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LAST MODIFIED ON: 11/11/2020 - 00:57
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The United Kingdom is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Article 12 of the UNCRC affirms that:
States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
In practice, this involves an emphasis on consulting young people and encouraging their involvement in local democratic processes and decision making.
Under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, public authorities, when carrying out their functions relating to Northern Ireland, must ‘have due regard’ to the need to promote equality of opportunity between people in nine equality categories, one of which is persons of different ages.
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has produced guidance for public authorities on consulting and involving children and young people (aged under 18 or under 21, if disabled or leaving care) under this duty. Public authorities must produce an equality scheme outlining their arrangements for ‘assessing and consulting on the likely impact of policies on the promotion of equality of opportunity’.
Under the Children's Services Co-operation Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 the Northern Ireland Executive has a duty to consult children and young people before developing and adopting a children and young people's strategy.
The community planning process introduced under the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014 requires local councils and their community planning partners to seek the views of the community, encourage them to express their views, and take their views into account in the community planning process. Statutory guidance issued by the Department of the Environment (note that responsibility for local government has transferred to the Department for Communities) on meeting these requirements states:
Although it is vital that the [community planning] partnership engage fully with all groups in society and that they meet their commitments in relation to consultation and engagement set out in the council Equality Schemes as regards all section 75 groups they have, in light of specific government commitments, a particular responsibility to encourage and promote the role that can be played by children and young people in community planning.
Consultations may take place through the representative bodies dealt with in ‘Youth representation bodies’, but a variety of other methods are also used. These include online consultations, focus groups, street interviews and surveys. The use of social media has become increasingly common in consultations, as this is regarded as a particularly suitable means of engaging young people’s interest.
Consultations are ad hoc, rather than following a fixed schedule.
Youth representation bodies, youth organisations, young advisors/experts and individual young people may all be involved in consultations. The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young people and, specifically, its Youth Panel, also plays a role.
Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People Youth Panel
The office of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) was set up by The Commissioner for Children and Young People (Northern Ireland) Order 2003. Its principal aim is ‘to safeguard and promote the rights and best interests of children and young persons’ (up to 18 years, or 21 years of age if the young person is disabled or in the care of Social Services).
In 2012, NICCY published the Participation Policy Statement of Intent (PPSI), which was aimed at supporting government departments and public bodies in the development of their own policies for ensuring that children and young people are involved in decision-making. In 2014, NICCY published Walking or Talking Participation, a follow-up review of government department actions since signing the PPSI. This highlighted that there were still shortcomings in how government departments monitored, evaluated and evidenced their engagement with children and young people. In January 2018, NICCY published new participation advice for public bodies: Participation with Children and Young People: Advice to Public Bodies. It outlines the Commissioner’s advice to public bodies on giving children and young people the opportunity to ‘inform legislation, strategies, policies and services.’
NICCY’s Youth Panel is made up of young people who share their experiences and thoughts with the Commissioner and the Commissioner’s staff and help NICCY make decisions about issues that affect children and young people.
There are over 110 members of the panel representing different religions, different abilities and disabilities, and of different ethnic groups. The members are also spread geographically throughout Northern Ireland.
The role of Youth Panel members includes:
- being part of research steering committees
- taking part as peer researchers
- sitting on recruitment and selection panels
- giving presentations and speaking at conferences
- hosting and organising events
- helping to develop the NICCY website
- lobbying policy makers (including government ministers)
- supporting NICCY communication resources (for example, child-friendly publications and media work).
The main public authorities involved in consultation processes are government departments, government agencies and local authorities. Depending on the issues being dealt with, a variety of other organisations such as voluntary organisations, charities, private businesses and education providers may be involved.
There is no central source of data or statistics on the level of young people’s participation in policy consultations.
In developing the Children and Young People’s Strategy - 2019-2029, all categories protected under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (see 'Formal Mechanisms of Consultation above), were involved, principally through focus group events, including: children and young people with a disability; children and young people from minority ethnic communities; young offenders; children of Irish travellers; care leavers and younger children.
The Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (since May 2016, the Executive Office) endorsed the standards for engaging children and young people in public decision-making produced in 2010 by the Participation Network, a project of Children in Northern Ireland.
The Ask First standards include as good practice:
- producing easily understood, child friendly versions of background materials, proposals and policies and ensuring that these are widely disseminated
- ensuring that consultation materials are available in formats that are accessible to children and young people with sensory and learning disabilities.
In 2008, The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland produced guidance for public authorities on consulting and involving children and young people entitled Let’s talk Let’s Listen: Guidance for Public Authorities on Consulting and Involving Children and Young People.
The guidance underlined the importance of considering those in circumstances which might make participation difficult and the possible need to make special arrangements for them. Children and young people in this category might include: young Irish Travellers, young carers, children in care, children who have left care, children in the criminal justice system, children who have experienced domestic violence, children and young people with disabilities, etc. Other possibly disadvantaged children and young people could be those living in isolated rural areas, or those from minority ethnic groups.
The guidance also recommends using more informal approaches with young people who risk being overlooked, involving creative methods, focusing on events which children are already involved in (for example, drama groups, sports activities and so on) or adapting existing structures. One objective of such approaches should be to give children and young people the skills and knowledge to be able to take part in more formal structures. Capacity building programmes could include training in administration processes, multimedia, recruitment and selection, and equality, as well as providing them with any extra support the young people need at events.
Feedback is usually in the form of a published government response to the consultation or a commissioned analysis. Feedback on how responses will contribute to policy-making may also be provided through relevant organisations involved in the consultation. In some cases, a specific version of the response is issued for children and young people, which focuses on their participation, an example is the ‘Our Plan for You: Children and Young People’s Strategy’.
On its government services website, nidirect the Government publishes the results of consultations under the banner ‘We Asked, You Said, We Did’. Alongside summaries of the consultation questions and consultation responses, the Government provides information on what it has done, or proposes to do, as a result of the consultation exercise.
Registrations for the UK Youth Parliament for both candidates and polling stations closed in March 2020. The Annual Conference was held in September 2020, covering various issues from sexual health education to period poverty.
In 2019, a total of 838,288 young people voted on UK topics and 840,322 young people voted on devolved topics in the annual ‘Make Your Mark’ ballot. The ballot decides what Members of the UK Youth Parliament should debate and vote on to be their campaign for the coming year. See ‘Youth parliament’ for further information.
See ‘#Ask the Speaker’ in section on ‘e-participation’.