At a curated session on engaging children ‘How I wonder what you think?’ at the recent Engage2Act unconference, the objectives were to:
• highlight voices of children in community engagement, drawing out rationale behind an organisation’s reasons for engaging with children
• share stories, examples and case studies
• learn from Child Friendly Cities and Communities Network member
Are children citizens?
I suggested that we find out something about how we think on children’s participation to start off with.
We looked at the range of views in the room on a spectrum from:
Children are citizens to Children are citizens in certain circumstances
Most people were surprised how much debate ensued. Many in the room were parents, and they could think of situations with their own children. They believed strongly in children’s rights. They also knew that it was not appropriate in every situation to give them freedom to decide.
Engaging children through purpose designed forum
It was great to learn how City of Greater Dandenong goes about hearing kids’ voices. They go out to 20 schools seeking 4 children from each. Ahead of the forum Caroline Meier from the Children’s Services area and her team invite different areas of council to propose strategies which would benefit from children’s advice. At the half-day forum tables are set up with activities relating to each strategy. Children also take part in site visits when they’re relevant.
Questions to Caroline ranged from how they go with getting schools interested to how Council supports and resources the activity. Caroline described a school which had persistently declined, but then took an interest when the event coincided with their students’ civics education curriculum. She noted that the event connects kids to their community in a highly meaningful way. Council now understands children to be the most appropriate stakeholders in having a say on certain issues and decisions that affect them. There is a very clear statement to children about what they can expect, and how their input will influence Council.
We brought forward a range of resources:
Victorian Child Friendly Cities and Communities Network charter and toolkit
NSW Advocate for Children and Young People resources
Tasmanian Government Involving Children in Decision-Making
In evaluating children’s engagement you might ask questions such as ‘Was it fun?’ ‘Did you get a go at everything?’ ‘Should we do this again?
We did ‘instant feedback’, asking two questions provided by Lyn Carson and Desley Renton: What surprised you? and What gave you hope?
The feedback revealed that this was a novel exploration for participants, and there is much more to be done in the area of engaging with children.