Facilitating participation: adults' caring support roles within child-to-child projects in schools and after-school settings

Facilitating participation: adults' caring support roles within child-to-child projects in schools and after-school settings
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  Facilitating Participation: Adults’Caring Support Roles withinChild-to-Child Projects in Schoolsand After-School Settings Embedded hierarchical relationships between children and adultsconstrain children’s voice. For adults to support children’sparticipation in decisions they need to learn new ways of working;to enable children to communicate their views, develop their ideas,make group decisions and take joint action. This article explores thedifferent roles that caring professionals adopt when facilitatingchildren’s participation within Child-to-Child community healthprojects. It shows how even committed adults can struggle withshifting their practice and highlights the importance of facilitatorsadopting a reflective approach rooted in genuine dialogue withchildren in order to determine the most appropriate level of adultsupport. Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Introduction Much literature on children’s participation explores methodsof engaging children in making decisions and stresses theimportance of developing positive relationships betweenchildren and adults: far less is written on  how  to facilitatechildren’s participation and what support roles adults mustoffer to establish caring supportive relationships. The researchdescribed in this paper examines the nature of child-adultrelationships within Child-to-Child (CtC) participatory pro- jects in south London. CtC in south London CtC aims to support children to identify and take action on keyhealth issues in their community. The methodology was firstdeveloped as a health promotion tool and has now been usedin over 70 countries (Child-to-Child Trust, 1994; Pridmore andStephens, 2000; Occlestone and King, 1998). The south LondonCtC initiative was a three-year programme within the Perpetua Kirby* Director, PK ResearchConsultancy Ltd Sara Gibbs Public Health SpecialistTrainee and formerChild-to-ChildCoordinator *Correspondence to: PerpetuaKirby, PK Research ConsultancyLtd, 12 Sussex Road, Hove, BN32WD, UK.E-mail: CHILDREN & SOCIETY VOLUME  20  (2006) pp. 209–222Published online in Wiley InterScience (  DOI:  10.1002/CHI.872 Copyright    2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.  Community Health South London NHS Trust and funded by the Lambeth, Southwarkand Lewisham Health Action Zone. The project aimed to provide adults (teachers,school nurses, youth and community workers, parents) with the skills needed to workin partnership to support nine to 12 year old children to conduct projects to improve thehealth of their community. Other explicit aims of the CtC methodology includedstrengthening relationships and improving communication between adults andchildren and increasing the use of child-centred learning and teaching methods inschools and out of schools. The extent to which these outcomes were achieved is exploredin this paper.The CtC methodology used in south London consists of six sequential steps. The first builds on and further develops children’sgroup work skills. Then children brainstorm thehealth or community issues that concern them. In the third step they select an issue. In thefourth they research it by going out into the community to find out the information theyneed and then in the fifth step they plan and take community action. Strategies for actionmight include hands-on activities (for example, clearing litter or building a play structure)and/or dissemination of health messages (for example, songs, leaflets, drama). In the finalstep they self-evaluate their project.Three CtC projects were independently evaluated (Kirby and others, 2002) and thefindingsfrom thisevaluation andtheworkoftheCtC Coordinatorinform thisarticle. Twoof the evaluated projects were in primary schools (year 5; nine and ten year olds) and thethird was in an after-school club (ten to 12 years). The evaluation was qualitative andparticipatory; it sought to understand the children and adults’ perspectives on theirexperience of participating in CtC. A range of methodswas used in each setting: includinginterviews with six children and all the facilitators both before and after the CtC project,observationof CtCsessions,plus self-evaluation data. Allthe interviews weretranscribed.Data were coded and sorted primarily using categories identified in the evaluationframework, but also using emerging categories grounded in the data. The sample size wassmall so we caution against wider generalisation, although we believe the findingsprovide some useful insights into facilitating children’s participation that may apply toother participatory work with children. Redefining child-adult relationships Increasing children’s participation is fundamentally about improving democracy anddeveloping a more inclusive society. This requires improved relations between adultsand children. Research