Supporting Children’s Participation in Decision Making: A Systematic Literature Review Exploring the Effectiveness of Participatory Processes

Supporting Children’s Participation in Decision Making: A Systematic Literature Review... Abstract In this article, the term ‘participation’ refers to the right of the child to express their views in matters affecting them and for their views to be acted upon as appropriate. While there is a growing emphasis in social work practice on a child’s right to participate, less attention has been given to how best to support children’s participation. A systematic review and narrative synthesis of twenty studies with varying methods explores how effective processes, commonly used in social work practice, are in supporting children’s participation in decisions concerning their personal welfare, protection and care. The review explores the effectiveness of the following processes: the use of advocates; a child’s attendance at an assessment, planning or review meeting; Family Welfare Conferences; and recording a child’s views in writing. There is indicative evidence that the use of advocates is an effective means of supporting children’s participation. Findings in relation to the other processes reviewed are mixed. A key factor influencing how effective these processes are in supporting children’s participation is the quality of the relationship with the child and his or her caseworker. Children’s rights, user participation, child protection, child welfare Introduction Embedded in Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and in domestic law in the UK (1989 Children Act, 2004) and in Ireland (1991 Child Care Act; 2013 Child and Family Agency Act) is a child’s right to participate in decisions that directly affect them. The term ‘participation’ is broadly used to encompass a range of practices, as illustrated in various models (e.g. Shier, 2001; Hart, 1992). However, when referring to a child’s legal right to participate, Article 12 of the UNCRC is the guiding instrument. To aid practice, Lundy (2007) conceptualised Article 12, outlining the four chronological steps to be followed in the realisation of this right: first, ‘space’: children must be provided with the opportunity to express a view in a space that is safe and inclusive; second, ‘voice’: children must be facilitated to express their view; third, ‘audience’: the view must be listened to; fourth, ‘influence’: the view must be acted upon as appropriate and the reasons for the decision taken must be communicated to the child. Children do not have the right to a definitive say in the decision-making process but their views should be given due weight, having regard to their age and maturity. Realising a child’s right to participate is of particular importance when decisions are taken concerning a child’s care, protection or welfare. As Thomas and O’Kane (1999) remind us, most children do not have formal decisions taken about where they should live, who should care for them or what their needs are; these are taken for granted. But, for children in contact with child-welfare and protection services, these decisions are made by professionals who may be relative strangers. Involving the child in the decision-making process respects the right and dignity of the child to have a say in decisions that can profoundly affect their lives. Having the input of the child can also ensure the decisions taken are responsive to their needs (Mason, 2008; Kiely, 2005) and it is more likely that children will respect decisions that they have been party to rather than those that are imposed upon them (Kiely, 2005; Cashmore, 2002). However, supporting children’s participation in the child-welfare, child-protection and alternative-care context can be challenging. There is limited guidance available for professionals on how best to create the conditions for space, voice, audience and influence in accordance with the Lundy model. A scoping of the literature revealed that common processes currently used to support the individual child to be involved in decision making include: the use of an advocate to bring a child’s views to the attention of decision makers; a child’s attendance at assessment, planning and review meetings; engaging in a process of family-led decision making, as happens in a Family Welfare Conference (also known as Family Group Conferences); and recording the child’s views in writing. The aim of this systematic literature review is to provide a narrative synthesis of the evidence on how effective these processes, commonly used in practice, are in realising a child’s participation rights. It is intended to highlight processes that are effective in both supporting children to communicate their views and providing an opening for children to influence the decisions taken, in compliance with Article 12 of the UNCRC and the Lundy model (2007). Method To systematically review the literature means ‘to identify, evaluate and summarise the findings of all relevant individual studies, thereby making the available evidence more accessible to decision-makers’ (Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, 2009, p. 1). This review sought to comply with the Social Care Institute for Excellence guidelines governing the conduct of systematic reviews (Social Care Institute for Excellence, 2010). Search strategy There were three rounds of searches to locate the relevant studies. First, searches were conducted using the following social science databases: Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts, Scopus, Sociological Abstracts and the Campbell Collaboration Library. Second, additional searches were conducted using our University Library Catalogue, Open Grey database and Google to identify relevant internet-based published reports, as well as journal articles, book chapters and theses not identified in searches using the initial databases. Third, the reference lists of included articles were reviewed to check for missing studies of relevance. Searches were conducted for studies published in English with a publication date from the year 2000 onwards. The year 2000 was chosen as, from this date, there was a sharp increase in the number of publications matching the search terms. It was felt that studies of relevance published prior to 2000 would be identified for inclusion in the review of the reference lists. Search terms used were ‘participation’ and its variants, including ‘user involvement’, ‘user engagement’, ‘voice’ and ‘decision-making’. These were combined with the terms ‘children’ and ‘young people’, along with all their variants and the following keywords: ‘child protection’, ‘child welfare’, ‘social work’, ‘social care’, ‘in care’, ‘looked after’ and ‘family support’. Inclusion and exclusion criteria The review included studies that examined the effectiveness of processes designed to support a child’s participation within child-welfare, child-protection and alternative-care services. Participation was defined as