5.4 Young people's participation in policy-making
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Great priorities Debate
The youth and children’s rights policy plan tries to serve as an example of participatory policy with a strong involvement of children, young people, their organisations and experts.
The process for drawing up the Flemish Youth and Children’s Rights Policy Plan 2020-2024 completed several participatory stages. In the spring of 2019, an extensive environmental analysis, the Great Priorities Debate, took place. About 150 representatives from the different policy areas of the Flemish government, experts, young people and actors from civil society and local authorities discussed there the most important cross-policy - or 'transversal' - challenges that affect children and young people, and what the focus should be in the coming years. This debate led to 13 priority themes that the broad youth and children's rights field would like to see included in the next youth and children's rights policy plan (Jeugd- en Kinderrechtenbeleidsplan).
The ranked priority listed was passed on to the government negotiators and later to the new Flemish Government. Based on the priority list, the Flemish Government has selected five objectives:
- Well-being and positive identity development
- Healthy and livable neighborhoods
- Commitment in society through voluntary efforts
- Leisure activities for all
JoKER (Child and Youth effects report - Kind en Jongereneffectenrapport)
Since 1997, the Flemish government is obligated by decree to make an impact report on draft decrees directly affecting the interests of children, persons under eighteen.
By decree of July 18, 2008 (decree on the conduct of a Flemish youth and children's rights policy the child impact report (KER) has been extended to a child and youth impact report (JoKER). Since 2013, the format of the JoKER is fully integrated into the regulatory impact analysis (RIA). RIA is a set of necessary and logical steps in preparing a policy measure. The aim is to ascertain the impact on children and young people under the age of twenty five. The JoKER, assesses the effects of new regulations on children and youth. Whenever a minister submits a draft decree to the Flemish Parliament that directly affects the interests of persons under 25 years, the draft must be accompanied by a JoKER. The Youth Division provides advice on JoKER.
State of youth
The Flemish Government also committed to at least publish a 'State of Youth' every five years. This 'state of youth', the Flemish youth monitor (JOP monitor) measures the evolution of the living conditions of children and adolescents in Flanders. The last JOP-monitor has been carried out in 2018.
Local youth monitor (jeugdmonitor)
The Flemish government has developed a local youth monitor and made it available to all Flemish cities and municipalities and the Flemish Community Commission (VGC) in Brussels Capital Region. With this online survey tool, local actors can question groups of children and teenagers from the third year of primary education up to and including the second year of secondary education. The tool includes questions about how they live and experience life in their neighborhood, city or municipality and is focuses on three themes:
- Playing, being outside, doing things with friends
- Doing something for other people, taking care of the neighborhood
- School and hobbies.
Cities, municipalities and the VGC can choose themselves on which theme they set up a survey.
The main advisory body for youth consultation in the Flemish-Speaking Community in Belgium is the Flemish Youth Council (Vlaamse Jeugdraad, see also 5.3).
Every month, the Youth Council holds a General Assembly. During this meeting, they discuss policy developments relevant to youth and approve advices. With regard to its advisory task, the Flemish Youth Council can give advice at its own discretion or at the request of the Government of Flanders or the Flemish Parliament. As stipulated by law, the Government of Flanders shall request advice when making legislation implementing the Flemish Youth Policy Plan (most recent advice in Dutch). The Flemish Youth Council shall approve its advices at the General Assembly with a two-third majority of the attendees. Importantly, the Government of Flanders shall explain its decision on the policy advices relating to its competences to the Flemish Youth Council. The Flemish Youth Council can also give policy advices in case its members find it necessary in view of the interests of young people.
Examples of recent advices are:
- At the start of the legislature, the Flemish Minister for Youth writes a policy paper on youth, in which he explains the plans for the coming policy period. Recently the policy paper for the legislative term 2019-2024 was written. In response, the Flemish Youth Council wrote an advice in preparation for the discussion of this policy memorandum in the Commission on Youth of the Flemish Parliament (in Dutch)
- advice regarding the decision of the Flemish Government on the financing of an innovative offer in preventive family support (in Dutch)
- advice regarding an inclusive labor market that is 'youth-proof', now and in the future (in Dutch)
- Advice to policy makers regarding children, young people, students, young jobseekers and youth organizations and the corona crisis (in Dutch)
At the European level, the Flemish Youth Council has been actively engaged for many years. The Flemish Youth Council has been participating through the decision-making structures of the co-management system of the Council of Europe. Its representatives have sat down with officials to agree on priorities of young people and the youth sector.
The Flemish Youth Council regularly organizes participation projects and ad hoc youth surveys to explore the opinions of (other) young people about specific topics and to link new youth policy plans to the life world of young people.
Municipal participatory tools (see also 5.3)
Every municipality must prepare a multiannual plan for a new legislative period. This multiannual plan starts in the second year of the legislature and ends at the end of the year after the subsequent municipal elections. This multiannual plan contains the policy choices of the new board and its financial translation and consists of a strategic note, a financial note and an explanation.
