Hart’s Ladder of Participation

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Critically analyse Hart’s Ladder of Participation. What are the types of decisions children and young people can be involved in, and what is the link between the children and the adults when the participatory approach is put into practice? When should adults be more active in guiding children, and when should they step back and allow the children to work autonomously? Roger Hart (1992) developed a model, the Ladder of participation, which is made up from eight steps, each step indicate increasing degrees of pupil participation and dissimilar forms of cooperation with adults.
The three lowest steps on the ladder of participation are called the “non-participation” steps , and they strongly state that many projects claiming to engage children could be characterised as non-participation rather than as belonging to the higher steps on the ladder or what he calls “real participation’’. Under the category of non participation there are 3 subcategories. Manipulation which is the lowest rung in the ladder of participation which states that children do as directed without understanding of purpose for the activities.
Secondly is decoration where children understand the purpose but have no input in how they are planned. Last at the non participation category, Tokenism, shows an increase in participation where children may be consulted with minimal opportunities for feedback. Moving on to the category of the degree of participation we are faced with rung 4 which is called assigned, but informed. At this rung adults led the activities but children understand the purpose having a decision-making process and a role.
As you move on, on the ladder, you will come across rung 5 which is the consulted and informed face which states that youth are consulted and informed about how their input will be used and the outcomes of adult decisions. As I stated, as you go up the ladder the degree of participation increases. At rung 6 at the activities, decision making is shared with youth, this is called the adult initiated shared decision with youth step. Moving on, the last two steps have a higher degree of participation.
The youth initiated and directed step states that children decide about the activities with little input from adults. Lastly at the eighth step which is called youth initiated shared decisions with adults, there is a child-led activity however decision making is shared between youth and adults and they both work as equal partners. At this step children participation is at its highest degree. The term ‘participation’ refers to the process of sharing decisions which affect one’s life and the life of the society in which one lives. Participation is the essential right of citizenship.
The degree to which children should have a voice in anything is a debatable issue. Recently it has been recognized that children have (and can express) dissimilar concerns, needs and aspirations from those of their parents. This being the case, it cannot be said that children’s best interest is served when you approach youth through adults. The Comprehension that the interests of children may be at variance from those of adults, including parents, leads us to think also about the scenery of power relations among the young and their elders.
Although childhood and adult-child relationships are clearly construed and experienced in a broad variety of ways across the globe, it appears a widespread fact that children usually benefit from less social power than adults (Boyden, 1997). However, since children’s interests differ from those of adults, how will their powerlessness help them protect and serve their interests? Undoubtedly this is simply a question of ‘children getting their own way’ at the expense of adults.
The physical and sexual abuse of children surrounded by the home, school, workplace and wider society are at their extreme the negative consequences of such power inequality. (Hearn, 1989, Kitzinger, 1997). Programmes that enable children to participate and address their concerns by coming together can be seen as one significant component of a wider policy to address inequity of power and the abuse to which it gives rise. Throughout group working and appropriate support of facilitation, children may be able to negotiate ‘new kinds of relationships and partnerships’ as suggested by O’Kane (2002).
Cases involving children as participants enjoy better efficiency and effectiveness. Children’s participation is considered to lead to better decision-making, whether this is in relation to projects that are interested on issues of specific concern to the children (Lansdown, 2003) or within development processes in the wider society (Phillips, 2000). Additionally, in some people’s view, functioning with children may be the most successful way of bringing out issues of concern within the society as a whole since the young are less self-conscious in their discussion of matters.
It is usually supposed that the Unite Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) provides an apparent support for children’s participation. Actually, this issue has been questioned by quite a few commentators. It is pointed out, for instance, that the reference in Article 12 to children’s developing capacities and the proclamation in Article 3 about children’s ‘best interests’ both offer valuable grounds for adults to take priority over the expressed ideas and wishes of children ( Cantwell, 1998; Liebel,2000). It can be said that the UNCRC provides ‘a new vision of children’.
It combines the recognisable view of the child being a defenseless human being that needs protection and support from the family, the society and the state with the awareness that he/she is able to form and express opinion, to take part in decision-making processes and manipulate solutions, to interfere as a collaborator in the process of social change and in the building up of democracy since is the subject of rights (Santos Pais, 1999) When we look in the evaluating impact of children’s participation it is important to bear in mind that children’s participation is a steady process based on the skills that they develop, on training and on raising awareness, and on the changes of attitudes and beliefs that may be held. As a result, the impacts of children’s participation may perhaps not be felt into the life of the scheme for some time, or even after (Lee, 2001). Moreover, it is broadly assumed that contribution in participatory programming will aid children, commonly girls, to be raised in confidence and with self-esteem. High confidence in children usually seems to affect children’s ability to communicate in different situations with different kinds of people, many of them being unfamiliar to them.
