How to involve children

Involving young people in your organisation can be done in a range of different ways, from having dedicated children’s places on your management committee to including children in your staff recruitment process. The best mechanisms to use will vary from organisation to organisation, and the ‘Help’ section suggests many guides that can be adopted for your specific organisation.

There are, however, broad models that can explore what children’s participation might look like within every organisation. This section explores three; Hart’s Ladder, Sheir’s Pathways, and Westhorp’s Continuum. Diagrams are available in the full pdf briefing of this section.

The most famous model of participation is Hart’s Ladder.1 Hart’s ladder is a rights based approach to conceptualising participation and can be used to explain what participation could look like within organisations. It outlines different levels of participation that reflect the degree of power sharing between children and older people within an organisation. Hart’s ladder proposes eight types of participation with an implicit assumption that realising children’s right to participate happens only at the top levels – where children and older people share decision making equally. Hart’s model implies that real participation involves a constant strive towards the top rungs of the ladder through sharing more and more power with children.

Shier2 builds on this model, proposing a pathway of actions available to organisations to ‘climb’ the ladder.

Not all models assume that the best approach for your organisation is achieved through power sharing with children. Westhorp3 proposed a model that was developed to explore and conceptualise participation within organisations where children’s capacity to contribute fluctuates. Specifically, it was designed to conceptualise participation within health-based settings.

Westhorp’s model proposed a continuum for understanding participation, suggesting that there are six key ways children can participate within organisations. Each of these six approaches may be more or less appropriate in certain situations, and provides a variety of strategies for engagement.

While this model suggests that different types of participation are just differently suited to different tasks – the level of participation employed will affect the ‘outcomes’ and benefits. Working with this model may increase the instrumental benefits of participation for your organisation, however it may not realise children’s right to participate fully if power is not shared equally.

1. Hart, R. 1992 Children’s Participation; From Tokenism to Citizenship, Unicef, Florence
2. Shier, H. 2001 ‘Pathways to Participation: Openings, Opportunities and Obligations’ Children and Society 15, pp. 107 – 117
3. Westhorp, G. 1987 Planning for Youth Participation: A resource kit Youth Sector Training Council of South Australia, Adelaide.