Engagement with children and young people: Best practice guidelines

 

ABOUT THESE GUIDELINES

The Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy recognises the rights of children and young people to have their voices, perspectives and opinions listened to and taken into account. These rights are also reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC, Article 12), the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Children’s Act, and Aotearoa New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements, in particular Te Tiriti.

Children and young people are the experts in their own lives.  They provide unique perspectives and wisdom that will lead to ideas and solutions, which can be relevant for the wider community. Meaningful engagement with children and young people will lead to programmes, services and policy development that are more relevant,  appropriate, and responsive to their needs.

 

How these guidelines were developed

We want to mihi to the children and young people who provided advice that has informed the development of these guidelines. We gratefully acknowledge the valuable experience and expertise that they brought to this work.

To inform the review of the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC), in partnership with other agencies and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, undertook a series of workshops to find out how government can better support and empower children and young people to have their voice heard.

This included asking them about their:

  • understanding of their rights in relation to civic participation
  • experiences of being heard in the past, including what went well, what wasn’t so good, and what could have been done better
  • experiences of not feeling heard, including what got in the way, what would make it easier and what support they needed
  • ideas about how we can more creatively engage with children and young people, particularly those on the margins, and how we can create a more enduring and sustainable ways of supporting child and youth voice to influence change.
Find out more about the engagements and what we heard:

These guidelines incorporate what we heard from the children and young people, including their direct quotes. They also reflect elements of established guidelines and links to where you can find more detailed information, including considerations when engaging with specific population groups. 

They were developed by the Child Wellbeing and Poverty Reduction Group in DPMC, in collaboration with partner agencies, including representatives from: The Ministry of Youth Development, the Ministry of Education, Ministry for Pacific Peoples, Te Puni Kōkiri, Oranga Tamariki, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, VOYCE Whakarongo Mai, I.Lead and InsideOUT rainbow youth network.

 

Purpose of this document

These guidelines are designed to support people in the public sector as they seek to hear and empower the views and voices of children and young people. It aims to ensure this is done in a way that works for children and young people, and that their insights and perspectives are genuinely used to influence policy development, programmes, services and organisation. It may also be a useful resource for those outside of government, who are seeking to engage with children and young people.

Along with this guidance, we encourage you to use the resources highlighted throughout the guidance. We also encourage you to talk with organisations who are already involving young people in decision-making and with young people themselves about the methods of participation that work for them.

The Child Impact Assessment Tool (CIAT) is also a useful tool for government and non-government organisations and service providers to ensure they are considering the rights of children and young people in their work. The CIAT will help agencies and organisations consider the potential current and future impacts on children of any policy or legislation proposals being developed. It encourages drafters or proposers to consider the rights of children and young people at an early stage, including by actively seeking the views of children on decisions being made, and considering ways to mitigate any impacts on children or young people.  

 

BEFORE: PLANNING THE ENGAGEMENT

Find out what engagement has already been undertaken

Discovering what information has already been shared about a topic helps you determine whether you actually need to engage and/or whether a more targeted approach is needed to fill particular knowledge gaps. It also helps avoid ‘engagement fatigue’, where children and young people are repeatedly asked for their views, but aren’t seeing any resulting outcome.  

  • Investigate what engagements have already been undertaken by your organisation and others to ensure the answers to your questions aren’t already available.
  • Recognise that any previous voices should be kept in context, and you should speak with those who gathered them.  Meet the people who have done the mahi, as their work could have developed further since their last report.
  • Use any existing findings or themes as a starting point to build from, so that your engagement reflects what has already been said. This shows respect for the mana of those earlier voices, and demonstrates that they were heard. It’s important you also share the ‘whakapapa’ of what you have already heard, so the children and young people understand the context of the previous voices.  

"Check and see who else has engaged with us – (it’s frustrating) going back and forwards saying the same thing to different people."
Young person with disability

 

Decide the purpose and scope of the engagement

Being clear about why you want to engage with children and young people enables you to decide who you want  to talk with and what you want to talk about. It will also help you to design the most appropriate method for engaging  with children and young people. Understanding the purpose of the engagement will help determine the level of influence children and young  people will have in the decision-making process.