the right of the child to express their views in matters affecting them and for their views to be acted upon as appropriate, in accordance with Article 12 of the UNCRC and as conceptualised by Lundy (2007). The included processes were: recording of the child’s views in writing; the child’s attendance at a meeting; the use of advocates; and engaging in a process of family-led decision making, as happens in a Family Welfare Conference. In some disciplines, only studies with an experimental design, often randomised control trials, can provide evidence of ‘what works’ because they generate unambiguous findings about cause and effect (Bryman, 2008). As Bryman (2008, p. 103) notes, ‘in most of the social sciences there is far less consensus about what is the appropriate approach to research’ to provide evidence of effectiveness. To bridge the gap between the understanding of the different forms of evidence, Veerman and van Yperen (2007) developed a model in which evidence generated from youth- and family-based projects could be categorised on a four-point scale, ranging from minimum-level evidence to the higher-end RCT ‘gold standard’ level of evidence. Level one (descriptive evidence) can identify potential interventions, while level two (theoretical evidence) can identify plausible ones. Level three (indicative evidence) identifies functional interventions. It requires preliminary evidence that an intervention works in practice and can include client satisfaction, goal attainment, service evaluations and quasi-experimental studies. Level four (causal evidence) requires clear evidence that the intervention caused the desired results, involving a randomised control study (RCT) or a well-designed repeated case study. In this literature review, studies were only included if they provided indicative (level three) or causal evidence (level four) of effectiveness. The review excluded studies reviewing the effectiveness of processes that support children’s participation in court proceedings. While fundamental decisions concerning a child’s care are made in court, it was felt the scope of the search would not comprehensively return studies identifying or measuring the effectiveness of processes designed to support the child’s voice to be heard in court proceedings. Including processes that support children’s participation in court would require widening the search to include legal databases and additional search terms, which was not feasible in the time frame for this review. Screening and data extraction As outlined above, there were three rounds of searches. The first round returned 1,092 journal articles from the social science databases. Citations and abstracts for all articles were exported to Endnote X7 software. Reviewing these articles involved a two-stage screening process. Initially, two reviewers screened the publications by title and by abstract. Following this round of screening, 1,008 articles were removed. The second stage involved a full-text screening of the remaining seventy articles (after duplicates were removed). After the second round of screening, ten studies were retained. The second and third rounds of searches identified a further ten publications for inclusion. A flowchart of the search and screening process is included in Figure 1. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Flowchart of the search and screening process Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Flowchart of the search and screening process A narrative synthesis approach is used to describe and compare the findings of the quantitative and qualitative studies included, using both text and Table 1. The following data were extracted and are detailed in Table 1: author(s), date, country where the study was conducted, study context (classified as a child-welfare, child-protection or alternative-care process), relevant process reviewed, study design and sample, and level and type of evidence the study yielded. The findings section provides a narrative description of the results of the individual studies. Quantitative data synthesis was not possible as standardised measures were not used across the studies. Table 1 Studies Author(s)/year/country Context Process Study design and sample Level and type of evidence 1. Bell, 2011, Chapter 7 (UK) Child protection Attendance at meeting Interviews with children (n=27) L3 (SU testimony) 2. Bell, 2011, Chapter 6; Bell and Wilson, 2006 (UK) Child protection FWC and advocacy 20 FWCs sampled. Questionnaires completed by children immediately following the FWC (n=15). Interviews with children six weeks after FWC (n=9) L3 (SU testimony) 3. Boylan and Braye, 2006 (UK) Alternative care Advocacy Interviews and focus groups with children in care (n=39). Eleven had experienced the involvement of an advocate. Observation of sixteen CiC review meetings L3 (SU testimony and observation) 4. Bruce, 2014 (UK) Child protection Recording a child’s views Review of child-protection case files (n=28) in respect of ten children. Twelve months later, review of child-protection case files (n=15) in respect of eleven children L3 (case-file analysis) 5. Chase et al., 2006 (UK) Alternative care Advocacy Analysis of feedback evaluation forms from young people (n=60) who had used an advocacy service. Interviews with twenty-one young people (n=21), advocates (n=17), foster parents (n=2) and a carer (n=1) L3 (SU and SP testimony) 6. Dalrymple, 2002 (UK) Child protection and child welfare Advocacy Interviews with children (n=10) who had opted for an advocate at a FWC, a group meeting with four of these children, as well as a workshop with advocates (undisclosed number) L3 (SU and SP testimony) 7. Daly, 2014 (Ireland) Alternative care Attendance at meeting Interviews with young people (n=10) in care. Interviews with professionals (n=7) involved in young people’s care reviews L3 (SU and SP testimony) 8. Goldbeck et al., 2007 (Germany) Child protection and child welfare (primarily child-welfare cases) Attendance at meeting Eighty child-protection and welfare cases sampled. Cases randomly assigned to a control group (case conference as usual) and intervention group (expert-assisted case conference conducted in the absence of the child). A self-reported follow-up assessment was conducted by the caseworker six months post the case conference L4 (RCT) 9. Holland, 2001 (UK) Child protection and alternative care Recording a child’s views Analysis of written records from sixteen child-protection assessments carried out by two social work agencies, operating in the statutory and voluntary sectors, in respect of twenty-one children and sixteen social workers. Between one and four interviews with the social workers and observation of video-taped assessments with parents L3 Indicative (case-file analysis, SP testimony) Author(s)/year/country Context Process Study design and sample Level and type of evidence 1. Bell, 2011, Chapter 7 (UK) Child protection Attendance at meeting Interviews with children (n=27) L3 (SU testimony) 