Child Participation Case Study

How children and young people are involved in decision-making in Galway Community Circus.

Background Information

Galway Community Circus (formerly Galway Circus Project) was set up in 2002 by a group of circus artists and teachers who wanted to bring the creative, physical and non-competitive art of circus to the young people of Galway. Focusing on the youth circus model, Galway Community Circus (GCC) started hosting mixed-skills circus classes for young people. GCC also offered opportunities for international youth exchanges so members could travel and meet other youth circus members from circus schools around Europe and bring the joy of circus to schools, festivals, and communities outside of Galway. 20 years later, Galway Community Circus has an annual membership of 400 young people from diverse backgrounds and still participates in international exchanges and community outreach.

Galway Community Circus is a circus school but is also a social enterprise. We exist not only to bring the joy of the circus to Galway but to improve the lives of our local community. Galway Community Circus was created to meet the needs of our local children and young people by offering a non-competitive, physical, and creative activity in a safe and welcoming space. Our philosophy is ‘circus for all’, and we use the circus arts to teach young people, including those who are disadvantaged, at-risk, and vulnerable, the tools to develop self-confidence, resilience, and social skills while tapping into strengths and hidden talents. On an annual basis, the Galway community circus provides a platform for the Circus’ youth membership to take ownership of decision-making on the annual programme in which they participate.

The decision-makers that facilitate and listen to their views

The key decision-makers are the child and youth participants of the weekly classes at Galway Community Circus. Other important facilitators toward decision-makers include class tutors and professional artists in residency, who act as a bridge between the involved children and management/board of directors to ensure the decisions that the children and young people make reach every corner of the organisation. Galway Community Circus also has a current youth circus member on the board of directors.

 The age profile of the children and young people

0 to 25 years old

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

There are six classes, one for 0-4 years, one for 5-7years, one for 8-11years, one for 12-14 years, one for 15-17 years and one for 18-25 years. The young people attending the classes came from various backgrounds and circumstances. 170 people engaged in Galway Community Circus’s 2022 consultation. This happened through an in-person youth consultation weekend, membership surveys, parents/guardians’ surveys and targeted surveys for minority groups, members and non-members. The annual consultation was co-designed with and by young people. Consultations also happen within each class attended throughout the year. Consultations also happen within each class attended throughout the year. This case study describes how children and young people have a voice in decision-making in their classes and decisions about our programmes and our organisation.


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



Things we considered What we did
How we make sure that children and young people feel safe to express their views
  • We meet and work with children and young people in the Circus building. The Circus provides a welcoming, safe, and warm environment.
  • We show our values on youth voices in posters, communications and more.
  • In Circus classes, a “group contract” is created with the participants at the start of the year, one we all agree on and respect. In these contracts the class decide on how they want to be treated, how they will treat one another and anything of specific interest to them within the coming term. This includes items such as electives (Specific Circus Skills that the majority want to focus on) Team building, social events and anything else that they feel like highlighting.
  • This contract becomes a benchmark for our tutors in creating plans within the organisation’s curriculum that supports the delivery of the children and young people’s ideas.
How we allow enough time to listen to and hear their views
  • At the Circus we have a suggestion box and comments boards available for anyone who wants to share their views anonymously.
  • We have circle time at the beginning and end of each class, where youth can express themselves and make decisions on their participation in a safe and supportive environment.
  • We encourage our youth members to participate in Circus youth-led directives.
How we make sure that all children or young people are heard
  • Young people are consulted in all matters that relate to their participation within Galway Community Circus.
  • The Circus’s strategic plans are always created alongside an in-depth youth consultation, ensuring our membership and community’s youth voice is heard.
  • The Circus provides multiple avenues for youth voice to be heard, including circle time, idea or suggestion boxes, e-motion boards, surveys, games and age-appropriate activities and consultations.



