Author: Dunn, L. L.
Adolescents, as defined by the World Health Organisation, are girls and boys between the ages of 10-19 years. This study is about their participation in organisations. The conceptual framework is guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guarantees all children the right to participate, as well as a number of other international instruments that Jamaica has signed, in addition to national policies, action plans and programmes. The current study seeks to support these initiatives, broaden the debate and increase commitment as well as action to improve adolescent participation.
Purpose / Objective
The main objectives of the study were to assess the level of adolescent participation in organisations whose programmes are designed for young people, to identify best practices and to make recommendations to improve their involvement in decision-making, as well as programme design, implementation and evaluation.
Primary and secondary research was done, and a checklist on adolescent participation was developed to assess participation in 30 organisations. Three organisations were also studied in depth to develop case studies. A non-random sampling strategy was used to select the agencies in collaboration with UNICEF, with efforts being made to include a diverse range of groups.
Qualitative and quantitative research methods were used to collect data and included: a telephone survey of the 30 groups, focus group discussions with adolescents involved in programmes of three agencies as well as interviews with senior staff members in each agency. In addition, literature on adolescent participation and background information on the three agencies was reviewed. The primary research focused on collecting and comparing the perceptions of adolescents and adults on this issue in relation to decision-making and programming. Data were analysed using the checklist and Roger Hart's Ladder of Participation, which both helped to assess levels of children's participation in organisations.
Key Findings and Conclusions
In prioritising the greatest areas of need concerning adolescent participation emerging from the analysis of 30 organisations and the three case studies, it emerged that promoting self-governance must be the top priority as this was the weakest area. Only 43% of agencies consulted provided opportunities for self-governance by promoting responsibility by giving them space to conceptualise programmes, providing resources for their implementation by adolescents and developing accountability structures to ensure their satisfactory completion.
The second most urgent need was to encourage agencies to include adolescents in policy and decision-making, and just over a half (57%) had adolescents represented on Boards or Committees. Few agencies appeared to have mission statements that explicitly promoted adolescent or child participation. Time, space and resources to enable adolescent participation emerged as a third area of need, followed by limited input into programme design and evaluation. Only 63% ensured their participation in programme design and evaluation but there was greater involvement (70%) in implementing programmes.
Perception on the level and quality of participation differed between adolescents and adults, and there was a gap between perceptions and practices in some organisations. Most agencies (80%) conducted needs assessments, but not all involved young people in the process.
While consultation was common (90%), young people's views and voices were not always heard or respected. Some 60% of agencies provided time, space and resources to enable adolescents to form opinions and views, and 70% said that information enabled them to understand issues.
Data analysis revealed that the factors enabling participation were: respecting adolescents' right to participate, providing a supportive environment, skill training; active listening and respecting their ideas and opinions. Providing opportunities for them to grow and develop self-confidence, and assigning them incremental responsibility in accordance with their age and interests could facilitate their development. Good communication was essential. Institutional flexibility demonstrated by simplifying language and procedures in meetings also emerged as important as these helped to ensure that youths understood concepts and issues being discussed at Board level. Participation should not be forced however, but should evolve in response to the needs and interest of adolescents. Encouraging participation in the home, school, community was also important to complement the efforts of organisations that are committed to this process.
Factors inhibiting participation were manipulation of adolescents, using them as tokens or decorations but not giving them a real voice or respecting them. Others were, perpetuating negative attitudes and practices that limit their scope and inhibit their development. Attitudes that lead adults to do what they think is in the best interest of the adolescent without consulting them were paternalistic and stifled their growth. Lack of respect and denial of the right to participate, lack of training, as well as inadequate time, space and resources to facilitate their participation also emerged as inhibiting factors.
Recommendations are directed at agencies working with adolescents, as well as to UNICEF and UNFPA. In support of child rights and a commitment to holistic development, they seek to improve adolescent participation by promoting a cultural change aimed at facilitating adolescent growth and development. This includes ensuring a policy commitment in each agency's Mission Statement, the appointment of adolescents to boards and providing training to enable them to participate effectively. Recommendations also focus on internal analysis, providing resources to enable them to develop opinions and self-confidence to express them. Agencies are encouraged to provide young people with greater opportunities to conceptualise, design, implement and evaluate programmes. This can be a very empowering process for young people, and will prepare them for future leadership and management at local as well as at national level. To support this process, UNICEF and UNFPA are asked to consider supporting a two-year pilot programme that involves research, training, development and dissemination of a model policy for promoting participation as well as supporting public education and resource materials.
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