in the United Kingdom has identified how frequently childrendo not feel well listened to by adults, including in schools (for example, RBA Research,2002), and how few decisions they normally make within these organisations (Fielding,2001; D. Hannam, paper presented at Pupil Voice and Democracy ESRC conference,University of Cambridge, October 2001). There have been moves to increase children’sparticipation within schools and the wider community, which have frequentlychampioned formal structures such as school councils, youth forums and one-off consultations. Most interaction between children and adults, and between peers,however, happens in everyday interactions (for example, in the classroom, theplayground, the youth club, at home). It is as important to improve this interaction,in order to change child-adult (and child-child) relations, as it is to initiate formal 210 Perpetua Kirby and Sara Gibbs Copyright    2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. CHILDREN & SOCIETY Vol.  20 , 209–222 (2005)  structures for children’s participation, if not more so. CtC is an adult-initiated specialistintervention, rather than an everyday event, although applied in children’s everydaysettings: classrooms and clubs. In this paper we specifically examine interactions between children and adults within CtC, to highlight how child-adult relationships areframed within this type of context. We believe this offers relevant learning for thosewho want to engage children more in all settings.This paper focuses on child-adult relations in CtC, although improved child-child andadult-adult relations are also an aim of the project. Models of participation Existing models of children’s participation are a useful starting point for identifying thelevels of decision-making power that children have relative to adults. Hart’s classicladder of participation model has seven steps: from ‘manipulation’ through to ‘childinitiated, shared decisions with adults’ (Hart, 1997). Shier’s (2001) model is similar,although he also describes how individuals and organisations can have differentdegrees of commitment to children’s empowerment within each of five levels of participation. These models suggest that each participation initiative or task can beassigned one level ofparticipation.In reality, however, levelsof decision-making powerconstantly shift within projects and within tasks. Even within child-led initiatives, forexample, adults have a role to play, and this inevitably includes making some decisions.The models stop short of identifying  how  children make decisions and take action, andhow adult facilitators need to move fluidly between providing different kinds of support to groups of children and the individuals within those groups, at differenttimes, in response to their needs. Caring participatory professionals The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) gives children theright to participate within society and to be protected. Protection and participation aremutually reinforcing rights (Marchant and Kirby, 2004). Integral to caring relationships is being attentive and listening to others. This includes putting aside (temporarily) one’sown values and judgements in order to hear what is communicated through language ornonverbally: They do not begin with those values and judgements or allow them to obscure the messagesent by the cared-for. They allow the expressed needs of the cared for to stimulate their feelingand thinking, and they revise their responses in light of the effects their acts have onthe cared-for and relation. (N. Noddings, paper presented at the ESRC Seminar series: Challenging theOrthodoxy of School Leadership, Care and Social Justice, University of Sussex, 2003) Denying children opportunities to participate by assuming it will cause them harm can beover-protective. A common concern within CtC was whether children should be allowedthe freedom to select their own topic. Adults worried that children would select overlysensitiveissues (which theysometimes did, including child abuse, smacking, paedophilia,racism andmurder)or would achieve‘nothing concrete’.Inallprojects,however,childrentackled their chosen topics seriously and adults were impressed by what they achieved. Facilitating Participation 211 Copyright    2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. CHILDREN & SOCIETY Vol.  20 , 209–222 (2005)  Children valued being able to make decisions and were unhappy when they got to makefewer decisions than promised by adults. They were aware of their position in the currenthierarchy: Adults make the decisions of children and children make the decisions of babies. And then babies make the decisions of a mouse, and then a mouse makes it for ants, and then ants makeit for a small crumb. (Child) Assuming however that all children can and want to participate equally with adults maydeny them the protection and support they need to participate in appropriate ways.Recentresearchfoundthat many children andyoung people donotwantto beinvolvedintaking forward the results of consultations and they want adults to take responsibility