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Enabling children’s participation

By: CATHY STEENSON

Monday 31 May 2021

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats it’s children’ (Mandela, 1995).

Parents who grow up in challenging environments can often struggle to give their own children the care and support they need. Carr's Child and Family Service is a Tusla funded trauma-informed service. It works to break the cycle by providing every child with the opportunity to grow up in a safe and loving environment. The focus of our work is early intervention with families. We recognise the central importance of a good quality early years service in transforming the lives of children through play, positive transitions and supportive adult-child interactions.

Inequality is a significant factor in modern Ireland; its effects are evident all around us but are often hidden. This is particularly true for children who are living in homeless accommodation. For these children, their home environment may not always feel like a safe place to be. They may not be given any information on what is happening in their lives or the reason why they are moving accommodation again explained. The child’s view may never be considered. The early year's environment can provide a supportive and safe space in which children can be listened to and a place to express themselves. By involving children in the decision-making process from an early age, children gain an understanding of why particular options are followed or why certain decisions are taken. Lundy’s (2007) model of child participation focuses on the everyday lives of children and the places and spaces they are entitled to have this voice heard. The model proposes that children require a safe space to enable them to express their views, an audience to listen to and that their views have an influence and genuine impact on the decision-making process.

Applying the Lundy (2007) model to decisions being made in an early year’s service gives young children a voice in decisions that affect their daily lives. This practice will not only benefit them as they grow and learn in their early years but will remain with them as a resilience factor throughout their entire lives. Children are also more likely to take an interest in the democratic process, understand that voting can give them a voice and can contribute to the type of society they want to live in.

An example from practice:

A lack of healthy, nutritious meals for children living in homeless accommodation is a huge concern. For many of these children, the food they receive in the early years service may be their only hot meal of the day. It may well be their only association with sitting down at a table enjoying healthy homemade food.  Involving children in planning their weekly dinner menu in the early years service is an example of how this model can be implemented into everyday practice and involving young children in the decision-making process.

At the end of each week, the children’s cook sits down with the children, and they plan the menu. This process contains several steps. Firstly, the children are shown a picture book which they made themselves by taking photographs of all the different meals they can choose from.  The cook explains and engages the children in conversation about the fresh ingredients used, many of which the children have planted and watched grow themselves in the garden. The children are made aware of the five days of the week and understand that this involves choosing five meals and five desserts, one for each day of the week. The children take turns in choosing a dinner or a dessert. Sometimes the children work in pairs, and together they decide on the menu for the week. The menu is then printed out and placed on the wall at the child’s level. The children are able to check to make sure that what they have chosen is what they are getting. Using all four elements of this model shows children that they are important and have a voice; this voice is then listened to and acted on and that their decisions matter and are taken seriously.

Good participatory practice combines activities that positively promotes the participation of children. Implementing a child-centred rights-based approach to working with young children should be mandatory for early-year services to access state funding. Part of planning should involve ways to engage children and seek their voice and opinions on matters that affect them. 

 

References:

To read more about the Lundy Model of Participation:  

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/9128db-national-strategy-on-children-and-young-peoples-participation-in-dec/

https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/lundy_model_of_participation.pdf

Bio:

My name is Cathy Steenson; I am the early year's manager in Carr's Child and Family Services. I have worked in the community sector of the early years for the last twenty years. Returning to education in 2012, I received a BA in Early Childhood Teaching and Learning from Maynooth University. In 2021 I graduated from TU Dublin with an MA in Child Family and Community Studies. My Dissertation focused on 'How Children aged 3-5 years living in homeless accommodation are involved in decisions which affect their everyday lives '.

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