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  • Author or Editor: E. Kay M. Tisdall x
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Children and young people’s participation activities continue to grow, galvanised by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).1 As the activities have proliferated, so has a list of common barriers and problems for children and young people’s participation in collective decision making, from tokenism and lack of impact on decision making, to some children and young people being over-consulted while others are marginalised. While this list is frustratingly familiar, certain activities seem to address all or most of these barriers and problems. These examples provide potential learning tools, to examine why they have apparently done so. One such example is youth-led research projects, which involve a core group of children and young people, over a set amount of time, with facilitating adults and organisations. This chapter considers how the young researchers and projects claim credibility and legitimacy through processes of knowledge production. By emphasising expertise, these projects resist perennial critiques of children and young people’s participation being unrepresentative. But they create inequalities for those with less time, interest or commitment for in-depth involvement. The chapter concludes that such projects are not radical in challenging the norms of legitimacy and credibility but can be so in positioning children and young people as knowledge producers.

Youth-led research projects position young researchers as knowledge producers.

Young researchers bring expertise to the projects and develop expertise and knowledge through the projects. This leads to credibility and legitimacy claims for both the young researchers and the projects.

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In the UK, discussions on children's participation have been largely separate from more generic debates that dominate the political and development studies literature. This chapter asks whether these literatures provide useful ways of understanding and challenging both policy and practice in children's participation in ‘public’ decision making. It considers the wider lenses of governance, ‘participatory governance’ and civil society. Two case studies represent attempts to involve children in ‘public’ decision making at a national, governmental level. They exemplify recent moves in UK governance, which challenge government machinery to be more ‘joined up’ and strategic and make public service users the focus. The case studies show that children's participation has a new place in how the civil service works.

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This chapter summarises the key themes of the book. As a whole, the book has demonstrated a point fundamental to arguments in favour of children's participation: that children are not simply empty containers, to be filled and moulded by adult knowledge. Social inclusion/exclusion should logically entail questions of participation. If children are excluded and there is a need to include them, then creating conditions for active participation must be at the core of any solutions proposed or attempted. This chapter also considers how research, policy and practice around children's participation can be developed by considering three related themes running through the various contributions. These are: social inclusion/exclusion and children; the implications of children's participation for the welfare state; and understandings of children's participation.

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Revisiting Youth and Inequalities in Europe

Young people’s participation is an urgent policy and practice concern, across countries and context. This book showcases original research evidence and analysis to consider how, under what conditions and for what purposes young people participate in different parts of Europe.

Focusing on the interplay between the concepts of youth, inequality and participation, this book explores how structural changes, including economic austerity, neoliberal policies and new patterns of migration, affect the conditions of young people’s participation and its aims.

With contributions from a range of subject experts, including young people themselves, the book challenges current policies and practices on young people’s participation. It asks how young people can be better supported to take part in social change and decision-making and what can be learnt from young people’s own initiatives.

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Over 30 years after the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was ratified by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1989, young people’s active citizenship and participation rights have gained increased attention in both academia, policy and practice (Westwood et al, 2014; Gal and Duramy, 2015; McMellon and Tisdall, 2020). In particular, young people’s civic participation is promoted at local, national and regional levels through such organisations as the European Union, UNICEF and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Young people’s participation has become a major rights issue and one gaining increasing policy and practice importance.

While the UNCRC addresses the human rights of children under the age of 18, attention to participation also extends to older young people. Political institutions, research and society are concerned about young people’s societal engagement, carried by fears that new generations of European youth are unengaged and disinterested in politics and have lost trust in democratic institutions (Loncle et al, 2012), and that this will lead to a crisis in democracy. Such a deficit perspective has been counteracted by recent research, which demonstrates that young people are often not uninvolved but they use forms and means other than formal participation to engage in society and to influence politics (Quintelier, 2007; Pohl et al, 2020). Whether constructing youth participation as in crisis or changing, institutions from social work to education are investing in supporting, facilitating and educating young people to be engaged societally as the ‘citizens of tomorrow’ (Walther et al, 2020).

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Considerable policy and practice interest is currently promoting young people’s participation, locally, nationally and internationally. It has become a popularised requirement for numerous domains, from community regeneration, to service planning, to policy making (Tisdall et al, 2014; Gal and Duramy, 2015). As discussed in this book’s introduction, on the one hand, this popularisation is supported by the recognition of young people as current and not just future citizens, children and young people’s human rights (including participation rights), and examples of young people influencing change. On the other hand, it is propelled by concerns about too many young people being disengaged with formal democratic politics, being potentially disruptive influences and changing demographics. Involving young people in decisions that affect them and their communities, and that address their concerns, both respects and binds young people’s contributions to society.

Young people’s participation is not new, from their contributions as family members, workers and leaders to their involvement in protests and strikes (Cunningham and Lavalette, 2016; Blakemore, 2018). What is new is a particular combination of discourses and trends, such as the decades that have articulated ‘youth’ as a separate (often transitional age- and stage-limited) category from ‘childhood’ and ‘adulthood’; the rise of human rights, which has gradually extended to recognising both children and young people as rights holders and embedding a host of formal institutions and opportunities for participation; globalisation, which has arguably both connected much of the world’s population digitally, economically and culturally, while also widening inequalities and creating new threats; and the 2008 worldwide financial crisis, which shook particularly the Global North and traditional welfare states, to the disadvantage of young people’s future prospects.

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