Children and young people (CYP) are the next stakeholders of our society and usually the most affected by the public decisions that are made today. Therefore, it is important to involve the youth in public deliberative engagement about decisions that affect the next generation.
The two most frequent questions when planning to involve young people in deliberative programmes are:
- what is the minimum age for children and young people to be able offer meaningful contribution to decision making?
- what are the main aspects to be considered when engaging with CYP?
Based on our experience working with CYP, the minimum age to be included on engagement programmes depends very much on how complex / contentious the subject is. However, you might be surprised at how even at a young age, CYP can make meaningful contributions - as long as we design our approach and materials in a way that works for them, and keep our expectations realistic about the depth of discussion that will take place.
As an example, we recently ran a deliberative engagement programme for Arts Council England to inform their new strategy for 2020 to 2030. As part of this programme, we designed materials for, and facilitated workshops aimed at 12 to 18-year-olds, 6 to 11-year-olds and under 6s to find out what creativity means to them; and what they think ACE could do to support them to do more creative activities. We adapted our materials and our approach for each age group, to ensure that children and young people were able to engage and participate in a meaningful way.
Some aspects we must consider when engaging or envisaging to engage with CYP are:
- Learning styles and attention spans, particularly when it comes to young children – make the activities varied and fun, and keep the event short.
- What issues will be of most interest and relevance to CYP and what questions do we want to ask them? Choose a small number of questions and make sure they are clear, concise and relevant.
- Some CYP find it difficult to think on their feet and often feel like they should agree with what others say. Sending them information/questions in advance gives them an opportunity to think things through and giving them opportunities to draw or write their own thoughts down can help ensure we hear different perspectives.
- People under 16 must be accompanied by an adult when attending events.
- Consider whether DBS clearance is needed for the activity you are planning.
- Best practice for informed consent and data protection must always be followed – this includes making sure CYP understand what is being asked of them and what will happen to the information they share, as well as letting them know they can withdraw from participating at any time (and how to do so).
As the people who will be most affected by public decisions that are made today, we have an ethical and moral responsibility to involve CYP in decision making. Given the right opportunities, CYP will make insightful and relevant contributions to deliberative discussions, and may also encourage their future civic participation too, supporting the next generation to be engaged citizens who believe they can make a difference to society.