2. Bell, 2011, Chapter 6; Bell and Wilson, 2006 (UK) Child protection FWC and advocacy 20 FWCs sampled. Questionnaires completed by children immediately following the FWC (n=15). Interviews with children six weeks after FWC (n=9) L3 (SU testimony) 3. Boylan and Braye, 2006 (UK) Alternative care Advocacy Interviews and focus groups with children in care (n=39). Eleven had experienced the involvement of an advocate. Observation of sixteen CiC review meetings L3 (SU testimony and observation) 4. Bruce, 2014 (UK) Child protection Recording a child’s views Review of child-protection case files (n=28) in respect of ten children. Twelve months later, review of child-protection case files (n=15) in respect of eleven children L3 (case-file analysis) 5. Chase et al., 2006 (UK) Alternative care Advocacy Analysis of feedback evaluation forms from young people (n=60) who had used an advocacy service. Interviews with twenty-one young people (n=21), advocates (n=17), foster parents (n=2) and a carer (n=1) L3 (SU and SP testimony) 6. Dalrymple, 2002 (UK) Child protection and child welfare Advocacy Interviews with children (n=10) who had opted for an advocate at a FWC, a group meeting with four of these children, as well as a workshop with advocates (undisclosed number) L3 (SU and SP testimony) 7. Daly, 2014 (Ireland) Alternative care Attendance at meeting Interviews with young people (n=10) in care. Interviews with professionals (n=7) involved in young people’s care reviews L3 (SU and SP testimony) 8. Goldbeck et al., 2007 (Germany) Child protection and child welfare (primarily child-welfare cases) Attendance at meeting Eighty child-protection and welfare cases sampled. Cases randomly assigned to a control group (case conference as usual) and intervention group (expert-assisted case conference conducted in the absence of the child). A self-reported follow-up assessment was conducted by the caseworker six months post the case conference L4 (RCT) 9. Holland, 2001 (UK) Child protection and alternative care Recording a child’s views Analysis of written records from sixteen child-protection assessments carried out by two social work agencies, operating in the statutory and voluntary sectors, in respect of twenty-one children and sixteen social workers. Between one and four interviews with the social workers and observation of video-taped assessments with parents L3 Indicative (case-file analysis, SP testimony) Table 1 Studies Author(s)/year/country Context Process Study design and sample Level and type of evidence 1. Bell, 2011, Chapter 7 (UK) Child protection Attendance at meeting Interviews with children (n=27) L3 (SU testimony) 2. Bell, 2011, Chapter 6; Bell and Wilson, 2006 (UK) Child protection FWC and advocacy 20 FWCs sampled. Questionnaires completed by children immediately following the FWC (n=15). Interviews with children six weeks after FWC (n=9) L3 (SU testimony) 3. Boylan and Braye, 2006 (UK) Alternative care Advocacy Interviews and focus groups with children in care (n=39). Eleven had experienced the involvement of an advocate. Observation of sixteen CiC review meetings L3 (SU testimony and observation) 4. Bruce, 2014 (UK) Child protection Recording a child’s views Review of child-protection case files (n=28) in respect of ten children. Twelve months later, review of child-protection case files (n=15) in respect of eleven children L3 (case-file analysis) 5. Chase et al., 2006 (UK) Alternative care Advocacy Analysis of feedback evaluation forms from young people (n=60) who had used an advocacy service. Interviews with twenty-one young people (n=21), advocates (n=17), foster parents (n=2) and a carer (n=1) L3 (SU and SP testimony) 6. Dalrymple, 2002 (UK) Child protection and child welfare Advocacy Interviews with children (n=10) who had opted for an advocate at a FWC, a group meeting with four of these children, as well as a workshop with advocates (undisclosed number) L3 (SU and SP testimony) 7. Daly, 2014 (Ireland) Alternative care Attendance at meeting Interviews with young people (n=10) in care. Interviews with professionals (n=7) involved in young people’s care reviews L3 (SU and SP testimony) 8. Goldbeck et al., 2007 (Germany) Child protection and child welfare (primarily child-welfare cases) Attendance at meeting Eighty child-protection and welfare cases sampled. Cases randomly assigned to a control group (case conference as usual) and intervention group (expert-assisted case conference conducted in the absence of the child). A self-reported follow-up assessment was conducted by the caseworker six months post the case conference L4 (RCT) 9. Holland, 2001 (UK) Child protection and alternative care Recording a child’s views Analysis of written records from sixteen child-protection assessments carried out by two social work agencies, operating in the statutory and voluntary sectors, in respect of twenty-one children and sixteen social workers. Between one and four interviews with the social workers and observation of video-taped assessments with parents L3 Indicative (case-file analysis, SP testimony) Author(s)/year/country Context Process Study design and sample Level and type of evidence 1. Bell, 2011, Chapter 7 (UK) Child protection Attendance at meeting Interviews with children (n=27) L3 (SU testimony) 2. Bell, 2011, Chapter 6; Bell and Wilson, 2006 (UK) Child protection FWC and advocacy 20 FWCs sampled. Questionnaires completed by children immediately following the FWC (n=15). Interviews with children six weeks after FWC (n=9) L3 (SU testimony) 3. Boylan and Braye, 2006 (UK) Alternative care Advocacy Interviews and focus groups with children in care (n=39). Eleven had experienced the involvement of an advocate. Observation of sixteen CiC review meetings L3 (SU testimony and observation) 4. Bruce, 2014 (UK) Child protection Recording a child’s views Review of child-protection case files (n=28) in respect of ten children. Twelve months later, review of child-protection case files (n=15) in respect of eleven children L3 (case-file analysis) 5. Chase et al., 2006 (UK) Alternative care Advocacy Analysis of feedback evaluation forms from young people (n=60) who had used an advocacy service. Interviews with twenty-one young people (n=21), advocates (n=17), foster parents (n=2) and a carer (n=1) L3 (SU and SP testimony) 6. Dalrymple, 2002 (UK) Child protection and child welfare Advocacy Interviews with children (n=10) who had opted for an advocate at a FWC, a group meeting with four of these children, as well as a workshop with advocates (undisclosed number) L3 (SU and SP testimony) 7. Daly, 2014 (Ireland) Alternative care Attendance at meeting Interviews with young people (n=10) in care. Interviews with professionals (n=7) involved in young people’s care reviews L3 (SU and SP testimony) 8. Goldbeck et al., 2007 (Germany) Child protection and child welfare (primarily child-welfare cases) Attendance at meeting Eighty child-protection and welfare cases sampled. Cases randomly assigned to a control group (case