The municipal youth council gives advice in drawing up the strategic multiannual plan at the municipal level. Every municipality must prepare a multiannual plan for a new legislative period which contains the policy choices and its financial translation. This multiannual plan replaces the earlier sectoral plans such as the youth policy plan, the sports policy plan, … .
In addition, a youth council advices on all matters relating to youth policy and can always make suggestions to the municipal administration. Consultations on youth policy deal with themes that are broader than youth work and youth work policy. Young residents can be involved in local policy in eight policy themes: strategic multiannual plan, culture, youth work policy, environment, mobility, sports, safety or as indicated by the municipality as other.
Formulating and following up advice are the core task of the youth council, but in addition the youth council can also organize activities.
In addition, a municipality can use other participatory tools to involve children and young people in their youth (work) policy. Other participation instruments that can be used by municipalities to give children and young people a voice are:
- Youth polls or surveys (e.g. by using the local youth monitor (jeugdmonitor))
- Children (municipal) council: consists of children, elected by other children. The Children's municipal council lets children hear their voices, accompanied by adults.
- The Youth paragraph is a policy tool that assesses certain municipal decisions on child-friendliness
- Online participation
Other actors: see also 5.3
At local level
The Department of Culture, Youth and Media (Departement Cultuur, Jeugd en Media), Sport Vlaanderen and the Association of Flemish Cities and Municipalities (VVSG – Vereniging van Vlaamse Steden en Gemeenten) monitors the local leisure policy by means of the local leisure monitor (lokale vrijetijdsmonitor). The local leisure monitor collects several data about leisure activities and participation within the Flemish municipalities and the leisure policy of these municipalities. From March to July 2018, municipalities could use the registration tool to share data with regard to their activities in the field of culture, youth and sport. Afterwards, this data was bundled together with data from other relevant sources available to the Flemish Government. All data is published online at the beginning of 2019.
Regarding the instruments of youth participation at local level, the leisure monitor shows that in 2017 (new data will be available in 2022 with information regarding 2021):
- 99% of the municipalities have a youth council (84% on a structural basis; 15% ad hoc)
- 67% of the municipalities organise online participation (5% on a structural basis, 62% ad hoc)
- 44% of the municipalities carry out surveys among young people (5% on a structural basis; 39% ad hoc)
- 30% of the municipalities have a child council (21% on a structural basis; 9% ad hoc)
- 8% of the municipalities have a youth paragraph (3% on a structural basis, 5% ad hoc)
Regarding the themes of participation in local youth policy, the leisure monitor shows that in 2017:
- In 87% of the municipalities youth councils were heard on youth work policy, in 70% on the multiannual strategic plan, in 49% on safety issues, in 46% on mobility issues, in 40% on culture, in 38% on environmental issues, in 25% on sports and in 49% on other issues.
- Online participation is most often used regarding youth work policy: in 42% of the municipalities young people are heard by means of online participation regarding youth work policy. Also one in four (26%) use online participation as a tool for youth participation in the multiannual plan.
Furthermore, there has been a baseline research before the integration of the youth policy plan in the multiannual plan (in 2013) and a research after the integration (in 2017). Based on these studies the researchers conclude that even though the youth council is still considered an important, if not the most important, instrument for policy participation, it has been much less involved in the policy planning phase than used to be when municipalities had to draw sectoral plans (Op de Beeck & De Peuter, 2017).
With the Youth and Children's Rights Plan ((Jeugd- en Kinderrechtenbeleidsplan) based on the great priority debate, Flanders commits itself to concrete, feasible and achievable objectives that have an impact and an observable effect on the lives of all children, young people and young adults in Flanders. Its operationalization takes place through a measurable set of actions.
The Flemish Parliament can consult young people through the Flemish Youth Council. The Flemish ministers always have to ask the advice of the Flemish Youth Council in case of decisions that affect children and young people or regarding the draft of Parliament Acts and regulations concerning the implementation of the Flemish youth policy. So, although the requested input can take various forms, often this concerns consultations on drafts of Parliament Acts or on amendments of Acts. However, the recommendations given by the Flemish Youth Council are not binding.
The input given by the Flemish Youth Council is public and can be found on their own website (inDutch) and also in the reports of the Flemish Parliament. The input into policy-making can partly be traced by means of the reports of the Flemish Parliament but there exists no clear overview of the integration of young people’s input in the policy-making process.
Citizen's Cabinet for Youth (Burgerkabinet)
In 2016 The Flemish Minister for Youth launched a Citizen's Cabinet initiative, focusing on youth in the Flemish Community. The goal was to bring together a group of 150 people to discuss youth affairs and policies and to give people a voice in culture and youth policy. Central question in this Citizen’s Cabinet was how to make youth work more diverse. The Citizen's Cabinet for Youth gathered ideas and feedback online until 15 April 2016. Leading contributors were invited to the Flemish Parliament on 6 May 2016 to debate proposals and make recommendations to the Minister. 134 participants came together that day and talked about diversity in youth work. This resulted in the formulation of sixteen recommendations and lead to the Masterplan diversity in/and youth work (Masterplan diversiteit in/en het jeugdwerk), which was presented in the Flemish Parliament on 23 February 2018.