  • Be clear on why children are part of the engagement, the topic and intended outcome(s), and what influence they will have. Engagement needs to be meaningful and shouldn’t be a tick box exercise or tokenistic.
  • Be open and transparent about the scope of the engagement and, ideally, involve them in setting the scope if your project allows.
  • Involve children, young people and whānau early in the process, to ensure there’s enough time for genuine consultation.
  • This includes involving them in setting the purpose and/or the agenda themselves and the chance to talk about problems they care about, for example: climate change, vaping and smoking issues, stress, mental health, discrimination, finances and solutions.
  • If not co-design, then the minimal should be co-decide (discuss with children and young people and their community a range of options and they choose which is best for them).   

“When trying to get the voice of rangatahi, the key is being clear about why you want their voice, and what is going to be done with it. There has to be a reason.” (Care experienced young person)

Find out more:

 

Choosing the method

Children and young people come from different backgrounds, have different interests and like to communicate and engage in different ways. That’s why it’s important to consider a range of engagement methods, to determine which would be most suitable for particular groups, or for the  type of information sought from participants.

  • Consider your budget and the costs involved in engaging
  • Think about how you can best support children and young people to best share their views How you are planning to use or analyse the voices you collect will also impact methods (ie, do you want direct quotes, disaggregated ethnicity or location information etc).
  • Methods can be face-to-face or online, and should include break-out group opportunities if the group is large. Examples include:
    • Group sessions, which help stimulate ideas and enable collaboration. Also gives a sense of working collectively on something and provide a sense of hope that change can happen.
    • Wānanga - a safe space where collaborative, culturally responsive and relational approaches are evident. These could be with ‘experts’, but facilitated and led by young people; in person and in a marae; collaborative and long-term.
    • Hui / fono at secondary schools or presenting at assemblies. Young people also suggested ‘town hall-style’ meetings just for youth, with local government or local MPs, or other key decision makers.
    • Good to have practical, hands on engagement options – not everyone likes sitting around a table talking.
    • One-on-one and small interviews are particularly good for personal or sensitive topics.
    • Simple and anonymous feedback options are good for those who are shy about sharing ideas, eg ‘Postcards to the PM’ initiative used in the development of the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy.
    • Surveys – whether informal simple pulse surveys, Instagram or google surveys or more detailed ones - the key is having simple, well thought through questions.
    • Gamified versions of engagement – eg, kahoot style where you can vote on options and ideas and see instant results, or on gaming platforms.
    • Activity based engagement, learning and sharing – all the activities are designed to be directly connected to the research questions and conversation.
    • Weave the story – the engagement should tell a story that children and young people understand, feel included and reflected in, and will remember.
      • Learn about their community, what’s the current news and special character of their neighbourhood. Weave this into the design.
      • Talk to the local community organisations and stakeholders about ways the voices can be heard locally and weave the engagement to do this as well.
  • Think about how you can provide opportunities for diverse creative expression, such as spoken word competitions, rap, theatre, short film, art and photography, crafts, dance etc. Some of the most authentic, powerful messages, experiences and solutions are expressed in these kinds of creative ways, which can offer a wealth of rich insights and information to tap into (see examples below). 
  • While some engagement processes (eg submissions) are formal, ensure there are less formal and anonymous options for young people to contribute, with more accessible language/ submission templates and processes.
  • Consider more enduring ways that child and youth voice might be represented. Examples include: youth-focussed roles in government agencies; internship / cadetship type roles for young people; dedicated positions on governance boards (eg care-experienced; those with disability).

“Everyone communicates in a different way, and there shouldn’t be barriers around this.” (OCC-led workshop participant)

Find out more:

 

Recruiting participants

Inclusion should be at the heart of all participation work with children and young people.

  • Ensure there’s broad representation and that your engagement is inclusive – with consideration to diversity in age, ethnicity, culture, vulnerabilities, gender and disabilities.
  • Make a special effort to include those who need to be heard, and those who have not had opportunities to share previously
  • Consider promoting the engagement opportunity through social media channels, to improve its and reach a wide group (eg, Tik-Tok, Snapchat and Instagram) or promoting through schools and unis and on bulletin boards. You might Involve influencers that young people can relate to, or use the existing leaders in the communities to promote through their networks.

"Recruiting through networks... is good for hearing from people who are more plugged-in and very aware of political issues affecting them, but wider advertisement should be used to hear from those more on the margins." (Rainbow young person)

Find out more:

 

Informed consent and ethical considerations

There are consent and ethical considerations that you will need to think about, to ensure you engage in a way that is both meaningful and safe for children.