conference as usual) and intervention group (expert-assisted case conference conducted in the absence of the child). A self-reported follow-up assessment was conducted by the caseworker six months post the case conference L4 (RCT) 9. Holland, 2001 (UK) Child protection and alternative care Recording a child’s views Analysis of written records from sixteen child-protection assessments carried out by two social work agencies, operating in the statutory and voluntary sectors, in respect of twenty-one children and sixteen social workers. Between one and four interviews with the social workers and observation of video-taped assessments with parents L3 Indicative (case-file analysis, SP testimony) Table 2 Quality appraisal of studies Authors Trustworthy Appropriate Relevant Overall 1 Bell, 2011, Chapter 7 Low Medium High Medium 2 Bell, 2011, Chapter 6; Bell and Wilson, 2006 Medium High High High–Medium 3 Boylan and Braye, 2006 Medium Medium Medium Medium 4 Bruce, 2014 Medium High Medium Medium–High 5 Chase et al., 2006 Medium High High High–Medium 6 Dalrymple, 2002 Medium High High High–Medium 7 Daly, 2014 Medium Medium High Medium–High 8 Goldbeck et al., 2007 High High Medium High–Medium 9 Holland, 2001 Medium High High High–Medium 10 Holland and O’Neill, 2006 High High High High 11 Hoy, 2013 High High High High 12 Jelicic et al., 2013 Medium High High High–Medium 13 Oliver et al., 2006; Knight and Oliver, 2007 Medium Medium High Medium–High 14 Morgan and Fraser, 2010 Medium High High High–Medium 15 Ney et al., 2013 Medium Medium High Medium–High 16 Roose et al., 2009 Medium High High High–Medium 17 Sanders and Mace, 2006 Medium High Medium Medium–High 18 Thomas and O’Kane, 1999 Medium High High High–Medium 19 Tregeagle and Mason, 2008 Medium High High High–Medium 20 Vis and Thomas, 2009 Medium Medium High Medium–High Authors Trustworthy Appropriate Relevant Overall 1 Bell, 2011, Chapter 7 Low Medium High Medium 2 Bell, 2011, Chapter 6; Bell and Wilson, 2006 Medium High High High–Medium 3 Boylan and Braye, 2006 Medium Medium Medium Medium 4 Bruce, 2014 Medium High Medium Medium–High 5 Chase et al., 2006 Medium High High High–Medium 6 Dalrymple, 2002 Medium High High High–Medium 7 Daly, 2014 Medium Medium High Medium–High 8 Goldbeck et al., 2007 High High Medium High–Medium 9 Holland, 2001 Medium High High High–Medium 10 Holland and O’Neill, 2006 High High High High 11 Hoy, 2013 High High High High 12 Jelicic et al., 2013 Medium High High High–Medium 13 Oliver et al., 2006; Knight and Oliver, 2007 Medium Medium High Medium–High 14 Morgan and Fraser, 2010 Medium High High High–Medium 15 Ney et al., 2013 Medium Medium High Medium–High 16 Roose et al., 2009 Medium High High High–Medium 17 Sanders and Mace, 2006 Medium High Medium Medium–High 18 Thomas and O’Kane, 1999 Medium High High High–Medium 19 Tregeagle and Mason, 2008 Medium High High High–Medium 20 Vis and Thomas, 2009 Medium Medium High Medium–High Table 2 Quality appraisal of studies Authors Trustworthy Appropriate Relevant Overall 1 Bell, 2011, Chapter 7 Low Medium High Medium 2 Bell, 2011, Chapter 6; Bell and Wilson, 2006 Medium High High High–Medium 3 Boylan and Braye, 2006 Medium Medium Medium Medium 4 Bruce, 2014 Medium High Medium Medium–High 5 Chase et al., 2006 Medium High High High–Medium 6 Dalrymple, 2002 Medium High High High–Medium 7 Daly, 2014 Medium Medium High Medium–High 8 Goldbeck et al., 2007 High High Medium High–Medium 9 Holland, 2001 Medium High High High–Medium 10 Holland and O’Neill, 2006 High High High High 11 Hoy, 2013 High High High High 12 Jelicic et al., 2013 Medium High High High–Medium 13 Oliver et al., 2006; Knight and Oliver, 2007 Medium Medium High Medium–High 14 Morgan and Fraser, 2010 Medium High High High–Medium 15 Ney et al., 2013 Medium Medium High Medium–High 16 Roose et al., 2009 Medium High High High–Medium 17 Sanders and Mace, 2006 Medium High Medium Medium–High 18 Thomas and O’Kane, 1999 Medium High High High–Medium 19 Tregeagle and Mason, 2008 Medium High High High–Medium 20 Vis and Thomas, 2009 Medium Medium High Medium–High Authors Trustworthy Appropriate Relevant Overall 1 Bell, 2011, Chapter 7 Low Medium High Medium 2 Bell, 2011, Chapter 6; Bell and Wilson, 2006 Medium High High High–Medium 3 Boylan and Braye, 2006 Medium Medium Medium Medium 4 Bruce, 2014 Medium High Medium Medium–High 5 Chase et al., 2006 Medium High High High–Medium 6 Dalrymple, 2002 Medium High High High–Medium 7 Daly, 2014 Medium Medium High Medium–High 8 Goldbeck et al., 2007 High High Medium High–Medium 9 Holland, 2001 Medium High High High–Medium 10 Holland and O’Neill, 2006 High High High High 11 Hoy, 2013 High High High High 12 Jelicic et al., 2013 Medium High High High–Medium 13 Oliver et al., 2006; Knight and Oliver, 2007 Medium Medium High Medium–High 14 Morgan and Fraser, 2010 Medium High High High–Medium 15 Ney et al., 2013 Medium Medium High Medium–High 16 Roose et al., 2009 Medium High High High–Medium 17 Sanders and Mace, 2006 Medium High Medium Medium–High 18 Thomas and O’Kane, 1999 Medium High High High–Medium 19 Tregeagle and Mason, 2008 Medium High High High–Medium 20 Vis and Thomas, 2009 Medium Medium High Medium–High Findings Included studies A total of twenty studies were included in this literature review. Most of these studies did not focus exclusively on the effectiveness of one or more of the processes under consideration in this literature review, but their findings produced relevant evidence in this regard. The studies included are primarily small qualitative studies and the level of evidence documented is mostly indicative, drawing on service-user and service-provider testimonies. The Social Care Institute for Excellence (2010) advises that research capturing the views and perspectives of service users and carers provides a vital perspective on the effectiveness of an intervention. Of the studies included, five focus on a child’s attendance at a meeting, six on recording a child’s views in writing, six on the use of advocates and four on Family Welfare Conferences (some studies provided evidence of the effectiveness of more than one process). The studies were almost evenly divided between children subject to a child-welfare or child-protection concern and children in alternative care. Almost all the studies included in this literature review focused on the participation of children aged seven to eighteen. Over half were undertaken in the UK, with the remainder from Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Norway, Canada and Australia. Quality appraisal All studies identified as meeting the inclusion criteria were appraised for quality. Common factors considered in an assessment of quality are: the trustworthiness of the study in terms of its methodological quality; the appropriateness of the research design used for both the individual study and for addressing the systematic literature review aim; and the relevance of the study to the focus of the literature review (EPPI-Centre, 2010). Using the EPPI-Centre