement methodology. This opportunity had not been made available, and they had been brought in later in the process with a specific task in mind - to run an engagement event for example.


Interviewees in three of the six case studies suggested that funding was inadequate to undertake the quality and depth of participation work that ultimately was desired. In some cases this limited the opportunities children and young people had to be involved, in others it meant organisations putting in their own resourcing, particularly for staff time to support children and young people's engagement. This is clearly an issue that needs serious consideration by policy makers wishing to involve children and young people in the process. Supporting children and young people in policy making is time intensive if it is to be done well, particularly if you are seeking to include the views of children and young people whose voices are seldom heard, and for whom large engagement events will not work.

"I think that to support the obvious commitment from the Scottish Government towards the rights of the child to participate in decisions that impact on their lives, that needs to be coupled with resourcing and adequate time to conduct meaningful participation and engagement work across Scotland." (Stop and Search, Policy Lead)


Timescales were raised as a key challenge to engagement in a number of case studies, either because they were too short and did not offer enough opportunity to plan and engage meaningfully, or because the policy making process was too protracted, meaning that keeping participants involved and informed became problematic. As much as possible, clarity from the outset about timescales and processes, and regular feedback on progress will help children and young people understand the policy making-process and mitigate some of the problems associated with pace of change.

"The delays from government [meant] it was hard to keep their interest as well." (Equally Safe, Organisational Lead)


One consequence of lack of planning opportunities, short timescales and limited resources is that it limits the opportunity to engage with a diverse group of young people, particularly those whose voices are seldom heard. While some of the case studies had been able to engage with a wide variety of children and young people, such as the UNCRC reporting case study, or with specific groups such as care leavers, others had struggled to extend their reach: in terms of numbers able to engage, or with specific groups such as younger children or boys and young men. We also heard very little from the case studies about the involvement of children and young people with additional support needs, such as physical conditions and communication difficulties. Given that children and young people might have diverse needs and priorities, limited opportunities to engage may ultimately mean that policy making is not fully rounded or does not address some important concerns.

"They quite rightly thought that there should be younger children [involved]…which we agreed with." (Equally Safe Policy Lead)

Feedback and follow up

We highlighted the importance of feedback in section 4.1 above, and it was clear that providing feedback to young participants was a challenge for all the six case studies in different ways. In four of the case studies this was because policy makers had not provided this to share with young people or the organisations supporting them. Interestingly, these were the four projects with a national remit, where the relationships between participants and policy makers and influencers were less well established. It is vital that all policy makers, whether locally-based or national, view feeding back to participants as an essential responsibility to see through, otherwise they risk disenfranchising those whom they have previously wished to engage with.

"The event happened and there was the usual 'you'll hear follow up' and so on. But…we brought the young people to the event - we haven't heard anything since 2015." ( SNAP Innovation, Organisational Lead)

4.4 What types of impact does children and young people's participation have on organisations' decision-making process and the decision reached?

The impact children and young people had over policy could broadly be split into two distinct sections: the influence they had over decisions reached in relation to policy, and the clear impact on organisational and individual practice. There were also marked differences in the overall impact that different projects had. The level of impact in many cases appears to have been influenced by how engaged the young people were throughout the whole process.

Policy/Decision making

The views of children and young people will inevitably be only one of a number of factors that influence the development of policy, as other factors including budgets, legal requirements, service priorities, wider public opinion, and existing systems and structures will also influence. Wherever possible, children and young people should be aware of both the potential for change and limiting factors at play at the start of any engagement work so they are clear how and where their views will fit into the decision-making process [10] . The role of organisations that support children and young people's engagement is to encourage policy makers to give children and young people's voices sufficient status and recognition amongst other evidence that may influence decision-making.

The quality of the engagement work, whilst vital in terms of ensuring that children and young people are able to fully express their opinions, will not alone be significant enough to influence change. It does require a commitment from policy makers to genuinely listen and respond to what children and young people have told them.

From the examples given in the case studies, it appears that children and young people tended to have more impact on policy making where they were engaged at an early stage in the process and had influence over the scope of the issue and engagement methods. Engagement should therefore be sought at this stage, wherever possible.

