[Discuss-sudbury-model] The Concerned for Working Children (CWC), India & A JOURNEY IN CHILDREN’S PARTICIPATION

From: David Rovner <rovners_at_netvision.net.il>
Date: Mon Aug 30 14:01:01 2004

Are you acquainted with this organization, The Concerned for Working Children (CWC), India, http://www.workingchild.org/ , and this document, A JOURNEY IN CHILDREN’S PARTICIPATION, http://www.workingchild.org/htm/prota9.htm ?

~ David Rovner

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fragments of A JOURNEY IN CHILDREN’S PARTICIPATION, http://www.workingchild.org/htm/prota9.htm

This document is an attempt to share the body of knowledge that we have acquired and also to raise several questions those still require answers.

The Ladder of Participation by Roger Hart. Varying roles adults play in relation to children’s participation:

Role of adults:
 
The Ladder of Participation by Roger Hart is often used to represent levels of children’s participation. However what it depicts are not levels of children’s participation but the varying roles adults play in relation to children’s participation. It denotes the control and influence adults have over the process of children’s participation. It also indicates adult responses to children’s participation.
The term ‘Ladder’ is a misnomer as it implies a sequence, where as in reality one level may not necessarily lead to the next level; for instance, manipulation of children may not lead to children being used as decoration as a natural next step. If we take it that Roger Hart depicts a wide spectrum of scenarios of adult roles viz a viz children’s participation that range from the negative to the positive, we suggest a modified version of the same as follows:

1. Active resistance: There are adults who actively resist children’s participation. These adults belong to several categories. Some of them feel that children should not be burdened with participation. Some believe that children do not have the capacity to participate and hence cannot make informed choices. Some hold the view that children are very easy to manipulate and hence their participation may be used only to further adult agendas. Some adults in this category take very strong positions against children’s participation and actually mobilise support and lobby against it. They do so because they are very aware of the power of children’s participation and hence do not want to forfeit their power.

2. Hindrance: There are adults who hinder children’s participation. Some of them may be against children’s participation and they may come in the way of children’s participation either overtly or covertly. They block opportunities for children and discourage children from participating. There are others in this category that may voice their support to children’s participation, but the manner in which they interact with children may actually hinder children’s participation. They may intentionally or unintentionally undermine the ability of children and may end up making children feel inadequate and reluctant to participate.

3. Manipulation: There are adults who manipulate children. Some adults in this scenario use children to further their own agendas. They may coach children to voice what they want or cleverly interpret what children say/do to suit their own interests. Sometimes this manipulation is very obvious, yet often it may be quite subtle – and may be carried out in ways children find very difficult to notice, let alone counter.

There are other adults who may manipulate children in order to ‘get the best performance’ out of them – and according to the adults, this may be done in the best interest of the child. Sometimes manipulation takes on emotional overtones as children often have emotional ties with the adults they interact with closely.

Manipulation is a very subtle and sensitive area. This critique has been often used to discredit children’s participation. Even the best child facilitators could end up manipulating children unintentionally and unconsciously. The only way to guard against this is to be constantly vigilant.

4. Decoration: There are adults who treat children more or less like decorative objects, where they are expected to basically add colour to the proceedings. Children are called to present bouquets or sing songs – and not much is made of their presence.

5. Tokenism: There are adults who bring in children to take mileage from their presence and pretend that children have been given opportunities to participate. The adults may not manipulate children to speak on their behalf, yet they do ‘use’ the presence of children to be counted as ‘advocates of children’s rights’ and to be politically correct.

6. Tolerance: There are adults who bear with the notion of children’s participation as some one higher up (such as a donor agency) thinks it is important. In some cases, children themselves may have demanded to be listened to. Adults then go through some consultative exercises with children but do not give any value or credit to the process or the outcome.

7. Indulgence: There are adults who find children’s participation ‘cute’ and ‘interesting’ and are willing to provide limited spaces for children to voice their opinions. They keep prompting children to speak up and try to keep the environment friendly. They may listen to the opinions expressed by children with interest, but may not follow them up with seriousness. These are mostly one time events and very little comes out of such ‘participation’.

8. Children assigned but informed: There are adults who work with children with some seriousness. The adults in this category decide on what needs to be done, but keep children well informed. They encourage children to be actively involved in the activities. They will guide children to implement the task, but do not expect children to input into the larger design of the process.

9. Children consulted and informed: Some adults believe in consulting children and keeping them involved. The adults take the lead role but inform the children about the situation and seek their opinion. They try to give children a sense of ownership over some aspects of the process, but under their supervision. The adults are still in control over the process, but they keep it flexible to incorporate the suggestions and concerns of the children.

