Challenges for children and young people’s human rights in 2014

Jennie for webpage (2a)[Summary: New Practical Participation co-director Jennie Fleming reflects on the challenges and recent success in progress children’s rights in the UK]

The State of Children’s Rights in England  makes disturbing and distressing reading once again on the fulfilment of children’s rights as set out in Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The report is The Children’s Rights Alliance’s annual review of the Government’s action in response to the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child’s legally binding Concluding Observations for strengthening children’s rights in the UK.

There was significant progress made in relation to only 30 of the Concluding Observations. For 42 of them there was no significant change and 46 of them showed significant deterioration since the last report. Examples of deterioration are that only one in nine State-run Youth Offending Institutions are delivering their minimum requirement of 15 hours of education per week for each young person in their care.  Children from poor households still experience greater levels of mental health problems, disabled children have very restricted opportunities for play, black and ethnic minority children are more likely to be incarcerated than white children.

Successes have been hard won.  Those successes that there have been are frequently linked to strong and sustained advocacy and campaigning by, with and for children and young people, especially those marginalised children and young people such as looked after children, disabled children and young carers and those in contact with the justice system.

Example of successes in areas I am working on personally with Practical Participation relate to children and young people in conflict with the law and with young carers. I join Practical Participation after having been Director of the  Centre for Social Action at De Montfort University for many years.  I have considerable experience in participatory research, especially the involvement of young people, community members and service users in research in a range of social, community and organisational contexts.

An important area of progress is that children and young people in conflict with the law are always dealt with in the juvenile justice system and never tried as adults in adult courts; in a landmark case the High Court ruled that it is unlawful to treat 17 year olds as adults whilst in police detention. This means they should automatically receive the support of their parents or an appropriate adult to help them through the legal process.  The High Court found that the Howard League had argued “trenchantly” that the role of a parent or appropriate adult is critical because it provides a gateway to a child’s access to justice.

Another area of progress has been with young carers. Latest census figures show that 166,000 children, aged 5-17, are caring for their siblings, parents or others. This shocking number is likely to underestimate the true picture, as many young carers remain hidden from official statistics and the agencies set up to identify and support them. A recent positive change is the amendment in the Children and Families Bill which is the latest in a long line of incremental gains with and for young carers and their families. It provides for whole family working and holistic assessments for young carers and the families. This means when a child is identified as a young carer, the needs of everyone in the family will be considered.  This will trigger both children’s and adults support services into action – assessing why a child is caring, what needs to change and what would help the family to prevent children from taking on this responsibility in the first place. This is important because young carers have slipped through the gap between children’s and adult’s support services for too long and will help ensure that young people are protected from excessive or inappropriate caring responsibilities.

I am delighted to join Practical Participation and to be working with Tim and Bill and many organisations working with communities, children and young people to ensure that their rights are met and that they receive the support they need on their terms.

Children and Young People in Open Government: Notes from the OGP Summit

image003We had the pleasure of chairing a session at last week’s Open Government Partnership Summit in London on ‘Children and Young People’s Participation: The Future of Open Government’. So far, the Open Government Partnership has not heavily emphasised the involvement of children and young people, although the recently launched Open Government Guide does include a suggested commitment on engaging youth. Friday’s panel aimed to start the debate on open government that would include all ages.

Each of the speakers prepared notes in advance on their key points, and these are shared below as a record of the key issues addressed in the session, and as an input for future discussion.


Bill Badham, Practical Participation

In this session we aimed to inspire more OGP countries to make children’s participation a central part of their National Action Plans. By sharing stories about how children have participated meaningfully in opening up governance around the world, and by hearing from children and young people themselves, we sought to strengthen the future of OGP implementation by ensuring that the voices of children are heard and that their experience and skills can contribute to more open government around the world.

  • How many of you know of under 18s involved in your OGP national action plans?

  • Participation – the key stone to the fullest possible implementation of children’s rights as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child

    • More than the right to be heard and taken seriously (A12); also the right to:

    • Get and share information (A13)

    • Freedom of thought, faith and expression (A14)

    • Meet in groups and join organisations (A15)

    • Privacy (A16)

    • Reliable and accessible information (A17)

  • These Article together describe the rights of children and young people as being young citizens now, not simply becoming the voters of tomorrow.