weight-of-evidence (WoE) system developed by Dickson and Gough (2008), two reviewers independently appraised each study and assigned a high, medium or low WoE to the trustworthiness, appropriateness and relevance of the study. The reviewers subsequently discussed any discrepancies and agreed on the overall WoE by calculating the average agreed weights (Table 2). In accordance with the Social Care Institute for Excellence guidelines (2010), it was not the intention to exclude any topic-relevant studies that may have received an overall low WoE. Instead, the quality appraisal was intended to provide transparency in terms of the WoE each study yielded and to ensure that studies with a greater strength of evidence carried more weight in drawing conclusions. Narrative synthesis Process no. 1: Advocacy In this literature review, advocacy was defined as the provision of one-to-one support by an individual or a service for the purpose of enabling a child to have their voice heard. All six studies included on advocacy provide evidence that the use of advocates is effective in enabling children to participate in personal decisions regarding their care, protection or welfare (studies 2, 3, 5, 6, 12, 13). It is reported that advocates give young people the confidence to infiltrate an adult-dominated decision-making process (5) and can help to redress the power imbalances at play (2, 3, 6). They can support the child to influence the decisions taken (5, 6, 12, 13) and facilitate feedback to be provided to the child on the outcome of the process (12). The use of advocates is also found to be effective in supporting looked after children with disabilities to have their views heard (13). Importantly, in all the studies included, children testified to the value of having an advocate. Two of the studies suggest that, for an advocate to play an effective role in supporting a child’s participation, they must be independent of social work services (3, 5). Likewise, a number of other factors have been identified that influence the effectiveness of the role played by advocates. The presence of a trusting relationship between the advocate and the child is important (3, 5, 12). Study 6 found that, from the perspective of the children and the advocates, the optimum is two or three meetings if the advocacy relationship is to be meaningful and effective. Ensuring that all those involved have a clear understanding of the role of the advocate and the limits on confidentiality that the advocate adheres to is a further factor influencing the effectiveness of the service provided (3, 12). According to studies 3 and 13, it can be a challenge for the advocate to maintain the focus on the views of the child rather than having a role in ensuring decisions are made in the child’s ‘best interests’. Furthermore, it is essential that the advocate has the required skills to communicate with children of all ages, abilities and need (5, 12, 13). Process no. 2: Attendance at meetings There is some evidence that a child’s attendance at a planning or review meeting is more likely to result in their participation in decision making (8, 18, 20). Study 20 found that children were three times more likely to express a view and influence the decision in a child-protection process if they attended one meeting, ten times more likely if they attended two meetings and thirty-two times more likely if they attended three meetings (no children in the study had attended more than three meetings). While this study suggests it is important for children to attend meetings if they are to participate, these findings should be interpreted bearing in mind that the case managers convening these meetings had attended training to increase child participation approximately six months previously. In studies 7 and 11, many of the young study participants were of the view that their attendance at a meeting provided them with the opportunity to have their views heard. However, in study 1, the children interviewed were confident they had been adequately represented in child-protection conference reviews whether they were present or not, but only a small number felt they had an influence on the decision taken. In each of these studies, when children attended either assessment, planning or review meetings, the nature and circumstances of their participation were often reported as far from satisfactory. The size of the meeting, its formality and the language used were issues (1, 7, 11, 18). Children described being frightened, anxious, bored and embarrassed or exposed by the open discussion on their lives (7, 11, 18). Their participation was also influenced by the quality of their relationship with their social worker (1, 7, 11, 18), their parents’ support for the participation principle (11, 18), the degree to which the child was prepared in advance of attending a meeting and the opportunity provided to them to communicate their views (7, 11, 18). Study 1 also identified the importance of choice—choice in advance of a meeting about who their social worker was (in terms of gender and race) and choice about the circumstances of the meeting (in terms of who should attend and where it should take place). These are all factors that can influence a child’s attendance at a meeting being an effective process to realise their participation rights. Process no. 3: Family Welfare Conferences Study 1 and 11 found that Family Welfare Conferences can facilitate children’s participation in the development of a plan to address their welfare and protection needs. Study 11, a comparative study of children’s experience of participation in Family Welfare Conferences and Child Protection Conferences, found that Family Welfare Conferences offer a higher level of participation experience in part due to a better knowledge of the process and a less formal atmosphere. In study 10, the majority of children reported being able to participate in Family Welfare Conferences but they did not equate participation with being influential. Yet they were satisfied with the process from the perspective of being able to express their views. Only a small minority had a negative experience, one reason being the gap between the coordinators’ promotion of participation and the family’s adherence to this guidance once the professionals had withdrawn. Study 15 concluded that dominant child-protection discourses and institutional practices can impede the effectiveness of Family Welfare Conferences as a participatory structure. The extent to which the children are prepared in advance of the Conference (2, 10) and the quality of the relationship between the child and the social worker (11) influenced a child’s experience of participation. Process no. 4: Recording a child’s views Recording a child’s views can be interpreted broadly to include documenting their views in a written statement, picture or video clip, their completion of a child-friendly form, as well as professionals recording the views of the child in case