Children speak up

UNICEF supports child and adolescent participation in national action planning processes in Phase III of the European Child Guarantee

UPSHIFT participants Croatia
20 January 2022

Child participation is one of the core principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which asserts that children and young people have the right to freely express their views and that there is an obligation to listen to children’s views and facilitate their participation in all matters affecting their lives. Children and adolescents have been consulted in the process of developing the European Child Guarantee, and the Child Guarantee (14 June 2021) recommendation calls on Member States to ensure the effective participation of a range of stakeholders throughout the preparation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the [Child Guarantee National] action plan, highlighting the participation of children.

Children and adolescents at risk of poverty, particularly the most disadvantaged, have limited access to essential services such as health, education and social protection, with their exclusion often rooted in poverty, discrimination and lack of opportunities, as well as inadequate policies, services and budgets to respond to their rights and needs.

Listening to children’s views and empowering them to actively engage, voice their views and opinions, and participate meaningfully in their communities and political processes affecting them is at the core of the European Child Guarantee aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty and of exclusion for the most disadvantaged children in Europe. Children are the experts on the matters affecting them and should be provided with the opportunity to influence and shape the policies impacting their lives and futures. Child participation is critical for shaping policies, programmes and services to ensure that they focus on real needs of children and young people.

Quote from Croatian student

‘Guidance on Child and Adolescent Participation’ has been developed to provide a framework for the effective engagement of children and young people by all Member States when planning, implementing and monitoring the European Child Guarantee, informed by promising practices implemented in the pilot countries. The Guidance is directed towards UNICEF Country teams and their partners involved in the implementation of the Phase III of the preparatory action for a European Child Guarantee. It can also be used to assist national and local authorities, Child Guarantee National Coordinators and other stakeholders in Member States to integrate child and adolescent participation into the different stages of the development, implementation and monitoring of Child Guarantee National Action Plans. The guidance is a living document which will be updated continuously with relevant experiences and examples.

To present the work done around "Child and Adolescent Participation in Phase III of the Preparatory Action for a Child Guarantee", UNICEF ECARO together with the European Commission (DG EMPL) organised a webinar to share practices and experiences from the 7 pilot countries of Phase III of the European Child Guarantee, on 13 January 2022 (Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Germany, Lithuania, Italy and Spain). The aim of the webinar was to share practical examples of how child and adolescent participation is being embedded into the processes related to the development, implementation and monitoring of the Child Guarantee national action plans.

This webinar is part of a series of technical webinars which aim to spotlight work underway at country level as part of the pilot programmes and provide decision-makers and practitioners working on the European Child Guarantee in all Member States with guidance, support and inspiration The webinars target government partners, National Coordinators from the piloting countries and other EU Member States, implementing partners, as well as European Commission officials and UNICEF Country Offices across Europe and the Western Balkans.

students during UPSHIFT workshop in Croatia

How is UNICEF incorporating child and adolescent participation into the EU Child Guarantee Pilot?

UNICEF’s work in child and adolescent participation involves building agency among children and young people by equipping adolescents with skills in advocacy, media literacy and technology, providing with space and opportunities to express themselves, while ensuring that their needs and concerns are taken into account and integrated in processes and decisions affecting them.

Here are a few highlights of the practices and interventions that are being piloted in 5 countries: 


Evidence generation through child-led research by children and young people are being used to inform policy making related to the development of the ECG National Action Plan so that the measures are more responsive to the needs of the most disadvantaged children and to address barriers to access. The goal has been to build the skills of selected groups of children and adolescents to conduct their own research in their communities on specific priority issues and share their views and perspectives and offer creative ideas and solutions. The child-led research is combined with national consultations through U-Report, a global digital platform, developed by UNICEF, that enables young people aged 14-29 to express their views on issues important to them. The child participation activities have been implemented by UNICEF and the National Network for Children.

student from Bulgaria


UNICEF Croatia in cooperation with partners and the governments is using UPSHIFT, a youth social innovation and social entrepreneurship programme, designed to build skills and opportunities for young people who are disadvantaged. The programme combines social innovation workshops, mentorship, incubation and seed funding, to equip young people with the skills and resources they need to identify problems in their own communities and design solutions for them. While young people build skills for life, employment and social entrepreneurship through UPSHIFT, their wider communities benefit from the solutions they create. UPSHIFT in Medjimurje County promoted participation through empowerment, cooperation and trust, to ensure meaningful participation of Roma youth. Empowerment and capacity-building of Roma youth, and civil society and public authorities is ensured, by building cooperation and trust between stakeholders, Roma and non-Roma communities.