  • Citizens by right; active citizens by choice and opportunity: which is what we will now explore in three spheres:

    • In politics around the world

    • In intergovernmental and multi-lateral initiatives

    • In the UK


Jennifer Grant – Save the Children International

  • Why should children and young people be engaged in politics?

    • Because they want to be

    • Because they have a right to be

    • Because we need them to be

  • Some ways that children and young people have been engaged in politics in Save the Children’s work and beyond

    • Imogen will talk about reporting to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the UK’s progress on child rights

    • Bob will talk about engaging children and young people in influencing public spending/government budgets in Zimbabwe

Imogen Schon – Young Advocate, representing Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE)

Imogen shared her experience about reporting to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the UK’s progress on child rights, covering:

  • Involvement in 2008 Reporting Process

  • How 2008 Get Ready Campaign worked

    • Funding

    • Get Ready for Geneva – report written and presented to UN Committee alongside reports from NGOs and Government

    • UN Committee examination

    • Concluding Observations released – all CYP’s recommendations included

    • CYP went through and chose issues around which to campaign – Report Right; Sharing Secrets Safely; Education: Every Child’s Right

  • Long term nature of children and young people’s meaningful involvement.

  • How CYP involvement enhanced the process and how it might be beneficial for other countries / bodies to look to include CYP in decisions which affect them.

Bob Libert Muchabaiwa – Save the Children International

Bob shared his experience about engaging children and young people in influencing public spending/government budgets in Zimbabwe

Scope of participation – Key pillars

  • Participation in governance processes such as constitutional and law reform in establishment and operations of key governance institutions.

  • Participation in  policy and development planning.

  • Participation in budgeting processes throughout the cycle

  • Participation in initiatives by citizens to hold governments accountable for their commitments to citizens through a variety of states’ or citizens driven initiatives, now commonly referred to as social accountability

  • Participation in local governance

Case of Kenya

  • Child participation in constitutional reform, starting with a ‘Dear Delegate’ letter to the Constitutional Commission in 2005, then further organized inputs in 2010. Section 53 a reflection of inputs from children.

  • Government of Kenya in partnership with Kenya came up with the Social Budgeting Framework, that paved way for organized child and youth participation in development planning and budgeting.

  • Children produced alternative reports to the UN CRC. Concluding observations reflect children’s inputs.

  • Children and young people monitoring the implementation of the ‘Constituency Development Fund’

Case of Zimbabwe

  • Child and youth participation in planning and budgeting through the Child Friendly National Budget Initiative – resulting in over 60% increase in budget allocations to key child rights focused sectors namely health, education and social protection.

  • Children and young people- through the CFNBI – have gained a consultative status with MoF on budgeting

  • The specific participation and advocacy strategies used include: Child led groups, children’s ten point plan, junior councils and parliaments, TV programme, pre and post budget hearings with parliamentarians, targeted engagements with local authorities and social sector ministries.

  • Children having a representative in the National Working Party of Officials (Policy Organ) for the National Action Plan for Orphans and other Vulnerable Children.

  • Children and young people organized  their inputs into the 2009-2012 constitutional reform – specific bill of rights on children

Key success factors in the two cases

  • Recognizing that citizens, including children and young people, have crucial roles to play in open governance and a key component of civil society.

  • Different arms of government have the responsibility to create and Institutionalize spaces for child and youth participation in open governance, particularly in policy planning and budgeting.

  • Access to user (child) friendly policy and budget information

  • Representativeness of child participation structures

  • Supportive civil society operating environment.

Concluding remarks

  • OGP Institutional architecture, plans and reporting frameworks (At global and national levels) should consider children and young people as integral players in OPEN GOVERNANCE


Katie Washington – Young Advocate, representing Plan UK (5 minutes)

Katie shared her experiencing influencing the UN “Post 2015”/Post Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) process, covering: the role of young people within Plan, the Plan UK Youth Advisory Panel, and the role of young people in the UN High Level Panel.

Youth Participation in post-2015 process

  • The importance and value of youth participation in the process

  • London and Bali meeting – pro’s/con’s

  • Monrovia meeting – pro’s/con’s (children’s participation)

Lessons learnt and recommendations

1. Representation

  • Young people aren’t one homogenous group

  • Same young people attending the meetings

  • Example: Plan’s Global Speaker’s Network…

2. Children/Young People

  • Big differences between being a child and being a young person.