  • Support children and young people to make informed decisions about participation. This will include providing the children and young people with age appropriate  material that tells them the purpose pf the engagement, the types of questions that will be asked and what their information will be used for.
  • It should be clear to them that they are allowed to change their mind about participating at any time during the process. Depending on the engagement, parental consent should also be considered for children and young people 15 years and younger.
  • For large scale or longer projects, consider how consent can be renegotiated throughout the process as work and impact develops or becomes more clear.  For example ensure young people know that they can leave the project at any time.
  • Projects should have a wellbeing plan for how to handle disclosures or challenges throughout the engagement, so that all facilitators know the process and this can be managed smoothly. The community support of children (family, teachers etc.) need to be informed and supported also.  
  • If a child or young person does disclose something that is of concern, you should let them know that you need to pass this information on and who you will be sharing it with. This should also be included in the consent process so that children and young people know before the interview that information will be shared in these circumstances.
  • As well as seeking consent, you will need to ensure your engagement is safe, and that it won’t cause harm to the children or young people. This includes  ethical considerations such as:
    • adults working directly with children and young people are experienced or trained to work with them,  and are screened and police vetted
    • if the nature of your enquiry is deeply personal for the child or young person, you will need to seek ethical advice and approval from an ethics committee
    • when children share information that identifies risks to themselves or others, the right support is provided to them
    • children are not stigmatised or discriminated against in your process
    • individual children are not identified when you report your results
    • when possible, you should report back to the children how the information influenced decision making.
Find out more:

 

Understanding the needs of the children, young people and whānau you want to talk with

It’s important to understand the needs of children and young people so you can design your engagement to help them to share their views. You should work alongside people who know them so you can engage safely and meaningfully.

  • Think about the ethnicity of the children and young people and what cultural considerations are required, including what language they might prefer to use.
  • Recognise the whakapapa of tamariki and rangatahi Māori and consider how to actively perform and build whanaungatanga with their whānau, hāpū and iwi. Also have an awareness of the wider cultural context, the impact of colonisation and be mindful of inequities they may have experienced.
  • Some children and young people may have specific requirements that need to be factored in, eg, accessibility, communication preferences, concentration levels.
  • Some children and young people might prefer to have a support person present, eg, those who have experienced trauma or when the topic of engagement is sensitive.
  • Seek objective feedback from participation and practice experts who are not involved directly in the design or facilitation of the project.

 

Choosing a facilitator, venue and time

Good engagement with children and young people is best when the relationships exist already within their ‘village’.

  • Consider whether you have authentic and meaningful relationships with the communities you want to hear from, and if not, consider who you can work with to do this.
  • It’s important to have a facilitator who has specialist skills and knowledge in child and youth engagement. Ideally, they will be people children and young people are familiar with or can relate well to, for example youth workers or community leaders. They should also have appropriate cultural understanding.  
  • Consider a youth-led engagement, to provide development opportunities (see resource link below for more detail) 
  • It’s important to go to where young people are, ensuring the venue is accessible and where young people feel comfortable (eg, educational institutions, sports clubs, youth hubs, church youth groups and other informal settings).
  • If you choose to do your engagement in a different space, try to ensure it’s special.
  • Ensure timing of the engagement suits young people’s schedules. This may be outside of business hours or in the weekend.
  • Ensure you meet the needs of all children and young people, including different access needs. It’s also important to ask what support is needed – don’t assume.

“In an environment I’m comfortable in, my voice comes out best.” (OCC-led workshop participant)

 

Helping children and young people prepare

It’s important to give information pre-engagement. Children and young people want to come well prepared, and understand the purpose and how much scope there is to influence change.

  • Information needs to be simple and accessible, but not dumbed down, eg, avoid jargon and acronyms, easy-to-read documents, accurate closed captions.

“Plain language! paperwork is not easy to read – the jargon, the language and parliamentary language.” (Young person with disability)

 

Koha and recompense

Koha is an important part of tikanga Māori. It reflects the idea of reciprocity, and involves the act of giving as a way to acknowledge contributions and express gratitude. Providing koha, in addition to compensation for any expenses, demonstrates that you value the children and young people’s time and expertise.  Providing and sharing kai also shows our care and respect for them, and helps build a positive rapport.