forimplementing their ideas (Stafford and others, 2003). The challenge for adults is to masterthe art of putting aside assumptions about what level of participation is appropriate andenter into dialogue with children to ascertain and provide the appropriate types of support forindividuals within different contexts.Thismay shift from moment tomoment,and from child to child, as well as between tasks and projects. Challenges within the pedagogy of participation CtCisrootedinaneducationalmodelwhichdrawsonthefabricofeverydaylifeandgivesresponsibility for learning to the learner. The pedagogy of participation refers to theprinciples and practice by which educators enable children to learn through makingchoices and directing their own learning. There is a history of educational theory(Vygotsky, 1962; Dewey, 1938) that explores dialogic inquiry: involving collaboration between peers in knowledge building and teachers as co-inquirers with students. WhileCtC is rooted in a community education approach, in which the adult role is to enable thedevelopment of children’s (and their own) learning, children and adults used to currentformallearningapproacheswerenotalwaysclearhowthiswasalsoeducational:‘wewerenot teaching really in any way really, after we’d taught them what to do’ (educationalprofessional). Children also did not always see adult roles as teaching: C6: Mainly it was all our ideas, and they just backed us up all the way, like if we wanted to goto the centre.C5: That’s what they’re there for.C1: No they’re not, they’re there to teach us. (Children) Theparticipating children demonstratedarangeofabilitiesandagencythroughtheactionthey took and the decisions they made within their CtC projects. The adults offered a levelof project structure and guidance to ensure that children were effective in learning andtaking action. Adults also had responsibility for managing the project and children’s well- being, so children were not taking decisions autonomously.They were always under the guidance and ultimately the control of adults, particularlywheretheirattendancewascompulsory.ThereisatensioninundertakingCtCincontexts,such as a school, that usually restricts children’s choices; teachers, for instance, have aspecific role to ensure large classes of children all achieve learning defined by the NationalCurriculum. This results in a more directive teaching approach adapted to deliveringparticular attainment goals. One school (B) in a more deprived area had worked hard tosucceed in raising children’s test score performances. There was pressure for CtC not 212 Perpetua Kirby and Sara Gibbs Copyright    2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. CHILDREN & SOCIETY Vol.  20 , 209–222 (2005)  to take too much time out of the curriculum and the teacher was more directive in order tomake CtC fit the expectations of formal learning by getting children to do homework andrecord their CtC learning in a text book. The other school was from a less deprived areaand had a history of good test scores which resulted in greater confidence to afford thetime needed for CtC, and staff felt freer to be led by the children. The tension in the after-school club was different to the school context in that it had fewer institutional demandsand an informal approach to education where the children were used to directing theiractivities, and usually chose ‘fun’ things to do. In this context, workers faced the challengeof how to encourage them to participate in more structured, adult-initiated activities,which sometimes seemed like ‘work’ to the children. School is school, this [after-school club] is like when we come for fun. We don’t come here foranother two hours of schooling. We’ve already had six hours, we don’t want eight. (Child) In the research, the children were asked, before they participated in CtC, how much theyfelt they or their teacher made decisions in class. In both schools A and B the children saidteachers made the decisions (see Figure 1). After CtC, they were asked who had made thedecisions during theCtC project lessons. The childrenin schoolAfelt they had made mostof the decisions, whereas those in school B felt false promises had been given about howmuch say they would have and that instead adults had made the decisions: ‘It was sup-posed to be us doing it by ourselves, making our own decisions, but they were making allthe decisions’ (child in school B). Adults were unaware how little children felt listened to.The evaluation also found that children in school B said they were less likely to tell theirclass teacher about problems after CtC compared with children in school A who feltlistened to during the project (see Figure 2). Figure 1 : Children’s perceptions of how much teachers or pupils make decisions in class withintwoschools:ingenerallessons(askedbeforetheCtCproject)andintheCtClessons(askedattheendof the CtC project) (N ¼ 12; 6 in each school) Facilitating Participation 213 Copyright    2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. CHILDREN & SOCIETY Vol.  20 , 209–222 (2005)
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