  • Gaps in experience/knowledge can act as barriers to participation/people

  • Solutions: separate consultations/forums (like in Monrovia), youth friendly language, interactive discussions, training, etc…

  • However, if going to separate children from young people’s participation (like in Monrovia) there needs to be more support and accessibility needs to be improved.

3. Practicality/logistical issues

  • Including translation, time/money, resource, organisation…

  • All can be barriers to participation but are easily overcome if addressed in advance.

4. Accountability

  • Working together to determine future action/steps

  • Important to ensure participation is not tokenistic…

  • Ensure M&E procedures are in place, follow up.

Fahmi Islami, Representing Indonesia’s Young Ambassadors for Open Government

Fahmi shared his experience as a Young Ambassador for Indonesia’s Open Government work

  • Opening up government in Jakarta:

  • The Case of Vice Governor of DKI Jakarta and Complaint Management System

  • What role does youth have in creating open government in Indonesia generally and in Jakarta in particular

  • Model Open Government Partnership

  • Importance of having such events targeting youth

  • Successful stories of first ever MOGP in Indonesia (facts and statistics)

  • What are the results of Open Government


Louise King – Save the Children UK

Setting the stage for children and young people’s engagement in politics in the UK

  • The range of decision-making opportunities, and the level of influence available to children and young people in the UK today, is so much greater than that which was available to their parents, let alone their grandparents.  In the last decade alone there has been huge advances in public and professional attitudes towards the importance of listening to children

  • To a certain extent this progress has been reflected in national legislation, for example, when developing behaviour policies schools should consult with pupils (Education and Inspection Act 2006) and as we speak legislation is being debated in Parliament that will give children with Special Educational Needs a greater say in the extra support they receive.

  • There’s also been a plethora of innovative government initiatives to improve children’s involvement in national policy making such as the National Scrutiny Group (11- 15 year olds) and a children’s budget group in Wales.

  • BUT despite these positive developments there is still more to do to ensure that all children have their participation and civil and political rights realised across the UK

  • Still a need for the recognition that all children in all settings must be involved in governance. There has been great progress in involving some groups of children (children in care), whilst less progress for others (children in trouble with the law).

  • Key that children from the younger age range also have opportunities to be involved – even very young children have views and insights into key policy questions of the day (Cian example re childcare ratios if time)

  • As well as being involved in decisions that affect their individual lives, also a need to ensure children are involved at strategic decision-making level be that at a local, national or international level – finding of research with disabled children (VIPER project)

  • OGP is a movement which seeks to improve government transparency and accountability. It offers a key opportunity to strengthen the role of children in governance

  • Disappointing that children are not specifically mentioned in the UK’s National Action Plan BUT Ministers and officials can still ensure the  involvement of children is integrated into implementation planning be it opening up policymaking or strengthening public participation in budget making

  • Save the Children (alongside other children’s rights orgs), and the children and young people we work with, look forward to working with and supporting the UK Government in this endeavour.

Najib Salam – Young Advocate, representing Save the Children (5 minutes)

Najib shared his experience engaging in politics in the UK

Introduction I am Najib and I am 12 years old and live in London. I have been working with Save the Children for many years

How I got involved. I joined a Save the Children project called In My Back Yard when I was 8 years old. The project supports children and young people to run local campaigns on issues around child poverty. I took part in lots of training including on what is advocacy, how to run a campaign and how to carry out research.

The first project I was involved in was a project about high energy costs and the impact this had on children in poorer families. I was involved in research with families on this issue and me and other children wrote to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate to help to highlight this problem. Quotes from our letters were also used in a Save the Children report on children’s views of poverty

I also became a Save the Children Ambassador and have been involved in some international campaigns, for example, I spoke at a candlelight vigil for Syria’s children

More recently, this summer, I have been involved in a peer research project with children and young people in Westminster, where I live, to influence the strategies that Westminster Council were developing which would impact children in poverty.

Me and the other children in the project collected 200 surveys from children and young people and held two focus groups to find out about the key issues that children living in poverty in Westminster are concerned about.

Me and nine other children presented the findings to important, senior decision-makers at Westminster Council at an event in September.   Lots of the people who were there were influenced by what we had to say and have made commitments, for example, to incorporate the research findings into the strategies they are developing. [I will have a list of all the commitments and who made them to circulate at the event as this shows the impact they had]

Conclusion It’s really important that governments know what children and young people think and take their views into account as we are the future generation, decisions impact on our lives and we have the right to be heard.

