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Barriers and challenges to participation

Most research in the area of participation points out that we live in a society where adults do not generally listen seriously to what children and young people say, do not consult them about their views, and do not encourage them to take part in decision making. Children and young people can feel that adults do not listen to them.

Some of the barriers to listening include:

  • presuming what a child or young person will say/think
  • the attitude of adults: 'It's easier if I do it myself', 'I don't have time', 'We have never invited the kids before', 'They don't really want to be involved', 'We can't pull them out of school'
  • holding meetings at times when children cannot attend
  • not providing appropriate refreshments at meetings
  • not providing resources (transport) for children and young people to attend meetings, or covering expenses
  • holding meetings in places where children and young people feel uncomfortable
  • not inviting children and young people to meetings (Calvert, 2000).

The provisions for sharing information with children and young people need not be seen as an onerous imposition. These are important tools for empowering the most vulnerable group within the child protection system. Such processes allow them to participate to a greater degree in decision making about their lives and provide greater opportunities for developing good working relationships between pracitioner and the child or young person. Access to information is a basic right for children in out-of-home care, and the accumulation and storage of such information is one way of ensuring that their 'history' is not lost (CREATE Foundation, 2000).

Children involved in the child protection process are usually anxious and confused. They feel powerless and caught up in a train of events beyond their understanding or control. Their anxiety will inhibit their ability to listen, understand and process information that you give them. They may already be traumatised by the harm that has lead to statutory involvement in their lives. Lack of information and understanding about the process they are going through can worsen this trauma (Commission for Children and Young People (NSW), 2003).

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