Children and young people
Meaningful engagement of young people may provide decision makers with information, ideas and solutions, to issues initiatives policies and programs, previously not considered.
The Practice guide to effective engagement with young people is a useful resource that was developed in collaboration with State Government, the Youth Affairs Council of South Australia (YACSA), and young people across the State, including regional and remote areas.
When engaging with children and young people living with disability, there are additional considerations to include during your consultation. These principles may also be useful when engaging with people of any age.
When engaging with people under 18 years of age in South Australia, your engagement must comply with the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017, this legislative instrument administers care and protection for children and young people in South Australia.
Safety for children and young people
Children and young people describe safety as more than physical safety. It is about feeling valued, known, accepted and understood, and having their sensory, emotional, behavioural and physical needs met.
When facilitating engagement, you must be mindful of the individual needs related to:
- types of disability, including physical, intellectual and psychosocial, and all levels of capacity. For example, how to account for the sensory needs of children and young people with autism and intellectual disability, as well as physical accessibility for people with physical disability.
- the child or young person's age.
- how to work with families, carers and other organisations or service providers to arrange scheduling, risk assessment and adjustments or adaptations, where necessary.
Methods of engagement for children and young people
Traditional methods of engagement such as large group forums or survey deigned for a general audience may not necessarily be as effective when consulting or engaging with children and young people with disability.
Smaller groups are often preferred. This enables the highest level or participation and engagement and the best possible support that meets individual needs.
Authentic engagement and consultation with people with disability should:
- have a clear rational and purpose, which is communicated from the beginning
- be realistic about what you are doing with any information gathered
- ensure all information is relevant, meaningful, accessible and developmentally appropriate
- where possible share information or key messages gathered through the engagement or consultation back to participants in a way that is meaningful and easy to understand.
Recognise and minimise barriers
Barriers facing children and young people living with disability can be attitudinal as well as practical.
- Ableism – perpetuates low expectations or assumptions about the capacity of people with disability to communicate and participate.
- Adultism – ignores or discounts children’s perspectives.
- Logistical – barriers which may intersect with poverty and include issues with transport and accessibility costs of participation.
It is important to consider that some children and young people with disability rely on support from adults who understand their communication barriers and needs. It is essential that support guides facilitate communication, rather than speaks on behalf of the child or young person.
Identity and disclosing disability
Children and young people with disability view their place in the world very differently to adults. Like all young people, young people living with disability seek to be identified by, and valued for, their age, their relationships, and their achievements.
Identity develops over time, and many young people may not want to be defined by their disability and may choose not to disclose their disability. As such, opportunities for engagement should:
- available on a wide range of issues and experiences beyond ‘disability specific’ or ‘age specific’ issues.
- acknowledging that how a young person self-identifies may impact how they engage.
Flexible engagement options
To keep children and young people engaged and comfortable, it is important for those leading the consultation or engagement to:
- provide young people with opportunities to participate in different ways that are appropriate for them. This could include activities like drawing, colouring or plasticine, or with support from communication devices, interpreters, or with some other means.
- be willing and equipped to adapt to different disability-related needs or other needs related to the environment, size or the groups and age.
- use language that is child-friendly and think about the most appropriate way to frame questions.
- keep questions broad and open-ended. This is likely to be more effective than technical, specific or closed questions.
Other considerations for engaging children and young people
Consider the benefits of partnering or collaborating with external agencies or organisations such as youth organisations with disability expertise.
Respect children and young people’s time. In addition to school, young people living with disability may attend regular appointments, undertake capacity-building activities and often access additional tutoring or mentoring.
The Commissioner for Children and Young people has held extensive engagement and consultations with children and young people across the state, including with children living with disability. More information can be found on the Commissioner for Children and Young People website.