Child Participation Case Study

Consulting with young people to inform a UNICEF Child Rights Schools programme for primary school.

Background Information

  1. The project on which we involved children and young people in decision-making

UNICEF is a children’s rights organisation. In Ireland we raise funds for children, we educate teachers and children about rights, and we work to change policy. The Child Rights Schools (CRS) programme is an innovative and creative initiative that aims to embed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in the ethos and practice of schools in Ireland. We provide support to schools through materials for children and young people and continuing professional development and resources for educators. In 2022 this programme was only available to primary schools. We wanted to adapt the programme for post-primary schools, but before making any decisions we hired a consultant to engage with young people to gather their views on the topic.

2. The topic on which we were looking for their views

UNICEF consulted with young people in post-primary schools to understand their views and experiences of child rights education at school. This project aimed to discover what was working well regarding child rights education and what, in their opinions, could be changed or improved for the future. This was just the first step in the programme adaptation process – to first understand if there even is a need for the CRS programme in post-primary schools. If a need was identified the purpose of this project would also be to gather recommendations from the young people on what format it should take. These insights would then inform the next step of developing the pilot programme.

3. The reason we wanted their views

UNICEF is dedicated to realising the Convention on the Rights of the Child for every child. Therefore, it is essential that the views of young people inform our work (Article 12). The CRS programme is about children and for children, therefore we believe that it will be more suited to their needs if they inform its design.

4. The decision-makers that facilitated and listened to their views

UNICEF’s Child Rights Education (CRE) team initiated and funded the project. We hired a consultant to lead the work. She is a post-primary teacher and researcher. The workshops were designed in collaboration with UNICEF’s CRS Coordinator. The consultant facilitated the consultation workshops and listen to the children’s views. She produced a report of the workshops, outlining a summary of the children’s views and recommendations and presented it to UNICEF’s CRE team.

 5. The decision-maker/s responsible for acting on their views

UNICEF’s CRS Coordinator is responsible for acting on their views. Their insights will inform the development of a pilot programme for post-primary schools.

 6. The age profile of the children and young people

1st-year to 5th-year school students – 12 to 17 years old.

 7. Other relevant information about the children or young people (e.g. disability, ethnic background, social disadvantage, etc.)

The four groups of students were from four different settings: a single-sex (girls) voluntary educational school, a single-sex (girls) DEIS school, a co-educational DEIS school and a single-sex (Boys) voluntary secondary school.

How we gave space, voice, audience and influence to young people’s views


How we ensured a safe and inclusive space to hear the views of young people

Things we considered What we did
The space or setting where we got their views (this may include online settings)
  • The research/consultation took place in the student’s schools
How you identified the children and young people to be involved
  • Students were selected by teachers in 2 schools and volunteered to be part of this initiative in the other 2 schools.
  • 30% were active in student voice committees within schools.
  • 65% were not directly involved in voice. committees 5% were involved in voice work outside of school.
How you involved those who were directly affected by the topic
  • The topic of child rights affects all children and young people
How early in the process they were involved in decision-making
  • This consultation project is the first stage in the decision-making process. We gathered their views to help us to decide if we should progress to develop a pilot CRS programme for post-primary schools.
How the process was inclusive and accessible
  • In the invitation letter to principals, the consultant stated that it would be preferable if every student was given the opportunity to participate, regardless of their child rights education experience.
  • The voice-based research utilised different methods of eliciting the voice of the young person such as QRcode survey, Mentimeter, walking debate, group discussion and individual voice to hear the opinions of young people in different ways.


How we gave young people a voice in decisions

Things we considered What we did
How we informed young people about the topics on which we wanted their views
  • In the four settings, the students signed a consent and assent form which detailed the purpose of the workshop along with the questions that would be asked in child-friendly language.
  • It was made clear in the consent form and in the workshop what their views were used for and why they had to be audio recorded.
How we made sure they knew their views would be taken seriously
  • The consultant explained the background to the project – that she was hired by UNICEF to gather their views. She would write a summary report and present it to UNICEF.
How we informed them about level of influence they could have on decision-making
  • Students were informed that UNICEF would use this report as part of the process of gaining a better understanding of the type of programme that UNICEF should develop for post primary schools.
The methods we used to get their views
  • The workshop was time controlled, but in each section, students were asked if they were ready to share their views.
  • They had time to consider their opinions and to listen to the opinions of others before they were asked to share.
  • The methods used to elicit voice were varied.
  • Students began their contributions by scanning a QR code which connected with an online survey. This simple survey had three options.
  • In this section, support was offered to students who were unfamiliar with this method of voting. If they could not activate the survey, they were asked orally. If they did not wish to participate, their wish was respected.
  • The second method utilised was Two questions were asked and students could respond by typing up to three answers in the space. Their views were projected on the whiteboard.
  • Next, students were asked to take part in a ‘walking debate’. Students were asked to walk to a ‘no’ side, the middle of a ‘yes’ side. This allowed students to give their voices in a physical way.
  • In the middle part of the workshop, students discussed issues in small groups and wrote their ideas on post-its. Again, this allowed for group discussion of ideas so students who were unsure or felt less comfortable were given time to help formulate their own opinions.
  • Students nominated a spokesperson from their small group to speak on behalf of the group. This method allowed those who were not comfortable with speaking, to have someone to speak for them.
  • The next activity asked for a different spokesperson to be nominated so that more young people had the opportunity to speak for others.
  • Finally, each student was asked individually to contribute, and their voices were audio recorded.
How we made sure they could identify topics they wanted to discuss
  • Every student was given the time to speak.
  • While the tone of the workshop was one of encouragement, the rapport between me and the student participants had to be built up in a very short space of time.
  • The workshop was structured in a way that young people could respond in silent ways at first, then in a physical way, followed by listening to the views of others, then by nominating a spokesperson for their group of three or four students and finally the workshop ended with students being offered the opportunity to speak individually.
  • In two of the workshops, students gave a hand gesture that they did not wish to contribute at an early stage of the workshop, however, at the end of the workshop, in each of the four settings, all students contributed with no student refusing.  I feel that this was because a small amount of trust has been generated and students felt safe to contribute.
Please describe the topics and issues they raised
  • Students were given a list of possibilities of what UNICEF could do to promote Child Rights education and groups and individuals were asked to select their top two preferences and the rationale behind their choices.
  • The most popular suggestion was to have a ‘Rights Awareness Day or Week’ (18 responses). Students said that this week could be filled with activities and games that could be done in different classes throughout the week.
  • The second most popular idea (13 responses) was that resources could be provided to add Children’s Rights Education to CSPE classes or to have a class dedicated to rights education.
  • A year-long project or award (6 responses), a competition (5 responses) and having guest speakers (3 responses) were all identified as ways to raise awareness and could be used to fulfil many of the activities mentioned previously.
  • A dedicated rights committee (3 responses) was seen as beneficial as only students who were interested would get involved so they would be dedicated and interested.