  • Ensure children and young people are reimbursed for any out-of-pocket expenses to participate in the engagement.
  • Koha could be made to the individuals or as contributions to the wider group (eg, school/class).
  • Beyond ‘money’, koha can include ‘immediate benefits’ such as:
    • making the sessions fun/play-based, and including creative activities that relate to the questions
    • thinking about how you might connect them to local community partners and stakeholders (eg, school teachers, local mayor) – possibly bringing them in at the end of the session to hear their thoughts and ideas and consider putting them in to action at a local level
    • thinking strategically about sharing findings with those in the community who have influence on a young person’s wellbeing
    • providing opportunities to upskill the children and young people.
  • Ensure children and young people are given kudos for their ideas.
Find out more

 

DURING: RUNNING THE ENGAGEMENT

Creating a comfortable, welcoming and safe space

Engagement spaces should be inclusive, welcoming, and non-judgmental, to ensure children and young people feel comfortable to share their story and views.

  • Think about how the engagement should be opened, considering mana whenua and the community. They may want to welcome the team and open the kōrero with a pōwhiri or a prayer or blessing in their language.
  • Explain the process, including what will happen  during the engagement, how long it will last, and what will happen when it finishes.
  • Let them know they can ask questions, choose what they want to share and that they can stop at any time with no negative consequences.  Check they are still happy to be involved
  • Children and young people should have control over the way the consultation is conducted and to be given the right not to answer.
    • Good facilitators know how to do this while also not losing control. Keeping a balance between collective and individual participation.
  • Ensure children and young people can engage with people who understand them, their cultures and traditions in a judgemental free space, it’s important to respect cultural traditions (eg, incorporating prayer or karakia) and understand cultural differences.
  • Ensure group sizes are manageable, and that there’s opportunity to break into smaller groups, this provides a safe space for children and young people who prefer to engage with less people.
  • As mentioned in the Ethics and consents section above, projects should have a wellbeing plan for how to handle disclosures or challenges throughout the engagement, so that all facilitators know the process and this can be managed smoothly.
  • If a child or young person discloses something that is of concern, you should let them know that you need to pass this information on and who you will be sharing it with. (This should have been included in the consent process so that children and young people know before the interview that information will be shared in these circumstances).

“Safety is important when engaging with young people. Young people need to feel like they can be open with their issues.” (Rainbow young person)

 

Whakawhanaungatanga

Whakawhanaungatanga refers to the process of establishing meaningful, reciprocal and inclusive relationships through cultural respect, connectedness and engagement.  Developing good relationships between young people and adults is vital to create a sense of belonging.

  • There should be opportunities to get to know each other in both formal and informal ways throughout the engagement.
  • At the beginning of the engagement, spend some time getting to know the children and young people and for them to get to know you.
  • Consider opening the space for 30-60 minutes before with simple activities. That way children and young people can come early and wait, get to know you, and whānau can have a chance to ask questions.
  • Consider using a rolling start so children and young people do not feel like they cannot join if they are late.
  • Provide time to let the children and young people get comfortable, build connections and loosen into the engagement.
  • This could involve asking them questions and encouraging them to ask you questions. This will help build connections and create an engagement that they feel included in.
  • Consider ice-breaker sessions that are fun and help people relax.

“I love the way we have started this engagement. It’s led by Pacific youth, starting off with a prayer, going around the screen and introducing ourselves so we can make connections.” (Pacific young person)

 

Responding to needs in the moment

Children and young people tell us in many ways what they need and how they feel. You need to be able to change your engagement in the moment if it’s not meeting the needs of the child or young person.

  • If a child or young person appears anxious or upset, you need to stop or change your conversation. This could mean changing the topic, activity or location, checking in with them about what they need.
  • Use a floater; a member of the team who is tasked with monitoring the vibe of the group and participation or mood-level of each individual. They can take participants out for a talk or walk if they need this. They also hear things that facilitators of the full group may not hear.
  • Remind the child or young person they can choose how much information they want to share, and which questions they want to answer
  • Ensure children and young people know they can stop the engagement at any time if they don’t want to carry on, and that there will be no negative consequences for them if they do. It can be useful to have a quiet space outside of the engagement which young people can use if they need to.
  • Have break-out options and snacks available throughout the engagement, and break up the engagement with energiser activities.

