Children's Research Centre
Research with and by Children and Young People

2. Children and young people’s rights to express their views

Young people have rights in all matters affecting their lives to:

  • Be consulted
  • Be heard
  • Participate meaningfully
  • Have their best interests as a primary consideration
Illustration of a mentor and a young person

Did you know?

Children’s rights are enshrined in the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Practitioners should actively seek opportunities for young people to have the space, voice, audience and influence to express their views in ways which feel safe and supportive (Lundy, 2007). Facilitating children and young people’s involvement in research is one way of doing this.

The application of children's rights in research

In practical terms research which fulfils the aims of UNCRC will provide young people with:
  • Space: in which they have the opportunity to express a view
  • A Voice: facilitated by researchers to express their views
  • An Audience: which is ready to listen to their views
  • Influence: to persuade those in positions of power to act upon their views.
(Lundy 2007) Ensuring children’s rights in research goes beyond the way they are personally regarded and engaged in research. Researchers should also consider what is being investigated and how and if this is in the best interests of young people.

Research with or by children and young people is almost always initiated and facilitated by adults, so it is often influenced by adult agendas (Kim 2016). Young people’s agency to participate in the world and in research about matters which affect them should be nurtured. This involves engaging with and encouraging young people’s natural curiosity about the world. It is important that research reflects the full range of topics that concern children and young people, not just those which adults deem appropriate.

Young people’s capabilities are often under-estimated and their right to choose how to express themselves is often overlooked (Bucknall, 2009). Their participation in research is shaped by adults, rather than themselves. However, in a study with children aged 4-8 years and their practitioners (Murray 2016), children were seen to be capable of basing decisions on evidence, a complex skill often judged to be required for research. Researchers need to support young people to apply inquiry skills they use in their day-to-day lives to matters about which they are curious. Nurturing and developing young people’s skills for inquiry can lead research methods that are most able to reveal young people’s views of the world (Plowright-Pepper, 2020). Go to ‘Recognising young people’s expertise’ in the OUR VOICES resources section.

Article 12 of the UNCRC requires children and young people’s views to be given ‘due weight’, so respecting children and young people’s right to express their views involves more than just them having a say. Having a voice is the right to free expression of views. Participation is concerned with being involved in decision-making that relates to children and young people’s own lives.

It is also important to recognise that children and young people have a right to express a view, not a duty. Sometimes, children and young people might choose not to express their views and this should be respected. Not all children will want to express a view or to undertake their own research. If the right to participate is to be upheld, however, all children should be given the opportunity. It is not acceptable to limit the opportunity to some children and exclude others, including young children and those with special educational needs.

Practitioners should actively seek opportunities for children and young people to have the space, voice, audience and influence to express their views in ways which feel safe and supportive. Facilitating children and young people’s involvement in research is one way of doing this. Young people can participate in research in a range of ways – a SPECTRUM of research approaches. Young people can work with researchers as advisors, as co-researchers or lead research themselves. My Shout provides training for young people to carry out their own research.

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