The Croatian Association of Social Workers and UNICEF are incorporating the voice of children at risk in the design and provision of integrated child protection services in multi-cultural communities, in particular Roma settlements. The objective is to improve access to integrated child and family protection services, including early identification, referrals, effective case management and cross-sectoral cooperation and ensure they are adapted to the inter-cultural environment (including for Roma population). Focus groups discussions have been held for children together with professionals from social welfare centres and parents, have been informing the work methodology with children and families at risk as well as the provision of social services and other forms of assistance. Children are also actively participating in the implementation of interventions by sharing their opinions, problems, expectations and wishes and defining special activities in cooperation with family outreach workers and in accordance with their capabilities.

student from Croatia on Roma inclusion


In Greece, A Youth Steering Committee (YSC) has been established and meets regularly, involving children as part of the processes of decision-making at local level.  The members of the Child Guarantee Youth Steering Committee (YSC) represent different disadvantaged groups, such as Roma community, persons with disabilities, those refugee/migrant backgrounds, with institutional, experience, with foster care and supported independent living experiences. In cooperation with the National Coordinator, UNICEF engages the members of the YSC for the development of the ECG national action plan at a national scale.

Children and young people have been engaged in designing a Supported Independent Living (SIL) model of care for children 15 years and above, currently living in child care institutions. UNICEF Greece works to ensure meaningful participation of children living in institutions in the design of the model for SIL, given that they will be the future beneficiaries for SIL. Children and young people have been consulted through Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) organized by UNICEF and International Rescue Committee Hellas (IRC)

child in institutional care from Greece


UNICEF Italy in cooperation with partners and the government has established a Youth Advisory Board (YAB), which aims to create a space for children and young people to be meaningfully involved and participate in the process of development of the National action plan, thereby ensuring children’s and young people’s participation is adequately reflected in all of its stages, from planning to design and delivery of services to monitoring and evaluation at both national and local levels. The YAB membership in Italy comprises 23 children and young people aged 14 to 21 years representing the target groups at risk of poverty and social exclusion, including beneficiaries of the Phase III pilot models, as well as youth volunteers for UNICEF and the line ministries.

UPSHIFT is also being piloted in Italy as an innovative education service targeting disadvantaged children and adolescents through two modalities:

  • In-school modality, targeting upper secondary school students (within the dual education system). Schools are selected through a set of proxy indicators of disadvantage/social exclusion: the school drop-out rate, the percentage of students with migration background, and the learning outcomes.  
  • Out-of-school modality, with direct targeting of disadvantaged children and adolescents residing in institutions, including unaccompanied minors (UAMs) and migrant and refugee adolescents.

Over 1.700 adolescents participated in Innovation & Creativity Camps within schools. As part of the monitoring and evaluation activities, around 530 adolescents, 30 teachers and 120 mentors responded to self-assessment surveys, reporting an increase of their participation and 21st century skill building. Among next steps of UPSHIFT piloting is the promotion of adolescent-led solutions identified through UPSHIFT to influence local decision-making processes.

UPSHIFT participant from Italy


UNICEF Spain is collaborating with the High Commissioner for the Fight against Child Poverty and the Secretary of State for Social Rights through the Directorate General for the Rights of Children and Adolescents to take children’s views and opinions into account in the Deep Dive process. The University of Alcalá, together with UNICEF, drafted a child-friendly document entitled “We need your help to design the European child guarantee,” to ensure the ECG is understood by children and young people.  UNICEF Spain has also been working with government partners to support the creation of a State Council for the Participation of Children and Adolescents. The recently formed state council is including the participation of 34 children aged 8 to 17 years old in disadvantaged situations as part of its decision-making processes.

youth in Spain

Lessons Learned & Recommendations

Below is a summary of key lessons learned and recommendations emerging from the webinar and child and adolescent participation work across the pilots.

  • Information on all topics related to the child participation activities should be accessible for children (easy to read formats, simple terminology, disability-friendly)
  • Additional support (such as additional training, interpretation, adequate physical access, etc.) must be factored in to ensure special needs of children from disadvantaged communities are met to guarantee meaningful & fulfilling engagement
  • Taking children's time and availability into account is vital to ensure that meetings, consultations and activities are empowering and do not negatively impact the child’s access to education and other obligations.
  • Given Covid-19 measures, there is a need to adapt training materials and workshop modalities to ensure effective online transition and digitization of content and safeguard privacy against personal data use.
  • Child safeguarding should be developed and implemented as part of child participation approaches and activities.