The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is paving the way that listening to the opinion of children and young adults is the key for building their human dignity and healthy development. It tries to point out that children's participation should be perceived as a normal part of every activity, not as an exception. This idea was supported by the active involvement of children and a young adult in the practical part of the webinar. Through short videos, participants could see and hear how children, members of the drama club of the J. K. Tyl Theatre, discuss what law is and draw attention to what does not make sense to them at school, what they do not understand and what they would like to solve. Afterwards the experts discussed what children can do to change these situations and how the teacher can guide them through a difficult situation.
A young adult, a Member of self-advocates from the LUMOS organization had a dialogue with the Head of the Department of The Concept of Child Rights Protection and Transformation of Services for Families and Children from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. They discussed involving children in public affairs. The young adult said that "everyone should have a right to express his or her opinion on topics that concern him/her. There should be no restrictions. It's not a question of whether the child wants it or can, but whether the adults will create a safe space for him/her." The young adult shared her own experience of what participation means to her, where she had the opportunity to express her opinions, where adults were listening to and what is not the correct way how to practice participation. "The city asked the children what the public space should look like. The children voted for a playground, and to this day, the place is still a parking lot. It will show the children that they have not been heard and they will lose the faith in their own voice, and in the city. This is not how participation is to be done".
At the webinar, good practice was shared by the project manager of the Fair School project, the Czech Professional Society for Inclusive Education (ČOSIV) and the psychologist of the Office for International Legal Protection of Children (ÚMPOD). The project manager of the Fair School project presented various forms of how children can be asked for their opinions. One of them was, for example, mapping the needs of children through a Lego kit. "When children are given the opportunity to express their opinion about school, and we adults respect their opinions, without evaluating it, children have the opportunity to participate in their education." Currently, ČOSIV is at the birth of the Children's Think-Tank, which is built on creative education and the ability to solve problems primarily by involving the children themselves.
Psychologist of ÚMPOD introduced new working procedures where there is a child in the center. On a case report of an international divorce dispute, she showed how important it is to invite children and let them express their opinion on how they would like and need to set up contact with their parents. "But we cannot forget that the involvement of children in matters that concern them is their right, not their duty. Adults need to be able to explain to them why it's important for them to get involved and what's going to happen to their opinion."
Both experts agreed that although involving children can sometimes be more difficult to prepare, especially for vulnerable children, participation cannot be neglected. "Not all children can say what they need. Some of them are affected by early developmental trauma and they themselves do not have a positive experience, not even a sense of security that they can say what they think. However, it is necessary to support them very sensitively in this and consider their situation."
And here is some feedback from participants:
"Participation is not new, but it seems as if it has only now come to the practice and reality of the activities of social workers."
"It was important for me to hear that participation is used at different levels and how."
The introductory webinar is part of the project "CP4Children Children's Participation in Europe – Strengthening the National Framework and Activities in Children's Participation", coordinated by the Council of Europe and funded by the European Union Program for Rights, Equality and Citizenship (2014-2020).