❝ More than just listening to girls and boys, it is necessary to take into account their voice and promote participatory processes also in the decisions that impact their lives.
The Convention on the Rights of Children commits parties of this Convention to ensure that all children – without any form of discrimination – benefit from special measures of protection and attention, and have access to essential services, such as health and education, so that they can live, grow, learn and participate in the life of society in an environment which is safe and conducive to their full development. Taking the best interests of the child into account in all decisions affecting them is one of the fundamental principles of the Convention. This principle applies to political, budgetary or administrative decisions taken by public and private social protection institutions, courts or legislative bodies.
Child Participation: What is it?
Because rights are what assists each child and young person to be more human, duties are what each one gives of themselves as co-responsibility and solidarity. The Rights of Participation are one of the four categories of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Art. 7, 12, 13 and 15): giving opinions on what concerns themselves, freedom of thought, freedom of expression and meeting with other children or people. Moreover, these Child Participation Rights respect the best interest of the child and the right to be informed and to be heard according to his/her age and maturity. Therefore, when we talk about children’s participation, it means to be part of, to take part in, to cooperate. It also means making choices, taking decisions, getting involved and developing skills of autonomy, initiative and self-esteem, where the
educator should have the role of facilitator and support and not of decision-maker and controller of the development of the activities.
This participation requires a healthy and trusting environment that encourages children to be also responsible for the choices of the activities being developed, in a process of transparency and well-being.
Participation of children and young people also means that they have the right to be more informed and aware of the reality around them, being part of the decision-making process and developing various skills, active listening, critical thinking, debate and joint reflection, empathy and respect for others, taking responsibility for their own decisions and actions. Thus, we talk about a paradigm shift that facilitates the renewal of behaviours and attitudes, in a logic of Whole School Approach. In this process, it is important to take into account who are those involved, which includes, besides the school context, the social and family context and make sure of the existing conditions for an effective participation, as well as develop action mechanisms and promote initiatives for the participation of children in different contexts.
Social and family participation is fundamental at any level of education, particularly in early childhood, therefore, the responsible and collaborative participation of families should be promoted, in consultation with educators, children and other social actors. However, families must be receptive to this participation and recognise its importance. Given the cultural background existing in today’s societies, as well as the diversity of resources and means of families, there are several challenges we face, including the very concept of family, which has been changing. On the other hand, families present different difficulties for their absence in the different actions and activities in the follow-up of their children, such as the difficulty in conciliating professional and personal life, lack of time, insufficient information, for example. However, we well know that the involvement of families in the educational projects is a gradual process, of mutual sharing, development of skills, interpersonal
relationships, allowing an increasingly relevant proximity, each one adopting its own rhythm and defining its own objectives. According to Mata. L. & Pedro.
I, 2021, parents and carers are very important people for the child and being their closest relational context, playing a fundamental role in supporting the challenges that the educational contexts present to them, both in the relationship with the educators and teachers, as with different tasks and with new colleagues and friends.
For the best effectiveness of children’s participation in the different spheres of daily life, the involvement of families and carers is fundamental, because in addition to their personal availability (conciliation), they provide a cultural involvement with other families and home/school communication becomes more consistent. In turn, education professionals can establish different types of partnerships in order to enhance the diversity of their territory, always based on the children’s characteristics and needs.
The benefits associated to the involvement of children, when it is effective, are
▪ The development of new learning and responsibility taking;
▪ Promoting children and adolescents as agents of civic/political/social participation and action;
▪ Building meaningful and child-friendly participatory processes.