Usually people with high confidence find it easier socialise with people so the higher the degree of participation the higher the confidence level leading to a more sociable personality being developed. Also an important fact is that the high confidence that children will develop is also commonly associated with a sense of self-efficiency. According to a study that took part in the UK with a sample of 200 students, it can be said that participatory activities had made children feel they can ‘improve things’ by 94%, it made them feel overconfident of their ‘achievements’ by 97% and made them feel ‘more self-determining, trusted and responsible’ by 98% (Hannam, 2001).
It can also be said that self-esteem and confidence affect the control you are able to take over some situations in your life. This idea was supported by a 5-year participatory programme with street and working children in Kenya that concluded, ‘children grew in confidence and self-esteem and this in turn enabled them to take greater control over their situation’ (Van Beers 2002). In addition, it has been argued that participation may allow children to expand and build on their expressive capability, their skills, self-confidence and ability to make queries. (Lansdown, 2003). In brief, it is assumed to perform in support of children’s personal and social development.
However, this point can be said to be limited, partially because researchers done on child development had the tendency to have a spotlight on the first six years of life whilst the mass of participatory programming is with older children from ten upwards. Undoubtedly, the argument presented by Judith Harris (1998) lends support to the belief that participatory projects could drastically improve children’s social development. It is also broadly assumed that, during the improvement of self-awareness, self-reliance, sovereignty, maturity and creativity, which is an outcome from participation, youth, will better comprehend the social and political contexts in which they live (UNICEF, 2000). Moving on, current writings on children’s participatory programming recommend that improving the knowledge children have about health issues and promoting defensive behavior can also influence a child’s input.
Various communication strategies concerning health issues have been a regular focal point for child-to-child projects that, in various contexts, have preceded the progress of participatory projects for instance in Nepal (Rajbhandari et. al, 1999). In the attempt to put a stop to the spread of HIV/AIDS, the youth is becoming gradually more active in the course of participatory projects. Noted by the Ghana Red Cross Society, teenagers may be mainly suitable to inform other youth about HIV/AIDS concerns, given that ‘young adults are accepted by the younger teens, and with simply a tiny age variation, they share youth social attitudes and values’ (1993). Therefore, by involving adolescence in HIV/AIDS consciousness and prevention actions, awareness, skills and self-assurance about sexual issues, use of condoms and infection possibly will be improved.
What’s more, writings suggest that involvement may possibly improve family relationships, characterise by improving parent support, and/or minimize domestic abuse. The fact that children gain skills and knowledge that allow them to contribute further, successfully to the well-being of their family, might be partly the reason for this suggestion. Improved relations between family members and their children’s are suggested to be due to better behavior, approach and strength of will that are usually credited by the participation of the children in the particular projects or ideas. Various participatory projects may perhaps be straightforwardly supported by parents.
A study that gave focus at a project where this was the case observed and concluded that parents build up improved perception and closer relations with their offspring (Kirby et. al. 2002, cited in Kirby with Bryson, 2002). All at once, evaluation ought to be conscientious to the possible negative impact of children participating in actions that take them away from their duties concerning the house or from further activities that are a main concern for careers, especially school and learning (Development FOCUS et. al. 2001). However, we should also consider the possibility of tensions occurring from the fact that, whilst young children and teenagers are being encouraged to state their views and take part in decision-making practices, their parents may possibly not get pleasure from such opportunities.
In such situations there is a specific requirement for organisations to work personally and directly with parents to make sure that family members do not affect and perceive the efforts done to give power to children, because of a threat to their own position, experienced by one family member’s powerlessness in the wider society (Hart J. 2002a). In addition, carefulness is necessary when projects encourage children in the direction of particular views for instance, non-discrimination, secularism, sex equity that are not broadly held by parents and other adults in the society. In the absent of concurrent efforts by agency staff to work with family members about such values there is a possibility that child participants can come into disagreements with their parents at home. In all cases, we must take into consideration the principles of expecting children and adults to hold attitudes (Cairns, 1992:125).
Concerning evaluations, participants are needed to be at the centre, meaning ensuring that they are based and focused on children’s personal meanings, views and understandings, get together information that they consider as relevant and suitable, and permit feedback and debates at the diverse levels of the programme. The methodical feedback and discussion can be considered as critical in guaranteeing that the analysis of data is reliable with its original definition (CVT, 2002). Moreover, it is preferred for children to be involved in projects that have an important effect with adults. It is impractical to expect them to become responsible unexpectedly, contributing adult citizens at the age of 16, 18, or 21 with no prior experiences to the skills and responsibilities involved in such situations.
On the other hand we must not undervalue the significance of adult contribution, not only for the guidance and the supervision they can offer, but additionally for the lessons children can learn from parents and also need to learn in order to develop in a social demanding way. To conclude, as I stated above children’s participation play an important role in their social development since it affects all aspects of their lives. Most cases support the fact that children must be given the right to be involved in projects and take decisions about their lives since participation has an impact on their confidence levels, efficiency, career and particularly because it is easier for them to approach children of around the same age and pass on their views when they are involved in such projects.
