Disabled children and young people have the same rights as non-disabled children and young people to participate in decisions and issues that affect them.

A woman and child smiling

The importance of the participation of disabled children and young people is reflected in both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and more recently in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Recent years have seen the introduction of significant policy and practice levers and duties that support disabled children and young people’s participation. Local authorities have expectations on them to support and involve children and young people to participate in decision-making. This includes decisions about their own support and care as well as local provision.

Despite this, disabled children and young people have fewer opportunities to participate in decision-making than their non-disabled peers. VIPER research tells us that many disabled young people are still being excluded from participation and decision-making opportunities. Basic access needs to support disabled young people's participation are not being met, and children and young people with higher support needs and communication impairments face significant additional barriers to participation.

As the services disabled children and young people use change, it’s important that we ensure they have opportunities to shape and influence them. Involving children and young people and hearing what they have to say is key to successful projects and ensures that your work meets their needs. Projects or services for children, young people and their families that incorporate participation will be improved, better informed, better targeted and more effective. By asking, listening and responding to the views of children and young people right from the start, your projects will be on the right track from the beginning.

At our training days and conferences, colleagues are always telling us that they would like to be able to build more participation into their daily practice. We’re here to make sure that professionals feel confident and skilled to make this happen.  

What are we doing about it?

At CDC, participation informs the way that we work and is an intrinsic part of everything we do. Our vision is that all organisations, agencies and services that affect children and young people will have structures and systems in place to respond to their ideas and priorities, and to work with them to bring about positive change. We believe that by supporting and training professionals in their participation practice and involving children and young people at key stages in our work, we can increase opportunities for participation and make our vision a reality.

Things to consider when incorporating participation into your practice:

Use tried and tested resources

For example, use Hear By Right to give you a framework to develop a participation strategy.

Be clear about the different levels of participation

Breaking participation down into the different levels (individual, service and strategic) will make the process of planning for participation clearer and mean that you can make sure what you are planning is appropriate for the intended purpose.

Promote positive attitudes to disability

Good practice in participation for disabled children and young people rests on the attitudes of the adults supporting them. Disability equality training for all universal and specialist workers will promote a positive attitude to disability; highlight the importance of involving and listening to disabled children and young people; and stress the importance of seeing disabled children as the experts in their own lives.

Build participation into everyone’s job roles

Building participation into everyone’s job roles and job descriptions will make sure that it becomes everyone’s responsibility and not just that of the participation, disability or inclusion worker.

Gain senior-level commitment

Having the commitment of senior figures in the organisation shows that it is committed to and support disabled children and young people’s participation.

And finally - don't over complicate participation. There may be hurdles to overcome but participation is simply listening to children, involving them in decisions and issues that affect them and recognising them as the experts in their own lives.