The Young Edinburgh Action ( YEA), Renfrewshire Champions' Board, the consultation on police powers to stop and search and the UNCRC reporting case studies all identified examples where children and young people had a clear impact on policy making in Scotland.

Through the work of the young people involved in YEA a new health improvement post has been created between Edinburgh City Council and NHS Lothian. The young people's voices are also feeding into the delivery of sex education in Edinburgh as a video they made is being shown during teacher training on the topic.

The Renfrewshire Champions' Board has also had several tangible impacts on policy within the council region. Within the Children's Hearing system the layout of rooms was changed and information cards were also introduced. Care experienced young people will also be provided with leisure passes as a result of the Board's influence.

The young people involved in the stop and search consultation process were identified as having raised issues throughout the process that adults would not necessarily have thought of. Their involvement was felt to have clearly impacted on the decision to not give the police the new power to stop and search children and young people for alcohol. Beyond this the children and young people involved also influenced the development of a new code of practice on how to conduct stop and search with children and young people and also a young person's guide on the topic.

"As a result of the consultation engagement there's a new section in the code of practice specifically on searches of children and young people under 18, which is quite ground-breaking." (Stop and Search, organisation lead)

However, it was also highlighted that not all children and young people supported the decision to not grant the police the new powers. This raises an interesting question about how we balance the different views of children and young people. Ensuring that children and young people are well briefed and understand the nature of the policy area concerned is a vital part of this. But we must be open to how we approach differing views and not disregard opinions because, for example, they come from younger children or those with additional support needs.

The children and young people involved in the UNCRC reporting cycle had made an impact on policy making, particularly in terms of influencing the rapporteur's report to the UN. Their involvement also contributed to the evidence session at the UN where the Scottish Government gave evidence, and Amal Aldoseri was able to use the evidence gathered from children and young people to directly question Scottish Government officials. Several MSYPs were also given the opportunity to attend the cross examination in Geneva and give evidence.

The Scottish Government's draft policy position paper in relation to the Concluding Observations was circulated to relevant organisations in December 2016 and discussed at an engagement event in January 2017. Ministers have indicated that they will include actions to address the Concluding Observations, as appropriate, in the report to Parliament in 2018, in line with Ministers' statutory duties under Part 1 of the 2014 Act. However, it remains unclear if and how the Scottish Government will involve children and young people in shaping this, or will feed back directly to them. Clarity from the Scottish Government in terms of how this will be taken forward would therefore be welcome.

There also appears to have been a similar lack of conversion about the evidence gathered through the engagement work from the SNAP Innovation project into policy outcomes. At present the work has been used to develop a report but it is not yet clear whether it influenced policy in Perth and Kinross, or more widely.

The ability of the young people involved in Equally Safe was limited due to the lack of resources to allow them to be involved. They were, however, felt to have had an impact on the development of the Delivery Plan, although it was noted that it was hard to quantify exactly where this change had occurred. They also appear to have influenced the development of a new Equally Safe participation project that will allow for more young people to be involved.

Organisational practice in participation and engagement with children and young people

High quality engagement work can also have a snowball effect in terms of promoting further high quality participation work, through influencing the practice of those involved. This can mean that children and young people are engaged with more meaningfully or simply that their views are considered with greater regularity by decision makers. There were several clear examples of this throughout the case studies and policy makers should be cognisant of these sorts of impacts as much as the impact on the final policy or decision taken.

The YEA, Renfrewshire Champions' Board and Equally Safe projects identified that the children and young people involved influenced organisational and individual practice in various ways. A member of staff involved in YEA identified that going forward they ensure that young people are participating in projects and have a key co-design role. YEA also appears to have influenced the practice of Edinburgh City Council with some of the young people involved now sitting on an advisory group looking at sex education.

The young people involved in Renfrewshire Champions' Board are believed to have had an impact on their corporate parents within Renfrewshire Council. It was felt that care-experienced young people are now considered with more regularity in policy making in Renfrewshire. The corporate parents have also fed back that on an individual level working with the Champions' Board has increased their knowledge of care-experienced young people and the issues that they can face.

"Whenever they're making decisions about policy that it's always in their head to think about how this particular policy might impact on care-experienced young people." (Renfrewshire Champions' Board)


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