Strengthening Participation of Children and Young People with Disability in Advocacy

Participation by children and young people in advocacy and change-making can not only improve and foster positive change in their own lives, but also influence the lives of others.  When young people’s participation is supported, meaningful and engaged, multiple benefits accrue. Their perspectives and experiences bring a unique contribution and can result in rights-based empowerment, enacted citizenship and improved relationships. This has the potential to shape policy, to increase the relevance and responsiveness of organisations they use, and to influence change in their communities in positive ways.

However, there are significant issues and a range of barriers that discourage, prevent or actively exclude children and young people with disability from participating. A culture of low expectations, social and cultural barriers, relationship and identity difficulties and practical hurdles exist for many young people. As a result, many are precluded from participation, particularly around change-making activities.

With this paper we explore ways in which participation by children and young people with disability could be deepened and strengthened to support their  involvement in advocacy and change-making at a range of levels. The paper provides a framework for understanding participation for young people with disability. It identifies current barriers to creating opportunities for young people from different perspectives — young people themselves, family, community, and service contexts. We showcase exemplars and outline strategies about how to plan, implement and evaluate meaningful participation which can also work as a practical resource for those working with young people in a range of domains. These ‘how to’ strategies take into account the broad scope needed to accommodate the diverse range of capabilities and preferences of children and young people.