 

Making it fun and engaging

  • Ensure engagements with children and young people are fun and not too formal.
  • It also helps to ask children and young people how they would like the room set-up, have activities and games available to help break the ice and provide time for a break from the talking.
  • Provide options for children and young people to communicate in a way that works best for them. This could include: being able to express themselves in their own language and have people understand them; expressing their views through pointing at pictures (younger children), writing down or drawing their views; assisted technology; or playing characters in a game.
  • Consider some of the creative expression engagement methods suggested in the planning section above.
Find out more

 

Recording of voices

  • Consider how the views children and young people provide will be recorded.
  • Where appropriate, allow children and young people to record the insights they hear.
  • Record it in a way that the children and young people can see it as they share and can make changes if they want to.
  • Give equal value and weight to different ways that children and young people share their perspectives.
  • Consider non-intrusive recording methods that don’t take away from conversation eg, have a scribe.

 

Showing respect

Children and young people should be respected and listened to, and recognised as experts of their lived experience. 

  • Empower children and young people in their identity and culture when you engage with them, eg, pronouncing their name correctly and giving them space to share their stories and histories.
  • Recognise that age doesn’t mean they aren’t informed and that the lived experience is as important as the adult or expert voice.
  • Individual experiences are important and shouldn’t be diminished when extrapolating the wider themes – the individual voice and stories can be used to illustrate the themes and bring them to life. Go deeper, and ask the hard questions and have the awkward conversations and be prepared to hear answer.
  • Show children and young people that you hear their voice and are listening to them. Listening is about focusing on what children and young people say, as well as what they are telling you through their behaviour and the way they say things.
  • Listen without judgement, and be aware of the ideas and preconceptions you may be bringing to the engagement.

“Take time to really listen, sometimes it is really hard to say things, understand us and take time, give us time to get our thoughts together.” (Young person with disability)

 

Providing learning opportunities

Think broadly about how the engagement might help grow and develop the children and young people’s skills, confidence and connections.

  • Ensure young people have the skills or support to undertake the engagement activity; otherwise they may feel overwhelmed and/or disconnected.
  • Give children and young people the opportunity to learn and grow through the engagement, to help them develop and expand their ideas.
  • Give young people opportunities to set the agenda and talk about problems they care about - like climate change, vaping and smoking problems, stress, mental health, discrimination, finances and solutions.
  • Weave topics like UNCROC, Civics, Mātauranga Māori models etc into the session, as a way to inform and upskill participants about their individual and whānau rights.

“Give youth the role to lead the discussion, it’s a great opportunity for them.” (Pacific young person)

Find out more

 

AFTER: RESPECTING THEIR VOICE

Analysis of voices

The analysis of the information you have considered is key to doing justice to the voices of children and young people which you have collected.

  • A strategy for analysis and reporting should be considered as part of the initial project plan. If you are unsure about this, accessing support from organisations who have the skill and experience is recommended eg, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.
  • Consider if you will be grouping and theming the voices.
  • Ensure analysis of voices is robust and continues to centre the voices of children and young people, rather than any preconceived ideas or bias that adult analysers might have.
  • Consider how you will balance the input of people who have been part of the engagements with the children and young people, alongside those with fresh eyes who can provide constructive feedback.

 

Closing the loop and demonstrating influence

After the engagement, it’s important that we treat the children and young people’s voices as taonga and ensure their voices influence decisions. Action as a result of feedback is the proof of being listened to.  

  • Keep children and young people’s information safe and secure, and only use their feedback for the purpose intended.
  • If you are using quotes in any way, ensure the child or young person is not identifiable in any way.
  • Give children and young people an opportunity to provide feedback on summary notes of the engagement, to ensure their voice is accurately represented.
  • Consider  establishing an ongoing feedback loop to keep children and young people updated. This could include any amendments to summary notes, regular check-ins, and/or updates on the next steps or ongoing opportunities to be involved. For example, consider giving them a heads up when any engagement reports or subsequent actions are made public.
  • Be an advocate, and look for opportunities to incorporate and share the views of children and young people with key decision-makers and relevant partners and remind them to inform you of any decisions made as a result of the voices.
  • Let children and young people know what decisions have been made and/or what actions have been taken as a result of the information they shared.
  • Where possible go back to the group and have a conversation about how they can use their voices in their own community.

“It's pretty easy to just go platitudes of, like, we've heard you. And that's so important and yadda yadda yadda, but if nothing changes, it can be a pretty demoralizing experience and make you feel like if you don't particularly wanna use your voice because you're just feeling all this time and talking into a system isn't listening.” (Care experienced young person)

 

USEFUL LINKS

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