The examples I have given today show how it’s possible to involve children of all ages in decision-making, including younger children

Closing Remarks – Jourdan Hussein, President’s Delivery Unit (UKP4), Government of Indonesia

  • Jourdan introduced the Government of Indonesia’s flagship commitment to meaningfully engage youth engagement in open governance and development, and encouraging other countries to do the same

  • Sharing the youth involvement in open government – internship programs and MOGP

  • Plans ahead for the meaningful youth engagement in Indonesia and globally on openness to catalyse sustainable change


Speakers input was followed by an open panel discussion.

2012: a good year for children’s rights?

It’s time to take stock again. And that can be depressing. Children and young people’s rights are under great stress, with rising levels of poverty and increasing inequality in health, education and jobs.

And hostile attitudes towards children run deep: recent ICM research undertaken for Barnardo’s found 49% of respondents believe children in the UK are beginning to behave like animals; and a quarter believe children who behave anti-socially or commit crimes are beyond help by the age of 10. Incredible! So there is much to be done and being armed with facts rather than fiction and myth can help us.

So here is the 2012 improving rights outcomes quiz. The information is largely taken from CRAE’s State of Children’s Rights publication at

The quiz

Improving rights outcomes quiz 2012

And here is the quiz to download with full notes under each slide:

improving rights outcomes quiz 2012

And thanks for the guest blog below to Jennie Fleming, Director of the Centre for Social Action at De Montfort University (

Jennie writes in the Centre’s newsletter editorial:

Words like “austerity” and “deficit” sanitise and seemingly justify the current range of policy initiatives that will disadvantage the poor and those who need support. They legitimise politicians throwing up their hands in the air with platitudes such as “What else could we do!”

These words mask who is hurt by more dramatic withdrawal of public services than was experienced in the 1980’s. Regressive taxation which favours the rich and prejudices the poor, political statements demonising those out of work as lazy louts and calculating scroungers, punitive bedroom taxes which add hardship to hard-pressed families – these are not an accident but a deliberative policy, framed within a clear and explicit ideology.

Reading media created by disabled people one gets a sense of how this is experienced, Shaping our Lives points out that ‘once powerless people could at least count on having others on their side, this no longer applies. There is a strong sense among those under attack and that powerful people won’t speak up for them.’  Sophie Partridge, actor, writer and workshop artist told The Guardian of how she has written to David Cameron (and is still awaiting for a reply) pointing out to him, ‘It’s not my impairment which makes me vulnerable. It is your cuts. It is your policies.’

Not surprisingly therefore these times are seeing a resurgence of community organising and social action. We are witnessing new models of public ownership of public services through Community Interest Companies and Mutuals, through self-help groups and front line support like food banks. We are witnessing social action principles and practice resurging. The Centre for Social Action remains committed to movements promoting social justice and social change, bringing its applied research and practice principles to be biased for the poor.

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Participation: ten principles (perhaps)

I was asked recently to work with a group looking to review and evaluate the impact of their participation work with individuals and organisations, as well as their wider contribution to social justice.

It got me thinking about the assumptions we needed to front up before getting started and I ended up with these top ten, grouped under three headings. I am looking forward to meeting the team and seeing how useful (or not) these are in agreeing a common framework AND having some criteria to use in evaluating the work

Rights based
• Participation is a fundamental human right, not a gift dispensed by well-meaning adults that they may choose to withdraw.
• Participation is a human right and a procedural right. The effective participation of children and young people in matters and services that affect them is vital for them in achieving the best possible outcomes for them as individuals and collectively.
• The rights set out in international law in the Convention on the Rights of the Child are inalienable and indivisible. They apply equally to all children and young people under 18 and have a marked continuing significance for those in transition to adulthood.

Process and product (outcome)
• Participation is about dialogue and change.
• Participation is about power, values and attitudes, in this case toward the young.
• Our working assumption (proven) is that children and young people get a better deal through a more responsive service which happens through children and young people’s participation in its design, delivery and evaluation.

Measuring impact
• Stats and stories are important in exploring impact. Direct evidence from those who are meant to have benefited from participation is crucial in determining impact.
• Social justice can only be advanced with those experiencing injustice. It cannot be done to people.
• Social justice is most likely to be advanced through the triangulation of participation, practice and policy.
• Social justice indicates impact beyond the individual to the group, community or more widely.

