Involving children and young people

Children and young people experience their neighbourhoods in very different ways to adults.

As a community leader, when you decide that you want to improve local children's play facilities, do you think of yourself as the expert? Do you think you know the best place to put the facility?Have you picked your favourite items from the catalogues, given an order to a play company sales person, or even commissioned several designs and picked the one you think brightest and best? Of course, there will always be new products on the market that you want to try out, and that's fine, but what about actually bringing local children into the discusssion?


Through playing outdoors, children may know a lot more about the neighbourhood and the best places to play than many older people. They are also likely to have strong views on local play provision, including play areas near to where they live.

The involvement of children and young people in decision-making about local play provision and how neighbourhoods are designed and developed is essential to create more child-friendly communities, and in line with the government's vision of community involvement in the 'Big Society'.

Children and young people have a right to express their views about decisions that affect their lives (as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child). Children should be consulted about local play provision.

Participation is the word used to describe the active involvement of children and young people in making decisions about the services they use or those that impact on their lives. This is not just about consultation – a quick questionnaire – but about genuinely involving children and young people in the decision-making process and giving them feedback on how their contribution has made a difference. Why not invite a few young representatives to sit in when you are discussing the specification, the location and the budget in your meeting? Let them have their say but don't be afraid to challenge them too. Gain a broad consensus and the children will develop a sense of ownership much earlier in the programme.

Active participation by children and young people should be sought, and respected. It often leads to:

  • An increased understanding of how children and young people use play spaces and how they want to use the environment for play
  • More informed decisions and improvements in local play provision and the design of play spaces
  • Better, more exciting places to play that children want to use
  • A greater sense of ownership by children and young people of local play facilities
  • Greater respect from children and young people for adults who listen to their views, and from adults towards children about playing outdoors

Ways to involve children and young people, and resources to help

There is no single technique or method for involving children and young people, different approaches should be used to suit different ages, interests and abilities.

Genuine participation requires a commitment from adults to the process and a willingness to listen and learn from children and young people.

The key is to provide space and time for children to think through ideas and help them present their views. Finding the right way for your project will require discussion and often a healthy dose of trial and error. Participation should not be a chore but something that can give life and vitality to your project.

Children and young people should want to be involved. This means what you do should be interesting and fun. Using a variety of creative techniques and media will help children express their views. This can include photography, video, storytelling, role-play or poetry. You will need to make time at more formal meetings for children to present their ideas and support them when they go to meet other people e.g. councillors, officers and representatives of other organisations. This means talking to adults about what you expect and asking them how they will give feedback.

Participation Works has developed briefings and guidance showing how children and young people can be involved in a range of decisions from recruitment of staff, to fundraising, to evaluating the effectiveness of the projects and services they use. You will also find national charities working locally, for example: Barnardos,the Children’s Society, and Action for Children have a range of experience and will be able to advise you about participation.

Your local schools, children’s centre, youth club and adventure playground may be able to help. It may be useful to involve your local youth parliament and every local authority should have a participation officer who may be able to help.  

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Consulting children and young people about play (Factsheet No. 7) This Children’s Play Information Service factsheet gives practical ideas on ways of consulting with children on play opportunities and facilities.
Fair Play: A Consultation on the Play Strategy A national consultation by the previous government investigating the views of children, parents and other stakeholders about the importance of communities supporting play and who should be involved.
How to involve children and young people with communications impairments in decision-making This Participation Works ‘How to’ guide gives advice on involving young people with communication impairments in decision-making.
How to involve children and young people in designing and developing of play spaces This briefing produced by Participation Works and Play England provides examples of how children and young people can be involved at every stage of the design cycle.
How to involve ‘hard to reach’ children and young people This Participation Works guide offers practical advice for getting hard to reach children and young people involved.
How to use creative methods for participation Participation Works ‘How to’ guide providing advice on using creative methods for participation.
How to work successfully with children and young people from different faiths and cultures Participation Works ‘How to’ guide providing some practical tips to ensure a diverse range of children and young people can be engaged and made to feel safe and comfortable within your organisation.
Our play – our choice: a KIDS consultation with disabled children This KIDS briefing paper gives key recommendations for consulting with disabled children.
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Participation Works A consortium of six children’s agencies that provides information and advice to enable organisations to effectively involve children and young people in the development, delivery and evaluation of services that affect their lives.
Participation Works Network for England This free network provides opportunities for adults for whom participation is part of their daily work, to network, share new ideas and learn more about participation.
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