“I have loads of cool ideas…” A study of the nature of young children’s autonomous participation in a strategic policy development process
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Children’s participation is increasingly recognised as informing the development of policies and strategies that are concerned with service provision for children and families. Creating space for children to express their views is a fundamental responsibility of adults seeking to uphold Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). That young children may not express their views verbally is the subsequent conclusion of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 2005. This thesis focuses on the participation of young children in a strategic policy development process undertaken by Roscommon Children and Young People’s Services Committee (CYPSC). Underpinned by a social constructionist epistemology, the study was influenced by the Lundy Model of Participation (2007) and theories of autonomy. The study examines how adults can support young children’s autonomous engagement in participatory processes in a meaningful way. Participatory methodologies guided data collection, and children and Early Years Practitioners (EYPs) were involved in shaping and facilitating the consultations at the heart of the study. Key research findings of this study show that young children can participate in policy development when processes are organised to buttress and support their emerging autonomy and that a vision of autonomy as a relational concept is applicable in these participatory processes. Further, the study highlights the ethical dimensions of facilitating young children’s participation and calls for attention to be paid to this by policymakers and practitioners.