Participation as a right: 3 important aspects
- What is children’s right to participation? According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child , all children, regardless of age or maturity, have the right to freely express their ideas and perspectives and to have them respected and considered, thus participating in matters and decisions pertaining to them. The right to participation implies a conception of the child as a subject of rights, with agency and competences to participate and influence decisions, therefore being considered one of the most revolutionary and innovative rights [2, 3].
- Why should participation be promoted? The promotion of this right is considered an investment in children’s well-being, and as contributing to fairer and more democratic societies . For this reason, Institutions such as the Council of Europe , the United Nations  and the European Union , recommend that children’s participation must be encouraged from the earliest ages. Moreover, early childhood education is considered a privileged context for the promotion of participation, which in turn is described as an important criterion for the quality of these contexts [8, 9].
- Why isn’t participation a reality yet? The right to participation is one of the least promoted . This is due to increased attention given, over time, to the rights to provision (e.g., access to health or education) and protection (e.g., from abuse or neglect), but also to difficulties experienced by professionals (e.g., existence of barriers to participation, such as workload or lack of knowledge about diversified participation strategies). It is then important to reflect on practical ways of promoting participation.
But how can early childhood education professionals promote this right? We have already written before about children’s right to participation and children’s perspectives about their experiences during the pandemic. Today we propose a reflection on a specific model for promoting children’s participation.
The Lundy model of participation: 4 core dimensions
There are several models of participation that have sought to define it, contributing to its implementation. The Lundy model , widely used in the fields of child protection and education, is recommended by the European Commission  and has been incorporated, for instance, in the Northern Ireland Participation Strategy . Based on the assumption that professionals play a fundamental role in creating opportunities for participation, the model foresees the existence of four dimensions: space, voice, audience, and influence .
- The dimension of space highlights the need to ensure access to a safe and inclusive space that allows children to form and express their ideas and perspectives, in a comfortable way;
- The dimension of voice refers to the need to inform children and encourage them to express their ideas, ensuring diverse forms of expression (e.g., sharing ideas, drawing, respecting silences);
- The dimension of audience suggests the importance of ensuring that adults with responsibility in decision-making processes constitute an effective audience to children’s ideas and proposals (e.g., by organising assemblies);
- The dimension of influence concerns the effective consideration of children’s ideas, allowing them to influence, whenever possible, decisions concerning to them, and informing children about the consequences of their participation.
Early childhood education contexts include professionals with different roles and functions, such as early childhood education teachers, assistants, and coordinators. Collaboration between all these professionals is essential for a shared vision, and for an alignment of objectives and strategies towards the promotion of children’s participation. Therefore, an organisational dimension, in parallel to the dimensions proposed by the Lundy model, is also crucial for the mobilization and involvement of the entire educational structure. Initiatives and tools fostering professional development, such as those proposed within the Erasmus+ PARTICIPA project, can be particularly useful to ensure children’s participation becomes, more and more, a reality.
Proposals for reflection
- In your institution and/or classroom, is there a participatory space that encourages the expression of children’s voices? Can children express themselves in multiple ways, according to their characteristics, needs and preferences?
- In your institution and/or classroom, is there an audience for children’s ideas and perspectives, by adults with responsibility to make decisions? Are children considered in decisions that are being planned and discussed? Can children effectively exert influence on matters concerning them?
- Do the different professionals articulate and cooperate with each other to promote children’s participation (e.g., reflect together, share strategies)? Is there also an articulation with families or the local community, so that participation can be promoted in a transversal way, within the diverse contexts?
More elaborate questions for further reflection can be found in the self-assessment tool of the PARTICIPA project.
Please share with us your perspectives and experiences!
References United Nations (1989). The United Nations convention on the rights of the child. United Nations.  Corsaro, W. (2005). The sociology of childhood. Pine Forge Press.  Lansdown, G. (2005). Can you hear me? The right of young children to participate in decisions affecting them (Working papers in early childhood development No. 36). Bernard van Leer Foundation.  European Commission (2013). Investing in children: Breaking the cycle of disadvantage. Official Journal of the European Commission. Available at https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?  Council of Europe (2017). Young people’s access to rights. Recommendation CM/Rec (2016)7and explanatory memorandum. Available at https://rm.coe.int/1680702b6e  United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. (2005). General comment No 7: Implementing child rights in early childhood. Available at https://www.refworld.org/docid/460bc5a62.html  European Union (2021) EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child and the European Child Guarantee. Available at https://ec.europa.eu/info/policies/justice-and-fundamental-rights/rights-child/eu-strategy-rights-child-and-european-child-guarantee_en  Correia, N., Carvalho, H., Durães, J., & Aguiar, C. (2020). Teachers’ ideas about children’s participation within Portuguese early childhood education settings. Children and Youth Services Review, 111, 104845. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.104845  Sheridan, S. (2007). Dimensions of pedagogical quality in preschool. International Journal of Early Years Education, 15(2), 197-217. doi:10.1080/09669760701289151  Habashi, J., Wright, L., & Hathcoat, J. D. (2012). Patterns of human development indicators across constitutional analysis of children’s rights to protection, provision, and participation. Social Indicators Research, 105(1), 63-73. doi:10.1007/s11205-010-9763-8  Lundy, L. (2007). ‘Voice’ is not enough: Conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. British Educational Research Journal, 33(6), 927-942. doi:10.1080/01411920701657033  European Commission (n. d.). The Lundy model of child participation. Available at https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/lundy_model_of_participation.pdf  Tusla Child and Family Agency (2015). Toward the development of a Participation Strategy for Children and Young People. National Guidance & Local Implementation. Child and Family Agency. Available at https://www.tusla.ie/uploads/content/toward_the_development_of_a_participation_strategy_0.pdf