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Miming participation – reflecting on recent images

This post first appeared as a guest blog for Clare Hanbury:


Participation – the impossible mime

Two colleagues whispered to me to mime the word “participation.” This was in front of a range of government officials at a training event on the voice and influence of children and young people in government policy. Of course I tried heartily. But the more I tried the worse – and perhaps the funnier – it got. Folks gave up. It was a point well made. It is hard to mime participation. You cannot abstract participation from what you are participating in. So I mimed – and they got – what I was doing: tennis, football, chess – whatever else I tried. But it was harder for them to get and define the doing itself – the participating.

Fast forward ten years and I met a youth work manager in a local youth club who said he was “passionate about participation.” His oft repeated refrain left me more and more confused and wanting to ask “participation in what?” It struck me as dangerously irrelevant to children and young people’s lives if notions of their participation are separated out somehow from the immediate stuff that matters to them. It only makes sense where it is being worked out in the context of the matters that affect them – school, family, health, safety, culture, play and more widely local and national decision making.


Participation built in

Our experience is simply that it requires care and commitment to help ensure the voice and influence of children and young people is safe, sound and effective in making a demonstrable difference to them as well as to the organisation or services they use. Participation needs to be built in not bolted on. Hear by Right draws on an internationally renowned model of organisational change. It is based on 7Ss which we adapted to participation. We added indicators as ideas or suggestions to show what might be done to see a standard embedded. Crucially, the 7S model highlights that most importance should be given to the diamond of shared values, style of leadership, staff and skills. Change should not be driven by the tough rigid triangle at the top of structures, systems and strategy. These are important – but only in relation to core purpose, vision and values.

 (Peters and Waterman, 1982)


Participation – human right and procedural right

To take part, as shown in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is a human right. It is also, as explored above a means to an end – vital for the fullest attainment of all other rights to education, health, play, protection and so on. I wrote back in 2002 that “Participation is the keystone of the arch that is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is unique and holds the whole structure together. Without it the framework falls. Without the active participation of children and young people in the promotion of their rights to a good childhood, none will be achieved effectively.” This right for example is embedded in English domestic law on child protection in the Children Acts of 1989 and 2004. Georgia’s drawing below illustrates this powerfully and makes a deeper point. Georgia does not talk about participation, but about being welcomed, liked and respected, feeling part of her young carers group in Leeds and getting hugs from the worker who she trusts. Participation may start as transactional – give and take – but it cannot stay like this; it will either wither if not nurtured or it will grow to become about relationship, being and belonging.








(Georgia, young carer, aged 12, Leeds)


Participation triangle

We need to get our means and ends right. Tools like Hear by Right helping build in participation are a means so that the services children and young people get become more effective and responsive so that they get a better deal as a result. A way to hold this tension is to see the three corners of a triangle: standards for building in participation bottom left; skills for children and young people to campaign and take action to help make change happen; and the apex – change as evidenced by children and young people themselves.


Keeping these three aspects in creative tension is critical. Hear by Right offers a range of materials and over ten years of shared learning to support organisations.


Act by Right looks to support building skills for action and making change happen. Its family of resources include community activism, tackling climate change and supporting young people to develop skills in organisational decision making. We recently added Leading for the Future, created for the Woodcraft Folk and useful to all those looking to take leadership seriously.

The apex of the triangle is of course change for children and young people, evidenced by them. Over a number of years we contributed to creating a rich archive of What’s Changed stories which were told following a simple pattern of: what children and young people said, what happened, what changed. These stories drew on different perspectives, but the crucial component – the magic box – was that those who were meant to have benefited said that they had (or had not) benefitted. They still read powerfully and we are keen to add to them and develop the library or stories that demonstrate the power of participation to affect change.


Participation matrix

When thinking about the involvement of children and young people, the picture below from Caitlin, aged 9, can help. She used it to tell her story of becoming involved in the Willow Young Carers project run by Barnardo’s in Leeds. Starting out in the bottom left corner when she first joined, feeling a bit alone and not very involved, she did however feel welcomed and listened to. This helped her gain wings of confidence through many helping hands, leading her to take further part in the things that mattered to her directly and made a difference to her. Drawing on these experiences, she began to get involved in things with other young carers toward the top right of her drawing. Roger Hart describes this link between participative democracy (taking part in the things that matter to me personally) and representative democracy (taking part with others in wider decision making).

