The six case studies selected offer a range of insights into how children and young people's voices and experiences have influenced policy making in Scotland in recent years. Cumulatively they illustrate engagement with a variety of children and young people, including some of the more vulnerable children and young people in Scotland. This included care-experienced young people, those with lived experience of domestic violence and children and young people living in more deprived areas of the country.
Young participants in the case studies were involved in influencing a range of policy areas, including police powers, child rights, domestic violence, children's hearings, sex education and human rights. Our initial survey data identified they have also been involved in a far wider range of areas. Some of these policy areas the young people prioritised themselves, and others that were part of wider Scottish Government policy-making processes. Methods of engagement also varied, from one-off events and visits, to more detailed influencing work over longer time frames.
Evidence of impact included changes to local policies, such as Children's Hearings or sex education and changes to national policy. Young people's perspectives informed reports, guidance and codes of practice. However, none of the case studies highlighted was without its challenges and key themes have emerged that indicate a number of factors that appear to be crucial to ensuring that children and young people's participation is meaningful and impactful.
The evidence from our case studies identified that, at present, engagement work is heavily weighted towards the 'data collection' stage, whether this is an event, a visit, focus group, survey or interview. It is important to ensure that more emphasis is placed earlier in the process on planning, and later on evaluation and feedback.
Better planning is required in relation to timescales for participation work going forward. This is particularly important when the participation work is focusing on sensitive subjects as it is likely that preparation work will be required to support the children and young people to participate.
More money is required to support the involvement of children and young people in policy making. Where there were ongoing projects with long-term or permanent funding streams, participation work tended to be more meaningful. Secure funding streams would allow organisations to build in preparation work and ensure a wider range of views.
Partnerships, such as that between Renfrewshire Council and WhoCares? Scotland can facilitate meaningful engagement. Organisations and policy makers who lack the skills to conduct engagement work should seek out partnerships with organisations who can support them to work meaningfully with children and young people.
There has to be an effort to engage with a wider range of children and young people on a wider range of issues.
Feedback from both policy makers and organisations to children and young people also needs to improve. Ensuring that young people know about the success or lack thereof is essential to closing the feedback loop. Missing out this final step creates an environment that will lead to disengagement.
The conclusions we have drawn from this short piece of research have identified several key recommendations that policy makers and organisations conducting engagement work should consider going forward.