However, we should take into consideration the fact that sometimes children act in a more spontaneous way affecting their decisions in a negative way since they do not take into account the impacts that can arise from such decisions. As Hart stated there are several degrees of participation and personally I believe that children must increase their degree of participation in decision making, as they grow older because in most cases the older you are, the more likely you are to act in a more desirable way. On the other hand, for project involving children or projects done for children we should always take into consideration their views no matter their age. In addition Hart’s ladder of participation also shows the degree of cooperation involved between adults and children.
The question whether children could be given the right to cooperate with adults is easier to be answered, since the combination of both adults/parents and children’s views may be the most beneficial situation because both their views and beliefs will be taken into account giving the best possible outcome. References: Boyden, J. (1997) ‘Childhood and the Policy Makers: A Comparative Perspective on the Globalization of Childhood’ in James, A. and A. Prout, (eds. ) Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood: Contemporary Issues in the Sociological Study of Childhood London, The Falmer Press. Cairns, E. (1992) ‘Society as child abuser: Northern Ireland’ in W. Stainton Rogers, D. Hevey and E. Ash (eds. Child Abuse and Neglect: Facing the Challenge London: Batsford and The Open University. Cantwell, N. (1998) ‘The history, content and impact of the Convention on the Rights of the Child’, in E. Verhellen (ed. ) Understanding Children’s Rights Ghent: Children’s Rights Centre, University of Ghent. CVT (2002) Monitoring and evaluation in psychosocial programmes: principles of methodology, produced in the meeting of The International Working Group on Monitoring and Evaluation of Psychosocial Programmes, Minneapolis, November 2002 (hosted by Center for the Victims of Torture). (Unpublished) Development FOCUS International, Hicodef, Action Aid Nepal, ELRU, National Working for Water
Programme, Immediate Development Communications (2001) Rights Through Evaluation: Putting Child Rights into Practice in South Africa and Nepal – Executive Summary (Unpublished). Ghana Red Cross Society and the Scout Association of Ghana (1993) Action for Youth: Reaching Working Adolescents with HIV/AIDS Prevention – Evaluation of a Youth-to-Youth Outreach Strategy among Out-of School Youth in Accra paper produced with the support of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, World Organization of the Scout Movement, and the World Health Organization Global Programme on AIDS. Hannam, D. (2001) A Pilot Study to evaluate the impact of student participation aspects of the itizenship order on standards of education in secondary schools. Seminar Paper for ESRC Consulting Pupils on Teaching and Learning seminar, Cambridge University. Harris, J. (1998) The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out The Way They Do London:Bloomsbury. Hart, R. (1992) Children’s Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship, Innocenti essays No. 4, UNICEF International Child Development Centre, Florence, Italy. Hart J. (2002a) Participation of Conflict-Affected Children in Humanitarian Action: Learning from Eastern Sri Lanka draft report prepared for CIDA. Hearn, J. (1989) ‘Child abuse and men’s violence’, in THE VIOLENCE AGAINST CHILDREN STUDY
GROUP, Taking Child Abuse Seriously: Contemporary Issues in Child Protection Theory and Practice, London: Unwin Hyman. Kirby, P. with S. Bryson (2002) Measuring the Magic? Evaluating and Researching Young People’s Participation in Public Decision Making, The Carnegie Young People Initiative, London. Kitzinger, J. (1997) ‘Who Are You Kidding? : Children, Power and the Struggle Against Sexual Abuse’ in James, A. and A. Prout, (eds. ) Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood: Contemporary Issues in the Sociological Study of Childhood, London, The Falmer Press. Lansdown, G. (2003) ‘Youth Participation in Decision-Making’ Chapter 10 in World Youth Report, Advance Version, October. Lee, K.
A. (2001) Child Participation in PLAN International: An Internal Benchmarking Document, PLAN ROCCA. Liebel, M. (2000) Working Children’s Protagonism Berlin: Technische Universitat Berlin. O’Kane, C. (2002) ‘Key Reflections and Learnings from Children’s Participation and Children’s Organisations in South and Central Asia: Moving Towards Partnerships with Adults’, Paper prepared for Children’sParticipation Seminar organised by the Women’s Federation of China in collaboration with Save the Children UK, Beijing, 25-27 October 2002. Phillips, B. (2000) The End of Paternalism? Child beneficiary participation and project effectiveness The Hague: ISS.
Also published in The Oriental Anthropologist, June 2001. Rajbhandari, J. , R. Hart and C. Khatiwada (1999) The Children’s Clubs of Nepal: A Democratic Experiment, Save the Children Norway/US, Kathmandu, Nepal. Santos Pais, M. (2000) ‘Child Participation and the Convention on the Rights of the Child’ in R. Ranjani (ed. ) The Political Participation of Children Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. UNICEF (2000) The Participation Rights of Adolescents: A Strategic Approach, Final Consensus Draft, November 2000. Van Beers, H. (2002) Children’s Participation – Experiences in capacity building and training, Save the Children Sweden.

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