(Caitlin, young carer, aged 9, Leeds)


Participation – miming the impossible?

Most concerning in Caitlin’s drawing is the position of the big red blob, which she described as what happens if you try and do representational stuff without this being rooted in the lived everyday lives of the children and young people around you. A warning indeed to keep the practice of participation real and relevant and not abstract and disconnected. We are still looking for anyone who can convincingly mime participation. Let us know how you get on.

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Participation risks at a time of change

My latest SlideShare upload:

I have just finished a caffeine induced rush of a presentation on participation risks at a time of change to colleagues in the Yorkshire and Humber region. Thanks to an 80 minute delay on the train from Newcastle, I managed to have ready a series of photographs to illustrate the conversation.

I started with Talha Ghannam’s deep thought about why we do what we do and the notion of intention in Islam: the intention of:

  • The miser – what do I get out of this?
  • The trader – so, how does this pan out
  • The lover – we do what we do because it is the right thing to do.


And two reflections based on pictures and words from two young carers in Leeds.

Georgia, young carer, aged 12: participation may start as transactional, but grows to be about relationship, being and belonging

Caitlin, young carer, aged 9

  1. My life – participative democracy that makes a difference to me
  2. Our voice – representational democracy that can have wider influence
  3. Poor attempts at representational democracy, disconnected from lived lives

Then some reflections on 10 participation risks:

Participation risk 1: no discernable change?

Poor community engagement leads to disconnection, sense of betrayal and no discernable change

Participation risk 2: veneer covering up the cracks of poverty and social exclusion

Participation risk 3: come and join me in my organisation to do my stuff

When are adults supporting young people on their terms on their issues?

Participation risk 4: collective rights to participate are only valid and relevant where underpinned by individual rights, freedoms and civil liberties

Participation risk 5: who participates and who profits?

Participation risk 6: another brick in the wall – our attitudes may have changed but have our behaviours in supporting children and young people to make change happen where they live?

Participation risk 7: we live here too; what progress toward being equal citizens now?

Participation risk 8: prejudice and discrimination toward the young are all around us. What do you see?

Participation risk 9: change happens! Make sure we notice, share and celebrate.

Participation risks? 10: Joy in children and childhood in the public space

Participation rights: a human right and a procedural right; built in as the keystone and not attached as an outhouse.

I’d be keen to hear your thoughts. How do these ten risks match your reality and what is the best way to counter-act them?


Practical Participation

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2010: a good year for children and young people’s rights in England?

Year’s end

As we fast approach the end of the year, I have been revising our children’s rights quiz for 2010. These are tough times and they are about to get a whole lot tougher. We know those who fare worse in such times are the young.

And we know the ideology driving change now is rolling back the state through:

  • Cuts
  • Shrinking of public services
  • Getting rid of central mechanisms of quality and standards
  • Fuelling notions of deserving and undeserving

Only 8% progress

At the annual CRAE conference on 19 November, the latest State of Children’s Rights in England report was launched. Of the 118 legally binding obligations on the UK government, substantive progress has been made on 9 (8%) in 2010 (in my view actually 4, if you take out procedural changes that have yet to make any difference to children and young people themselves). I managed to summarise this progress in a single tweet. How depressing:

“SoCR sees more reviews for looked after cyp, support to victims of violence, baby friendly hospitals and reduction in use of hard drugs.”

Longer term trends

So, we need to take stock of the massive impact of this steamroller against a longer term picture. Looking back over 30 years, what is the trend? At a number of management training events recently, I have ended up with the gorgeous diagram as attached: jagged line represents the ups and downs of government policy.

political and policy roller coaster, trends and overall trajectory

The wavy line is what we might see as the underlying trend. And the straight line is our own personal sense of overall progress (or regress). For example, the inspiring Penelope Leach at the CRAE conference said she felt our attitude to the young and our manner of parenting was going in the right direction. Slow but steady progress set against the ups and downs of government policy.


As the year ends, I come back to posing five questions (

  • What progress on children and young people human rights have we made?
  • What change in style and accountability of services have we witnessed?
  • What place for young people as partners and collaborators, rather than objects of others interest and research?
  • What do we need to hold on to help us move forward during these tough times?
  • How do we ensure our endeavour focuses on participation for change?

And all this leads to the last question:

  • How hopeful are we for the next decade? There is much outside our control. What is within our sphere of influence to continue to promote and establish gains for children and young people’s human rights?