10. Adult initiated, shared decisions with children: There are adults who initiate a process or a programme, but are clearly willing to share the decision making space with the children. They see it as a collaborative interaction. Even though initiated by them, they make it a joint effort. Here too children and adults may take on different roles, yet those roles are defined by mutual consent.

11. Children – initiated, shared decisions with adults: There are children and their organisations that call the first shot, and invite adults to collaborate with them. Children ensure that adults are jointly involved in deciding what needs to be done and share the ownership of the process and the outcome. Within the collaboration, children and adults may take on different roles, yet those roles are defined by mutual consent.

12. Children initiated and directed: There are children and their organisations that are in total control and they may or may not involve the adults. If they do decide to involve the adults, they will work out the framework in which the adults are to participate. Children will continue to keep the process under their control and will have the total ownership of the process and the outcome.

13. Jointly initiated and directed by children and adults: There are adults and children who have developed a partnership and they jointly initiate and direct the processes. They have joint ownership of the idea, the process and the outcome. They may play different roles, based on mutual consent. This relationship is possible only when both the adults and children are empowered and are able to pool their respective strengths to achieve a common objective, in partnership with each other.

These roles neither are watertight compartments nor are they purely black or white scenarios. Thirteen of them have been spelt out, yet there is a wide range of shades between them. We have seen adults play all these roles sometimes intentionally or unintentionally. It is possible that the same group of adults play one or several of these roles with the same group of children or different groups of children at different times.

But in situations where children have control over their own spaces and participation, they are in a position to negotiate with adults from a point of strength. They can then actively determine the roles each of them take on in a given situation. It is this, which actually determines the level of children’s participation.

There are some who argue that the responsibility or duties of adults decrease with children’s participation. This however is not true. There is actually a relationship of direct proportion between children’s participation and adult responsibility. An example we often use is that of a pet dog. Keeping the dog shut in a kennel, putting the dog on a leash and allowing the dog to roam free implies different degrees of responsibility on the part of the caregiver. Keeping a dog in a kennel requires very little from the care giver, where as allowing the dog to roam free requires the care giver to enable the dog to cross a street, protect itself and find its way home, provide a safe environment, among other things. In all three cases the caregiver is providing for and protecting the pet, but in the third case there is freedom and participation. When these scenarios are translated for children, caregivers often argue that restrictions imposed, especially with respect to girls, are for their protection.

In Partnership with Children:

Children’s right to participation is a new concept to both adults and children. This is a difficult concept to understand and more difficult to practice, as both adults and children are not normally used to this. The existing relationship we (adults) have with children normally does not allow for their active and equal participation.

At present, adults are in total control. We reserve the right to advocate, intervene and decide on behalf of children. We also have socialised children to ‘listen to’ adults. This absolute control also gives us the possibility to abuse children. Children should have the right and the ability to resist this. It is only then that adults will be accountable for their actions.

So first of all we need to examine the nature of the relationship that we now have with children.
 

If we recognise children’s right to participation the nature of our relationship with children will have to dramatically change. It will have to change in many ways. First it will have to change from one of either independence or dependence to one of interdependence. Secondly it will have to be a participatory relationship that is bottom up and not hierarchical or top down.

We also need to ensure that we do not perpetuate existing hegemonic structures and practices. This relationship will have to be based on democratic principles and processes.

If we recognise children’s right to participation the nature of our relationship with children will have to dramatically change. It will have to change in many ways. First it will have to change from one of either independence or dependence to one of interdependence. Secondly it will have to be a participatory relationship that is bottom up and not hierarchical or top down.

We also need to ensure that we do not perpetuate existing hegemonic structures and practices. This relationship will have to be based on democratic principles and processes.

This new partnership built on a foundation of participation will have to be based on democratic principles. Some of the elements that determine the true nature of this partnership are given below:

SOME ELEMENTS OF PARTNERSHIP

  a.. OPENESS
  b.. RESPECT AND TRUST ON THE PART OF BOTH
  c.. FREEDOM TO EXPRESS ONESELF
  d.. SENSITIVITY
  e.. AFFECTION
  f.. COMMITMENT
  g.. Understanding
  h.. Mutual support
  i.. Empowering
  j.. Based on friendship
  k.. Based on negotiation
  l.. Flexible
  m.. One of sharing
  n.. Mutual accountability
  o.. Sharing both rights and responsibilities
  p.. Joyful
  q.. Agreeing to disagree sometimes
  r.. CHALLENGING
  s.. ACCEPTING OF EACH OTHER’S REALITY
  t.. SHARED VISION
  u.. BASED ON LISTENING TO EACH OTHER
  v.. NOT MANIPULATIVE

 
Received on Mon Aug 30 2004 - 14:00:13 EDT

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