Can you hear me? Two researchers’ perspectives on children’s rights, participation and voice
We have recently published an article in Children & Society journal exploring parent and professional views on the child’s voice in multi-agency meetings, considering how meaningful and impactful this was, or if there was voice present at all. An online survey combined with educational documents, subject to thematic and documentary analysis, presented some interesting findings. The findings highlight the importance of professional beliefs around child capacity and their understanding of what constitutes a competent view. In turn, they influence the extent to which professionals find representations of children’s views worthwhile. Implications for practice include raising professional awareness of evolving ontologies around the representation of children’s views in multi-agency meetings in line with policy and legislation. This highlighted to us that while children’s voice has been a key factor in legislation for a number of years, there is still a great deal of work to be done around making this a central part of our work and ensuring that not only is the child’s voice included but that it is included meaningfully.
We were keen to explore this topic as it’s been an area of importance to both of us throughout our careers thus far. Here is a summary of what it means to each of us:
My interest in children’s voice started several years ago when I began first volunteering, then working as a project worker for Barnardo’s. My role was to support and advocate for children with additional support needs to enable them to fully participate in activities and remove any barriers to their participation in daily routines. This was important as many of these young people were unable to communicate verbally, so creativity was required to ensure we could communicate, and the young person knew they had choice. I would frequently attend multi-agency meetings where I could be the only person directly sharing the child’s view, this was where I began to question how often the child’s view was included and at the centre of discussions. if I hadn’t been there, would it have been shared at all?
Throughout my training as an EP, I recognised that there wasn’t the same opportunity for the direct work I had carried out with Barnardo’s for gathering the child’s view, so I started thinking about ways I could still ensure the views were included and heard. I was keen to use my experience and passions around the promotion of children’s rights, and to work with practitioners to remove perceived barriers to gathering views, including the age and stage of the child. I had initially designed a thesis for my masters’ degree using a digital avatar to capture children’s views, following an observation that when the child was physically present in a meeting, the tone was different. The idea of the avatar was that children would record what they wanted to say, either verbally or through video, with an avatar designed by them which could then be played within the meeting. This was adapted from my work with Barnardo’s, whereby a service in Glasgow were using this model within the Children’s Hearing System. Unfortunately, COVID impacted my ability to complete this. My then adapted thesis formed the basis for our published paper.
Since working as a teacher and then an educational psychologist I have been passionate about engaging children and young people in their own learning. Central to this has been enabling them to explore their sense of agency in different contexts such as school, home and in the community.
Developing more creative methodologies for young people who have a high level of need has been important in my work, as has been delivering professional development courses for workers in children’s services. A key aspect of this training has been the exploration of adult narratives around pupil voice and promoting children’s participation in multi-agency meetings. I have been able to do this in several local authorities in Scotland together with an on-going collaboration around development of children’s voice in Copenhagen.
So many people have really embraced the development of pupil voice in their work and it is pleasing that new legislation in Scotland has acknowledged the importance of children and young people’s views being heard in line with the principles of the UNCRC (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) – UNICEF UK). The four nations of the UK now have a Children’s Commissioner.
Here are links to their websites:
- Scotland: Home – The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland (cypcs.org.uk)
- England: Children’s Commissioner for England
- Wales: Home – Children’s Commissioner for Wales (childcomwales.org.uk)
- Northern Ireland: Welcome to the Website of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (niccy.org)
A highlight for me was co-presenting at a BPS conference with two primary-aged children and their teacher. They talked about their experiences of participating in solution-focused, strengths-based multi-agency meetings and how people worked together to make things better for them. Robert said:
I am pleased now to be teaching about pupil voice and narrative on the MSc Educational Psychology course in Dundee. This is how Kerry and I met: I was delighted to be her thesis supervisor as she is so passionate about children’s voice as well and she wrote a cracking thesis!!
Whilst this topic is an area of passion for both of us, we acknowledge that it is not unproblematic, with many factors still making it difficult at times to hear and act upon children’s views on matters that affect them. Here are some areas that we think need to be explored further:
In line with the GIRFEC approach in Scotland (Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) – gov.scot (www.gov.scot)), we need to explore how children’s views are represented across different contexts, including educational and family contexts.
Recommendations from our paper centre around the duty upon adults to firstly model that views are important and valid. Next, it is important that children are taught how to do this. Are we teaching children to form an opinion and articulate this? And are we doing this in a meaningful way; are we gathering this frequently with clear purpose or for a one-off meeting? Further to this, it is important that we teach children to listen to others’ views in order to fully understand the power of voice, recognising that listening is a skill as important as literacy. Should all of this be a core piece of learning?
- Adult belief systems
As adults, we have a duty to reflect upon the value we place on the gathering of children’s views. If we don’t value including children’s views meaningfully in practice, we won’t scaffold children to be able to do this independently. We have to ensure that we are not ruling out gathering a child’s view because we deem them too young or unable to provide voice. There is always a way to adapt our tools to gather views, but we need to ask ourselves, what am I looking for? Our expectations regarding content of views may require us to adapt approaches based on age and stage, but the expectation should remain that every child can provide a view.
Following on from these areas of further exploration, we are hoping to continue researching in this area, beginning with a focus on Educational Psychologists. In the future, we would also hope to conduct a piece co-researching with children.
Kerry and Tracey’s full paper ‘‘Can you hear me?’ An exploratory study investigating the representation and impact of children’s views in multi-agency meetings’ published in Children & Society, can be accessed here.