And amidst the chaos and the doubt, there are these weird contradictions, like from the Minister for children and families. At the CRAE conference she said: “For too long government has been lukewarm toward the Convention on the Rights of the Child – an embarrassing and guilty secret. I want this to change and be proud of campaigning for children’s rights, which is good for children and young people and good for everybody, building civil society.” (Sarah Teather, MP, 19 Nov 2010, CRAE annual conference.)

As we start this difficult year ahead, I’m with CRAE’s Chair Mary Riddell, quoting Martin Luther King: ” We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Let’s not be silent in 2011.

Take the quiz

Improving right outcomes quiz 2010

Download quiz: Improving Outcomes Quiz (2010 Version) (this version has detailed notes under the slides)
Bill Badham
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Information – key to unlocking respect and participation?

A recent article from the Child Rights Information Network pointed out that freedom of expression and access to information is a good marker for “gauging perceptions of children in any society, because the extent to which children are able to express their opinions and feelings can show how much they are recognised as rights holders.”

We go on (rightly) about young people’s right to participate, to have a voice and influence. But how does this happen if cut off from information held about an individual, about a particular group or community? In events we have run with children and young people getting accessible and relevant information is often a top priority. They talk about it as the gateway to having an effective voice and influence.

One of my favourite Investing in Children ( stories is the one about transport and a fair deal on fares. Initial attempts to affect change were thwarted by stubborn adults hiding behind disinformation. Undaunted, the young activists spent the next year researching. Equipped at their next encounter with facts and figures, they won the case and got the fare concessions.

Being given the information you need can be a mark of real respect and partnership, taking you seriously and helping you make massive personal decisions. Sue Morgan is a brilliant cancer nurse at Leeds General Infirmary. When a child said “what colour is my tumour?” she did not dismiss or ridicule. She asked around and found other young people also wanted to know what this scary thing looked like. They wanted to know about their cancer so they could face their fears, take some control and better make choices on the what, where and when of treatment. So, she worked with the scientists and cancer doctors to make it possible for those who wanted to see their tumour under the microscope: “It’s large and spiky with evil eyes and sharp teeth”; “Seeing it helps me know what I’m fighting.” Sue has also been working nationally to develop tools and web resources so that some young people first diagnosed with cancer can think through the information they need about treatments, wards and facilities to make critical decisions about whether they have their treatment at a main specialist hospital or at a local one.

No wonder then that the big laws that govern our countries and direct nations on the rights of children and young people speak so powerfully about children and young people’s fundamental right to information. Here are two of them.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 19).

“The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice” (Convention on the Rights of the Child, Art. 13).

But just a note of caution, as Tim Davies warns, data is not information is not knowledge is not wisdom. Or to turn it around, it is what we do with the information to create understanding that helps us change transport policy or make better personal decisions about our cancer care. I find this diagram really helpful in making that connection.

Bill Badham

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Exploring Open Data

One of the reasons the Practical Participation blog has been so quiet of late is that I’ve been immersed in a full time MSc Course at the Oxford Internet Institute, where my recently shared dissertation focussed on Open Data from government.

Over the coming months I hope to explore how best Practical Participation can offer support to local authorities, government agencies, community groups and enterprises who are interested in understanding how to share or use open data, particularly uses of data with an impact for civic engagement.

Look out for more soon – but if you’re interested in talking right now about open data and what it could mean for your organisation, you are more than welcome to get in touch.

Thinking out loud: rights and participation at a time of policy and political change

At an event in Bradford recently, I gave a presentation based around our emerging findings about rights and participation at a time of policy and political change. Using live feed from RightSpace, we looked at some key themes about human rights, accountability and style of leadership and evidence of change.

I’ve taken some of the discussion with the video links to offer some reflections and hopefully generate comment and debate as we build toward the national RightSpace conference on 26 October in Sheffield. To check this out and book on line, go to

Rights rise

1989 saw the beginnings of an upturn in interest and understanding and use of rights language to promote the voice and influence of children and young people in matters that affect them. The Children Act of 1989 most coherently placed the right of children and young people in child protection proceedings to have their “wishes and feelings taken into account.” This was extended in the 2004 Children Act to all children and young people in need. Also in 1989, the UN set out the Convention on the Rights of the Child which has been signed and ratified by all nations of the world save two and both these – Somalia and the United States – are getting closer to doing so (

This movement to enshrine adult responsibilities for the wellbeing and welfare of children and young people into law is to be applauded, rather than leaving it to transitory attitudes or passing policy priorities. But there are some risks, two of which are explored here.