records, investigation or progress reports for consideration by decision makers. Traditionally, the latter would appear to be the norm rather than a child’s views being directly recorded (4, 9, 17). There is evidence that, despite procedures in place for professionals to document the views of the child when writing their reports, for example in the ‘views and wishes of the child’ section, this has not been very effective in documenting the child’s authentic views and it does not necessarily correlate with the child’s views being acted upon (4, 9, 16). These studies found that, in multiple instances, a child’s views may not be reported and there is evidence that approaches adopted to record the views of the child either intentionally or unintentionally filtered their views. The studies found that the objective representation of the child’s views left it open to question whether the child’s subjective views were being recorded or whether it was the case manager’s interpretation of their views or what they thought the child would say. In addition, study 9 found that a child’s voice could be effectively silenced by social workers presenting the child’s views as biased or untrustworthy in their narrative. Study 4 found evidence of case managers recording views previously expressed by the child but that were, at the time the case was being considered, potentially out of date. Furthermore, study 17 found evidence of children’s views being recorded collectively—for example, siblings’ views being documented as a collective, rather than their individual views being recorded. Study 14 explored the effectiveness of children self-recording their views with the support of audio-computer-assisted self-interviewing (A-CASI). The study found that, while it may have been an effective means to record the children’s authentic views, there were significant inconsistencies in follow-up and it was evident that the recorded views were often not acted upon. It appears that a contributing factor was that the purpose of collating the children’s views was not entirely explicit, and the child’s use of A-CASI was at the discretion of social workers. Study 19 examined service users’ experiences of participation when subject to two standardised case-management systems. These systems use a number of ‘text-based strategies’ to support children’s participation in the decision making. These included: specific questions on the standardised forms underpinning the processes to elicit service users’ views; questions to identify impediments to service users being able to communicate their views; requirements for service users to formally approve case decisions and to sign the form; a requirement on staff to record dissent when decisions are made; a focus on the individual named child as opposed to treating them simply as part of the family or sibling group; and, in one of the systems, a ‘stand-alone’ document to help young people express their views. While there were mixed findings, the majority of the participants in the study (children and their parents) reported positive experiences of participation when subject to these case-management systems. They reported that they were supported to express a view, listened to and had their views taken into account. Discussion This review provides evidence of how effective the use of advocates, a child’s attendance at a meeting, Family Welfare Conferences and the recording of a child’s views are as processes to support the realisation of a child’s right to participate in decisions pertaining to their welfare, protection and care. The evidence available is primarily indicative, drawing on service-user and service-provider testimonies in studies that are relatively small in scale. There is also very little focus in the literature on the effectiveness of processes to enable young children to have their views taken into consideration. While bearing these limitations in mind, there is indicative evidence that the use of advocates is an effective means of supporting children’s participation. This corroborates an earlier review of the literature by Cashmore (2002), who found that, while adults tend to focus on structures or formal procedures to support a child’s participation, such as attendance at meetings, children have expressed their preference for informal procedures and for a personal relationship with a trusted advocate or mentor. Sinclair (1998) notes that children’s participation in planning their care has become synonymous with attendance at meetings. This literature review indicates that this is not necessarily so. Yet there is evidence that a child’s attendance, and particularly their attendance at more than one meeting, makes it more likely that they will participate in the process. Herein lies an important message for practice, given that the literature reveals that children’s attendance at assessment, planning and review meetings can be relatively low (O’Brien and Ahonen, 2015; Sanders and Mace, 2006; Thomas and O’Kane, 1999). While much has been written about the role and the value of Family Welfare Conferences, very limited literature was uncovered providing evidence of their effectiveness in terms of supporting children to participate in the family-led decision-making process. The review of the literature revealed some evidence that convening a Family Welfare Conference can be effective in supporting a child’s participation. However, there is limited evidence of them facilitating children to express a view and influence the outcome of the conference. In the wider literature, it is evident that, for a variety of reasons, children’s views may not be made known to those attending a Family Welfare Conference (O’Brien and Ahonen, 2015; Connolly and Masson, 2014). If a child’s views are not listened to by those present, this is a significant barrier to a Family Welfare Conference being an effective means of enabling a child to participate in decision making. When a child’s views are recorded in case records or reports and indirectly submitted to decision-making proceedings, it is evident that, for these views to be taken into account, their submission needs to be supported by good practices. Good practice includes clarity around the exact purpose of documenting these views and which meeting they are intended for. Safeguards also need to be put in place to ensure they are the child’s authentic views, which may include documenting the child’s views in their own words with the support of child-friendly forms or asking them to review and sign the records. This review of the literature illustrates that, despite efforts to support a child’s participation and processes being standardised, the realisation of a child’s right to participate can be heavily influenced by whether the conditions are conducive to facilitating the child to express a view in a safe and inclusive space and conducive to having their views listened to by those with decision-making authority. A fundamental factor is the child’s relationship with their