Empowering Children's Voices in Research and Decision-Making
by Professor Jane Williams - Interim Director, Morgan Academy
The Morgan Academy values critical thinking and collaboration to produce innovative, evidence-based policy. In its first two years the Academy has brought together experts from academia, practice, business, third sector, politics and policy communities to pool experiences on complex policy issues, including challenges in health and well-being, opportunities from city region deals, how to embed innovative sustainable energy technology and how culture, heritage and identities can generate indigenous economic growth.
All these issues affect children in the here and now and in their future lives. But where are children’s voices in the experts’ conversations and in the policy processes which the experts seek to influence?
The ‘Children as Researchers’ methodology responds to this question by recognising the value and values of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and regarding children as citizens with rights - including rights to information, to freedom of association, thought and expression as well as rights to protection and provision. The methodology has been used in some 100 Lleisiau Bach projects throughout Wales over 10 years, supported by Big Lottery People and Places funding and the Observatory on Human Rights of Children at Swansea and Bangor Universities. Lleisiau Bach Little Voices projects empower children, including young children and those with additional barriers to participation, to select and research issues that they prioritise as important to them, advocate for and bring about change. The cumulative experience is fast becoming a ‘go to’ resource for researchers and policy actors seeking to engage with children.
The Morgan Academy hosted a Children as Researchers networking and training event on 20th May 2019 at Swansea University’s Centre for Regional Innovation, attended by 85 participants from a wide range of disciplines, roles and organisations. This was one of several such events delivered within the current Big Lottery funded project Little Voices Being Heard project (2017 – 2020). With contributions from the Lleisiau Bach Little Voices team, Welsh Youth Parliament and Children’s Commissioner for Wales, the event enabled participants to gain and exchange knowledge of the methods and their impact on policy and practice with examples from education, health, well-being and foster care among others.
This was the second collaboration between Morgan Academy and the Observatory on Human Rights of Children. In June 2018, the Academy facilitated a public engagement at the Senedd, Cardiff, featuring work on ‘Children, Young People and Democracy’ by researchers at Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law and Swansea University’s Department of Political Science. The Morgan Academy’s recognition of the importance of children’s rights was further reflected when the Academy’s inaugural annual lecture in September 2018 was given by the Commissioner for Children and Young People Scotland, Bruce Adamson. Later this year, Morgan Academy will facilitate a further Senedd engagement featuring Observatory research on the impact of Wales’ unique child rights laws on organisational behaviours, policy process and democratic scrutiny.
Now situated within the Morgan Academy, the Lleisiau Bach Little Voices team is engaging with Swansea University researchers across disciplines including Early Childhood, Public Health, Medicine and Business Management to incorporate Children as Researchers methods in applications for research funding, as well as providing support for postgraduate researchers to deploy human rights based approaches and delivering bespoke training and mentoring for professionals in education, health and social care. Students at Swansea and Bangor universities are benefiting from opportunities to study and evaluate the methods in taught modules and dissertations and to gain transferable skills through volunteering.
Insights gained from delivery of Lleisiau Bach Little Voices projects inform other aspects of the Observatory’s work, including on embedding rights in organisational practice and policy process and the provision by the Children’s Legal Centre Wales of accessible legal information. The Lleisiau Bach Little Voices team is exploring innovative approaches to deployment of insights from the projects using taxonomies derived from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other legal frameworks such as the Well-being of Future Generations. The conceptual, ethical and practical challenges in developing these taxonomies featured in discussion at a session organised by the Morgan Academy with researchers from Law, Business Management and Early Childhood at the College of Arts and Humanities Research Conference on 21st May 2019.
It is easier to say ‘children’s participation’ – whether in the context of research, policy development, democratic process or practice – than to make it happen in ways consistent with the rights of the child. Children as Researchers methods offer rights-respecting routes to enabling the voices of children as citizens to be heard and heeded alongside the voices of experts and others who are already in those conversations.