But, in my experience, there is one group missing from this equation...children! I am regularly surprised by the number of organisations whose purpose is to improve children's wellbeing, but which do not have children's advisory groups to inform their planning and decision making. Similarly, it is not often that I come across organisations involved in large projects focused on children, that have a children's advisory group informing their process either.
There are notable exceptions. The work of the Commissioner for Children and Young People's is regularly informed by Children's Advisory Groups. Three local governments in Western Australia have children's advisory groups, in one format or another (City of Subiaco, City of Cockburn, City of Rockingham).
- A children's advisory group can help keep your organisation focused on what kids actually need and will help you target your message in a way that speaks to children. We may think we know what kids like, but in reality we can often be way off base.
- Having regular contact with and involving children in the planning and decision making process of your organisation gives you authenticity. If you are making decisions about children's
health and wellbeing and planning services and programs to address those, your message will carry more weight if it is directly informed by your user group.
- Having a children's advisory group makes it easy for your organisation to quickly access a group of kids for their opinions on any given topic. Regularly arranging a consultation or focus group can be time consuming. Having a group of children who are enthusiastic about
participation ready to go, makes it a whole lot easier.
- Being involved in making decisions that affect their lives and those of their peers is empowering for children. Ultimately, involving children in decision making now, is an investment in developing a community of adults who are responsible decision makers.
- So you think your organisation or project would benefit from a Children's Advisory Group? What next?
Well, a lot of the same principles of setting up an advisory group for adults applies to children. It is important to try and get a good cross section of children and include children of both sexes as equally as possibly. But children do also have unique needs and some aspects are super
important to get right. The following is a list of things to consider when setting up a children's advisory group:
- Keep meetings short and limit the number of topics discussed. One to two hours is plenty of time and should include a couple of short breaks.
- Meet in a place that is appealing to children and relevant to what is being discussed. If you are consulting about an open space or playground, you may like to meet there. Outdoor meetings when the weather is good are fantastic.
- Make it fun. Include plenty of time for get to know you games or activities that get the children moving around or interacting.
- Use creative strategies; there are too many to list here, but Google is your friend! Better still, involve the children in selecting or creating the tools used to give their opinions.
- Be authentic. Only involve children in decisions that they are really going to get to have
some influence in. If the decision is already made, don't consult.
- Be bold and trust children. Children can make great decisions if given the right tools, information and have the confidence of trusting adults. Similarly don't dismiss out of hand ideas that on the surface seem unrealistic. Can you make them happen? Sometimes ideas that
are really out there have merit, especially when you think outside the box. And kids are GREAT at that.
- Give something back to the kids. For the most part, children are just happy to be listened to and their ideas given consideration, but I believe it is important to invest in the children generously sharing their time and opinions. For a long term advisory group you may consider skills development by provide training in event planning or public speaking. Similarly you could provide social opportunities, such as parties or adventure days. A letter thanking the children for their participation is always welcome and is great for childrens' community service portfolios.
- Ensure you provide feedback to children about how their ideas and opinions have been used, or if they haven't, why not. This step is crucial for any advisory group, but even more so for children. A negative experience of participation early on, is likely to set up a future youth and adult suspicion of engagement processes.