How we made sure that there was an audience (decision-makers) for young people’s views

Things we considered What we did
How we developed a report or record of the young people’s view
  • When students contributed via QR code or Mentimetre, their views, projected on the whiteboard were photographed.
  • Students’ voices were recorded with their permission and post-it notes were collected.
How we checked back with them that their views were accurately represented
  • A draft copy of the workshops was shared with the student participants where the main themes of the research findings were highlighted. Individuals were not identified.
  • Students were given two weeks as a period in which they could add or amend any of these findings. No additions or amendments were made by the students.
How we involved the decision-makers who are responsible for influencing change (other than yourself)
  • The consultant shared the report with UNICEF’s CRE team and presented her findings in an in-person meeting in the UNICEF office in Dublin.
At what point we involved decision makers other than yourself in the process
  • The decision-makers (UNICEF CRE team) were actively involved from the very beginning of the process. They initiated the project and worked collaboratively with the consultant throughout.
How we and other decision-makers showed our commitment to listening to, and acting on young people’s views
  • It was made clear through the invitation letter to the principals and teachers that were involved in the process that we were gathering the children’s voices to inform a programme to enhance child rights education in post-primary schools in Ireland.
  • Students were reminded of the purpose of the session and how their voice would inform a report was repeated.
  • Students had a right to reply when their views were collated and a draft-themed first analysis was shared with them in which they had the opportunity to respond, amend or add.
  • Students were thanked for their contributions as the workshop was in progress and at the end.
How we supported young people to play a role in communicating their own views to decision-makers


How young people were given updates at key points in the development of the plan

Things we considered What we did
How we informed young people about the topics on which we wanted their views
  • The draft report was returned to all students who took part for their input.
How their views were acted on by the appropriate decision-makers (what happened to their views)
  • Students were informed that their views would form part of the information collection process. Decision-makers have not yet acted on their views.
Whether we continually checked back with children and young people about the ways you used their views with decision-makers (if possible or appropriate)
  • If we do decide to move to the next step in the process, we will inform the young people who participated and aim to create opportunities to gather their views again.
How they were given full and age-appropriate feedback explaining how their views were used (or not) and the reasons for decisions taken
  • This has not happened yet. We will aim to do it. However, the challenge is that the consultant is no longer contracted to work with us.
  • If we return to the young people to give them feedback it will be by a different adult from UNICEF, whom they do not know and have not built a working relationship with.
  • Also, for data protection reasons, we do not want to hold onto permission slips and documents that identify the children, therefore we will have to depend on the educators’ memories. It may be 1-2 years before we are ready to do this, which may prove a challenge.
How we enabled them to evaluate the process throughout
  • We did not give them an opportunity to evaluate the consultation workshop. If we were doing it again, we would include a short survey at the end, or after the workshop.
What young people said in the evaluation


What changes were made because of children/young people giving their views?

This initiative was not designed to improve the direct environment in which the students were part. The impact will be that their views, along with the views of students and educators, will inform the development of a pilot programme for post-primary schools.

The learning for our organisation

  1. The key learning for our organisation from the process and outcome (end result) of involving children or young people in this case study

Working with a consultant to gather the views of the children had major benefits, especially the expertise and experience that she was able to contribute to the project. However, it means that UNICEF’s CRE team has not built a relationship with the school or young people, therefore making it more difficult to keep engaging them further along in the process. Providing feedback to the children in particular will be a challenge. This programme development process may go over 2-3 years.

  1. Looking back, how did the final outcome compare with our initial assumptions and those of other decision-makers involved in the process?

The young people knew more about their rights than we had assumed they would. As well as schools, many identified their home and family members as the source for this information. This was very useful to learn as it has encouraged us to develop a stronger link to the home in the pilot programme. They were quite aware of the names of rights but not so much about where they come from or why they were important. This will help to inform the content of a pilot programme if we decide to develop one.

  1. What worked well?

The 50-minute workshop was a good way to gather and listen to the children’s and young people’s views. It allowed sufficient time to dive into the topic but did not go on so long as to lose their attention. The multiple engagement methods created a safe and inclusive space that put the children at ease to engage with the discussion topic.

  1. If we were doing it again, is there anything we would do differently?

Staff members would be more involved in the engagement with young people to maintain the relationship throughout the process. We would also ensure that young people had the opportunity to evaluate the process by including a short survey at the end, or after the workshop.

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