Not Just Heard – The Participation Charter 2006 revisited

James Cathcart
Thursday, September 24, 2020

“While consultation is important, participation in its truest sense gives children and young people an active involvement in planning, decision-making and subsequent evaluation.” The Participation Charter, 2006

While not the earliest youth voice charter I’ve come across, the Youth Participation Charter (2006) statements of intent and recommendations still resonate with what young leaders have been telling me that they expect from organisations committed to meaningful participation.

In particular, the need to involve them from the start of planning, inclusion in decision-making and then getting feedback. The charter was drawn up and published by Children & Young People Now magazine “in conjunction with experts and organisations in the field, children and young people” on 6th June 2006 in association with the Participation Works (PW) Consortium*). It was titled the Children Now Participation Charter.

It was not a charter that organisations were invited to sign up to, or self-assess against. It set out a “vision for giving children and young people a say in the decisions that affect them” in seven statements with accompanying detail on ‘what should happen’ and is an excellent reference point for anyone wanting to measure progress of the Youth Voice Movement since then, or for those considering a reboot of expectations going forward. 

“Meaningful participation never stops; it is not a project or task with a beginning and an end, and it requires commitment, time, effort and resources”  

Participation Works (PW) was initially a network and then a consortium of large and small organisations in the youth sector working together to promote better youth participation in public life between 2003 and 2011. When the charter was published it was jointly supported by the children's commissioner for England. This was the same year the Education and Inspection Act 2006 passed into law with associated guidance on youth participation in local authorities/youth councils, guidance that is being reviewed again in 2020.  

The Participation Works consortium subsequently secured £4m in lottery funding over three years to set up a national resource hub and England-wide network of participation workers and projects, and continued the legacy of its predecessor The Carnegie Young People’s Initiative (1996-2005) to sponsor and develop resources, events, reports and work in partnership with Whitehall. Although many of the consortium's other resources can still be found on internet if you know what to search for, the charter itself has not been widely reproduced or referenced since.  

Today, funders are again playing a leading role in funding, co-ordinating and supporting national youth voice and participation initiatives, and several are establishing their own advisory forums/councils/leaders and ambassadors to inform and influence the shape of things to come. This time around I expect young people to be more active as the architects of youth participation standards and good practice with a rebooted charter that will ensure “parity of participation” rather than “participation by invitation”, to plug in the power of youth. Is it also the time to consider whether a new national hub could similarly network and respond by working with young people, to offer an accessible support service to any youth voice and leadership initiatives in public life?  

There is also much that we can learn from the Participation Works model itself but I’ll save that for another blog, save to say that I hope to see more actual equal youth participation and user-experienced oversight at the head of collaborative efforts instead of an overused commitment by the older generation to put young people at the heart of what we do.  



I’ve listed below the seven heading with some of my favourite quotes. The full text of the charter can be found in the original CYP Now article here and reviewed in more detail here.  

  1. Participation is a right (based on the UN Charter for the rights of the child)  
    “The education of children and young people, through schools and other services, about their right to participate and how to get involved”  

  2. Children and young people are the best authorities on their own lives  
    “Children and young people must have the freedom to set agendas, direct activities and discussions and determine their own priorities, with appropriate adult or professional support to enable this to take place”  

  3. Participation depends on respect and honesty  
    “It requires honesty about how contributions are going to be used and exactly how much power and influence they can really have”  

  4. Participation must be accessible and inclusive  
    “Children who are very young, disabled, or who have special educational needs have the same right to participate as other children. Services and organisations should be proactive in engaging them, as well as those who are socially or economically disadvantaged, excluded or discriminated against on any basis”.  

    “Prompt and honest feedback by adults is one way of letting children and young people know that their views are valued – and without prompt feedback, and real evidence of change rather than statements of policy or intention, they are less likely to participate in the future”.  

  5. Participation is ‘Built In’  
    “For participation to be meaningful, organisations must also be prepared to make changes to policies or services in response to what they subsequently find out from children and young people”.  

    “Children and young people must be involved in evaluating decision-making processes and any changes that have resulted from their involvement”.  

  6. Participation is everyone's responsibility  
    “Appointing a participation or children's rights champion within an organisation can provide a point of focus and support and help to spread awareness and knowledge”.  

  7. Participation benefits everybody  
    “Communicate the benefits of participation and the resulting changes to policy makers, services, and organisations as well as to managers, practitioners, parents and the general public.”  

*Participation Works/Charter supporters: The British Youth Council; Carnegie Young People Initiative; Children's Rights Alliance for England; Children's Commissioner for England; National Children's Bureau; National Youth Agency; Save the Children

James Cathcart is the founder and director of YoungVoicesHeard @YVH_YouthVoice

CYP Now Digital membership

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice
  • Legal updates
  • Local area spotlights

From £15 / month


CYP Now Magazine

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice and interviews
  • Legal updates

From £12 / month