Children focus groups
„Participation is, when adults ask children how they feel, tell them ALL information, even the uncomfortable one, they simply explain. But I do not think the adults listen to children. THEY TAKE THEM MORE LIKE INFERIOR BEINGS, THEY OVERLOOK US.”
This is one of the opinions of children from focus groups which maps, whether, in what circumstances, in what kind of situation and in what forms, children have the opportunity to express their opinions.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs team (MLSA) has already organized 5 meetings with approximately 60 children and adolescents from primary school in Prague, non-profit organization in Chrudim, school for chidren with special needs and for children from schoold parlaments. In full-time and distance form the team verified the fulfillment of indications of the unique tool CPAT for mapping children´s participation. Children focus groups are a key tool for determining the level of participation in various areas of the Czech Republic. The activity is the aim of the Council of Europe´s project “CP4Europe – Strengthening the National Child Participation Frameworks and Action in Europe.” The project focuses on involving children and adolescents in policy making at national level.
As focus groups have shown, older children knew that participation means involvement and some form of complicity. The children talked about the fact that they should be involved in all situations, namely at the doctor´ s, school, family, court. They felt the need to be involved in the crisis situations, which concern the whole society. They named e.g., that they did not have sufficient information about the COVID situation or the president health issue.
The MLSA team also mapped, if the children knew, that there is a statutory intuition protecting human rights.
THE CHILDREN DID NOT KNOW, THAT THE OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN EXISTED AND DID NOT KNOW HIS/HER ROLE
Base on the video, the office was introduced to them. Children commented on whether and how they would use such an office. „Children should go to him/her if anyone restricts their rights.” „I would turn to him/her if I was unsecure about my rights.”
The children were subsequently informed that there was no Office of the Children´s Ombudsman in the Czech Republic.
THE CHILDREN UNIQUELY OPINED THAT THEY WOULD APPRECIATE ITS EXISTENCE
„Although I would not use him/her, it is a good thing other children can use his/her service, the ones who need it.“ „I would use him/her, but I would need to know in which circumstances I can turn to him/her.“
The team also addressed them of complaints and the mechanisms for complaining and being heard. It was clear from the children´s reactions that the issue of complaints in the school environment was important to them. However, the children felt that they lack a clear complaint mechanism. „An anonymous complaint box would help us, and the messages would not to be read in front of everyone. But it is important that we know that our complaints are being resolved.“
The children also gave examples where it would be appropriate to complain about a social worker, a police officer or a judge. „For example, if she treated us unkindly, made us say something that was not true I could complain. Or if a policeman threatened us, he would be mean to us, forcing us to say something, even if we did not want to.“
THE CHILDREN SAID THAT THEY WERE AFFECTED BY THE POLICEMEN WHO LOOKED VERY SERIOUS
The children also had the task to answer who to turn to if they were hurt, what their ideas were about the competencies of police officers, judges, and social workers, and what their personal experiences were with them. The most common experiences were that they spoke to a police officer when they were witnesses some events (theft, finding a lost friend) or during a discussion at school.
The team also mapped, if and how children learned about the outcome of the decision in court (divorce) proceedings, how they felt in communication and what they would recommend changing the communication.
„I WOULD LIKE TO READ THE MESSAGE I UNDERSTAND. FOR EXAMPLE, WITH PICTURES AND WITHOUT WORDS THAT SAY NOTHING TO ME. I WOULD LIKE THE REPORT AT A GLANCE.“
THE CHILDREN STATED THAT THEY DID NOT WANT TO SPEAK TO THE COURT
They cited their uncertainty as the reason. Stress can cause them to say something that is not true and then pay for it. It has become easier for them to talk to a social worker, even if they do not feel comfortable either „I felt weird, I was afraid that if I said something she would say to the court instead of me and I wanted it differently, I would no longer be able to influence it. Or she will not even tell the court and I will not know it. “
And what would children want to tell the adults? „Do not assume we think anything, ask us. You think you know what the best for us is, but you forgot to listen to us. Talk to us and explain things, to us clearly. “