caseworker. It is consistently reported that a positive, trusting and stable relationship is instrumental to creating a safe space for children’s participation. This is evidenced in the studies included in this literature review as well as in wider literature (van Bijleveld et al., 2015; Gallagher et al., 2012; Buckley et al., 2011; Bell, 2002; Cashmore, 2002; Munro, 2001). According to Archard and Skivenes (2009), the authentic views of the child will only emerge once a positive relationship between the child and the relevant adult has been established, and this is unlikely to occur in a single meeting. Other factors reported, influencing whether children are facilitated to express a view, are listened to and have their views acted upon as appropriate, are: the degree to which the child is adequately prepared in advance; the formality of the decision-making meeting and whether the child had an input into its planning; the professional’s communication skills; and support for the participation principle by professionals and parents. Study limitations There is a lack of uniformity in the words used to describe children’s participation within child-welfare and protection services (van Bijleveld et al., 2015). This presented a risk for this literature review that not all relevant publications would be returned with the search strategy employed. To reduce this risk, a scoping exercise was conducted to identify core terms used. These formed the basis of the search. A review of the reference lists of studies included was also an important safeguard aimed at increasing the chances of identifying any outliers. It is also acknowledged that there is a wealth of grey literature in this field, as well as solely internet-based published reports. Many services operating to address a child-welfare or child-protection concern or services for children in care are outsourced to providers in the statutory and non-statutory sectors. Evaluations of these services and the effectiveness of their participatory processes may not be published or widely available. While efforts were made to locate such publications produced in English, this review largely relies on evidence as documented in journal articles. Research gaps There is a need for further research to establish the effectiveness of processes intended to support children’s participation. Nearly all the evidence documented in this review is indicative, at level three of the Veerman and van Yperen (2007) model used to characterise the effectiveness of interventions. There is an opening for further large-scale studies to demonstrate causal evidence. Almost all the studies identified for inclusion in this literature review focused on children aged seven to eighteen. Consequently, there is a need for further research on what are effective processes to support the participation of very young children who come in contact with child-welfare, protection and alternative-care services. Conclusion This systematic literature review identified, evaluated and synthesised the available evidence on the effectiveness of processes intended to support a child’s right to participate. There is indicative evidence that the use of advocates is an effective means of supporting children’s participation as conceptualised by Lundy (2007). Advocates can facilitate children to express a view in a safe space and ensure their views are listened to and acted upon as appropriate. Overall, the findings in relation to the other processes reviewed were mixed. The formality of these processes, a lack of preparation with the child and power imbalances at play can impede them from providing children with a safe space to express a view and to have their view acted upon. When engaging in these processes reviewed, practitioners must be mindful of the need to comply with all elements of the Lundy model, namely space, voice, audience and influence, if they are to realise a child’s participation rights. While this review has been restricted to processes that support children to participate in the child-welfare, child-protection and alternative-care contexts, this study may have important learning for professionals working in the wider contexts of youth work and early-years settings. Likewise, what has been found to be effective in supporting children’s participation in youth work and other contexts may be informative for child-welfare, protection and care services. Acknowledgements This research was conducted as part of the Development and Mainstreaming Programme for Prevention, Partnership and Family Support Study, which is supported by the Atlantic Philanthropies Ireland, Galway University Foundation and the National University of Ireland, Galway. References Archard D. , Skivenes M. ( 2009 ) ‘ Hearing the child’, Child and Family Social Work , 14 ( 4 ), pp. 391 – 9 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Bell M. ( 2002 ) ‘ Promoting children’s rights through the use of relationship’, Child and Family Social Work , 7 ( 1 ), pp. 1 – 11 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Bell M. ( 2011 ) Promoting Children’s Rights in Social Work and Social Care: A Guide to Participatory Practice , London , Jessica Kingsley Publishers , Chapter 6. Bell M. , Wilson K. ( 2006 ) ‘ Children’s views of family group conferences ’, British Journal of Social Work , 36 ( 4 ), pp. 671 – 81 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Boylan J. , Braye S. ( 2006 ) ‘ Paid, professionalised and proceduralised: Can legal and policy frameworks for child advocacy give voice to children and young people? ’, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law , 28 ( 3–4 ), pp. 233 – 49 . Bruce M. ( 2014 ) ‘ The voice of the child in child protection: Whose voice?’, Social Sciences , 3 ( 3 ), pp. 514 – 26 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Bryman A. ( 2008 ) Social Research Methods , Oxford , Oxford University Press . Buckley H. , Carr N. , Whelan S. ( 2011 ) ‘“ Like walking on eggshells”: Service user views and expectations of the child protection system’, Child & Family Social Work , 16 ( 1 ), pp. 101 – 10 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Cashmore J. ( 2002 ) ‘ Promoting the participation of children and young people in care’, Child Abuse and Neglect , 26 ( 8 ), pp. 837 – 47 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed Centre for Reviews and Dissemination ( 2009 ) Systematic Reviews: CRD’s Guidance for Undertaking Reviews in Health Care , York University , Centre of Reviews and Dissemination . Chase E. , Simon A. , Wigfall V. , Warwick I. , Heathcote S. ( 2006 ) Findings from an Evaluation of the Voice Advocacy Service , London , Thomas Coram Research Unit . Connolly M. , Masson J. ( 2014 ) ‘ Private and public voices: Does family group conferencing privilege the voice of children and families in child welfare?’, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law , 36 ( 4 ), pp. 403 – 14 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Dalrymple J. ( 