Human rights not children’s rights

The language of children’s rights can speak of “them and us”, which can be interpreted as oppositional or divisive. Liam Cairn’s video clip shows the greater strength from affirming children’s human rights, drawing strength and learning from other “emancipatory movements.” And at the Children’s Rights Alliance for England’s (CRAE) annual children’s rights conference on 20 November 2009, Professor Klug urged that children and young people’s rights do not become a separatist movement, but one held and championed within a wider human rights framework which holds the “vision for society based on ethical norms,” rooted in “the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the mother & father of all human rights instruments.” See the blog post at:’s-human-rights-in-focus/

Right and virtuous action

Why do we do what we do? What is our motivation? We can look at this in three ways: because we ought to, because we’re told to and because we want to. If we only, for example, encourage children and young people’s participation because the law tells us we must, that is not very high motivation and may not face up to a contrary climate. Talha Ghannam’s short clip offers a powerful commentary on intention and the reason for action.

Right challenges

These two challenges above come together in a third area of concern: how we see and treat children and young people in England. We tend to polarise them as angels, victims, empty vessels, units of investment, threats and thugs. Our policy and personal responses too often shift to suit political expedient and public scapegoating. But, “Children and young people’s human rights are not a pick and mix assortment of luxury entitlements, but the very foundation of democratic societies” (Alvaro Gil-Robles, Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner). And our social and political reference points should enshrine this.

Leadership turned upside down

Leading and managing work with young people is being turned on its head. The position of the service user, however young they may be, is moving from object to subject, consumer to co-creator, empty vessel to expert by experience, receiver of services to being involved by right in their design, delivery and evaluation. These are transformative times. What impact is this having and should it have on the style of leadership and the accountability of managers to children and young people themselves? There are signs across local authorities and the voluntary sector that it isn’t all just about new structures, such as youth forums and advisory boards, or news systems like dedicated budgets, or monitoring and recording of participation activity.

Stubborn challenges

But there still seem to be some big challenges:

  • Transactional or transformative participation: do we still tend to see active involvement as “come and join me in my organisation on my terms about things that will help our service”? Or is there evidence of participation as shifting to being about transforming relationships, understanding and collaborative working?
  • Representational or participative democracy: are our main methods and approaches encouraging exclusivity and feeding into the few chosen being told they represent the many, rather than supporting grass roots engagement and empowerment?

A style of leadership that understands young people as having lives and interests reaching far beyond the bounds of a particular organisation is crucial to the full realisation of a society in which young people are equal citizens now, activists in vibrant, forward-moving communities, exercising their right to participate, including their right as citizens to dissent.

Nottingham Children and Young People Trust showed innovative leadership and strong accountability to children and young people by running a two event where the children and young people first had the space to identify the issues affecting them and agreeing their top participation priorities before being joined by the managers and leaders to agree action plans with clear responsibilities and time frames. The video tells the story.

What’s changed?

With such attention to the participation of children and young people in matters that affect them in recent times, backed by a vast array of laws and policies, we have perhaps been guilty of not asking searching enough questions about the purpose of this industry and who the beneficiaries have been. Adults have tended to justify participative activity mainly by the act of involvement itself and any changes to the organisation or service resulting. But as Liam Cairns explored earlier in his video clip, taking this approach risks confusing means and ends.

Evidence of dialogue and evidence of change

Lord Ouseley said in his report after the Bradford disturbances: ‘If the people who are supposed to benefit from change do not know that it’s happening, then it probably isn’t happening’.  How do we know children and young people have benefitted from participative activity? What’s better for them as a result? Is their area safer? Do they get better access to training or job opportunities? There may be representative structures in place like school councils or care councils, but are students and looked after young people getting a better deal as a result?

Stories to tell

For some years we have been researching, collecting and celebrating stories that give evidence from children and young people of dialogue and change. They are a great encouragement and inspiration. The tweets from this page give you one example a week. You can look at a whole archive at and add examples by adding #rightspace to any tweets or adding a comment on line at

Visit join discussion on children’s human rights

Book for RightSpace event, 26 October, Sheffield

Bill Badham, Co-Director, Practical Participation

19 June 2010

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