Things we considered What we did
How we support children and young people to give their views and be heard
  • The Circus seeks the views of our young members and acts on their suggestions, either immediately or over a period of time.
  • Young people are always involved in the creation of the Circus’s strategic plan through an in-depth youth consultation.
  • Youth voice is also supported through a youth circus member being on the board of directors.
  • The Circus also supports children and young people to give their views and be heard through youth-led initiatives such as Scratch Night and the Youth Circus Forum/Collective a platform for youth led initiatives is facilitated by GCC.
How they can raise things that matter to them
  • In every class, GCC do check-ins adapted to the age: “How do you feel? What would you like to change?”
  • We have a Youth Forum/Collective, which allows members meet to contribute to program development and voice things that matter to them.
  • Through these avenues they can also get more involved with the Circus on an organisational level.
  • The Circus values are based on human rights, especially that of the rights of the child. We encourage members emphatically and in a non-judgmental way to voice their opinions and ideas and provide multiple avenues for them to do so.
  • At the end of every class throughout the Circus Term there is Circle time. This is where the young people voice what they like, what they did not like and give general feedback to tutors so that ownership of the classes remains with the young people and tutors have all the relevant information to adjust and develop where needed.
How we offer them different ways of giving their views
  • Tutors always take the time to share the class plan with the young people in circle time, where it is decided what will be done in the classes.
  • We promote participation in circus productions, concept, development, and delivery and have multiple avenues for youth voice to be heard, including circle time, idea or suggestion boxes, e-motion boards, surveys, games and age-appropriate activities and consultations.
  • We have created an “e-motion board”, a creative and fun way for youth members to anonymously express how they feel at the Circus.
  • Our artists in residency support the voice of children and young people through new creative processes and innovative evaluation processes.
  • Having artists in residence working with them supports young people to think of questions and ideas that they may not have thought of with their regular tutors.



Things we considered What we did
How we show children and young people that we are ready and willing to listen to views
  • At the Circus we provide a welcoming and warm environment and a comfortable and safe space.
  • During classes we encourage and empower our members to speak up.
  • A suggestion box and comment boards are available for anonymous contribution.
  • During the weekly classes, students communicate easily with tutors, that is because in all the classes we create a comfortable and open space for the youth to communicate with us and with each other.
  • Preparation for shows is done within classes. The tutors facilitate the young people to make decisions about forthcoming shows and ensure that the young people know they are ready and willing to listen to them any time during the class.
  • This trust is built because the tutors actively listen to the membership openly and empathetically.
  • During open circle at the beginning of the class, a space is created to share and ask whatever may be on the young person’s mind.
  • Then the class was divided into smaller groups, by disciplines or by teamwork, which ever they had decided on and they continued to develop the performance.
How we make sure that they understand what we can do with their views
  • Tutors act as a link between youth and the administration of the Circus – youth voices always travel up!
  • After the annual youth consultation, we create a report that’s available online.
  • We have an amazing communications team who share what we do on our digital platforms.
  • We tell the young people directly and quickly about the impact their opinions make.



Things we considered What we did
How they know the level of influence they can have
  • We aim to have transparent communication with our members. Our policy is based on the rights of the child and their power to make decisions on things that directly affect them.
  • We remind our members in every class how important it is to share their views and to speak up!
How we give them feedback
  • We give our youth members feedback in a safe and non-judgmental environment through circle time, games and age-appropriate activities.
  • We check in with the members regularly to make sure they know that their voice matters.
  • We tell them directly what their input has affected.
  • After they present a performance, work backstage, do costumes, hair and makeup or were a vital audience member, they receive feedback from their peers and from the tutors and administrative team.
How we share with them the impact of their views on decisions
  • Our aim is that the young people see the direct impact of their decisions in a timely manner through text, email and via our website and social media platforms.
  • Direct communication is also done in classes and at Circus Social events.
  • The youth circus member on the board of directors acts as a link between their voices and the decisions taken.
How we explain the reasons for decisions taken
  • Tutors create a safe and open space to discuss decisions taken and explain the decision taken and why.
  • The tutors always try to do their best to support the young people in their decisions, being optimistic but also realistic about the possibilities.
  • We share decisions taken and why openly with them and create a platform for the involved youth to feedback on their understanding of this and if they have any objections or solutions.


What changes are made in the space or setting because of children and young people giving their views?

As part of Galway Community Circus’ in-house processes, youth participation in decision-making on items that directly affect them is key to the development and learning of the young people involved within the organisation. This is part of the every day of Galway Community Circus. The children and young people feel safe and are confident in telling the organisation their views around this event because they are included in all show decisions and can see the immediate effect of their opinions on the development of the show. Changes within our space continually happen based on the feedback of our membership and this is something that keeps us as adults on our toes and thinking outside the confines of a 9-5 brain. It is our experience, that children and young people will always bring varied experiences, insightful ideas and plenty of enthusiasm if given the opportunity to voice their opinions when decisions are being made that affect them.

The learning for our organisation

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