2002 ) ‘ Family Group Conferences and youth advocacy: The participation of children and young people in family decision making’, European Journal of Social Work , 5 ( 3 ), pp. 287 – 99 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Daly F. ( 2014 ) ‘ It’s About Me’: Young People’s Experiences of Participating in Their Care Reviews , Dublin , Empowering Children in Care . Dickson K. , Gough D. ( 2008 ) Supporting People in Accessing Meaningful Work: Recovery Approaches in Community Based Adult Mental Health Services , London , Social Care Institute for Excellence . EPPI-Centre ( 2010 ) EPPI-Centre Methods for Conducting Systematic Reviews , London , Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London . PubMed PubMed Gallagher M. , Smith M. , Hardy M. , Wilkinson H. ( 2012 ) ‘ Children and families’ involvement in social work decision making’, Children and Society , 26 ( 1 ), pp. 74 – 85 . Goldbeck L. , Laib-Koehnemund A. , Fegert J. M. ( 2007 ) ‘ A randomized controlled trial of consensus-based child abuse case management’, Child Abuse & Neglect , 31 ( 9 ), pp. 919 – 33 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed Hart R. ( 1992 ) Children’s Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship , Florence , Unicef International Child Development Centre . Holland S. ( 2001 ) ‘ Representing children in child protection assessments’, Childhood , 8 ( 3 ), pp. 322 – 39 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Holland S. , O’Neill S. ( 2006 ) ‘“ We had to be there to make sure it was what we wanted”: Enabling children’s participation in family decision-making through the family group conference’, Childhood , 13 ( 1 ), pp. 91 – 111 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Hoy M. A. ( 2013 ) ‘The participation promise of family group conferencing—theory or practice? A qualitative comparison study of children’s participation in family group conferences and child protection case conferences’, doctoral thesis, Belfast, Queen’s University. Jelicic H. , Gibb J. , La Valle I. , Payne L. ( 2013 ) Involved by Right: The Voice of the Child in the Child Protection Conferences , London , National Children’s Bureau . Kiely P. ( 2005 ) ‘The voice of the child in family group conferencing model’, in Mason J. , Fattore T. (eds), Children Taken Seriously: In Theory, Policy and Practice, London , Jessica Kingsley . Knight A. , Oliver C. ( 2007 ) ‘ Advocacy for disabled children and young people: Benefits and dilemmas’, Child and Family Social Work , 12 ( 4 ), pp. 417 – 25 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Lundy L. ( 2007 ) ‘“ Voice” is not enough: Conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child’, British Educational Research Journal , 33 ( 6 ), pp. 927 – 42 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Mason J. ( 2008 ) ‘ A children’s standpoint: Needs in out-of-home care’, Children & Society , 22 ( 5 ), pp. 358 – 69 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Morgan A. , Fraser S. ( 2010 ) ‘ Looked after young people and their social work managers: A study of contrasting experiences of using computer-assisted-self-interviewing (A-CASI)’, British Journal of Social Work , 40 ( 2 ), pp. 445 – 61 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Munro E. ( 2001 ) ‘ Empowering looked-after children ’, Child & Family Social Work , 6 ( 2 ), pp. 129 – 37 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Ney T. , Stoltz J. A. , Maloney M. ( 2013 ) ‘ Voice, power and discourse: Experiences of participants in family group conferences in the context of child protection’, Journal of Social Work , 13 ( 2 ), pp. 184 – 202 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS O’Brien V. , Ahonen H. ( 2015 ) Pathways and Outcomes: A Study of 335 Referrals to the Family Welfare Conference (FWC) Service in Dublin, 2011–2013 , Dublin , Tusla—Child and Family Agency . Oliver C. , Knight A. , Candappa M. ( 2006 ) Advocacy for Looked After Children and Children in Need , London , Report for the Department for Education and Skills. Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education . Roose R. , Mottart A. , Dejonckheere N. , Van Nijnatten C. , De Bie M. ( 2009 ) ‘ Participatory social work and report writing’, Child and Family Social Work , 14 ( 3 ), pp. 322 – 30 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Sanders R. , Mace S. ( 2006 ) ‘ Agency policy and the participation of children and young people in the child protection process’, Child Abuse Review , 15 ( 2 ), pp. 89 – 109 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Shier H. ( 2001 ) ‘ Pathways to participation: Openings, opportunities and obligations’, Children & Society , 15 ( 2 ), pp. 107 – 17 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Sinclair R. ( 1998 ) ‘ Involving children in planning their care’, Child & Family Social Work , 3 ( 2 ), pp. 137 – 42 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Social Care Institute for Excellence ( 2010 ) SCIE Systematic Research Reviews: Guidelines , London , Social Care Institute for Excellence . Thomas N. , O’Kane C. ( 1999 ) ‘ Children’s participation in reviews and planning meetings when they are looked after “in middle childhood” ’, Child and Family Social Work , 4 ( 3 ), pp. 221 – 30 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Tregeagle S. , Mason J. ( 2008 ) ‘ Service user experience of participation in child welfare case management’, Child and Family Social Work , 13 ( 4 ), pp. 391 – 401 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS van Bijleveld G. G. , Dedding C. W. M. , Bunders-Aelen J. F. G. ( 2015 ) ‘ Children’s and young people’s participation within child welfare and child protection services: A state-of-the-art review’, Child and Family Social Work , 20 ( 2 ), pp. 129 – 38 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Veerman J. W. , van Yperen T. A. ( 2007 ) ‘ Degrees of freedom and degrees of certainty: A developmental model for the establishment of evidence-based youth care’, Evaluation and Program Planning , 30 ( 2 ), pp. 212 – 21 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed Vis S. A. , Thomas N. ( 2009 ) ‘ Beyond talking—children’s participation in Norwegian care and protection cases’, European Journal of Social Work , 12 ( 2 ), pp. 155 – 68 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The British Journal of Social Work Oxford University Press

Supporting Children’s Participation in Decision Making: A Systematic Literature Review Exploring the Effectiveness of Participatory Processes

Loading next page...
 
/lp/ou_press/supporting-children-s-participation-in-decision-making-a-systematic-bDMQKXHhM0
Publisher
Oxford University Press
Copyright
© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.
ISSN
0045-3102
eISSN
1468-263X
D.O.I.
10.1093/bjsw/bcx142
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Abstract In this article, the term ‘participation’ refers to the right of the child to express their views in matters affecting them and for their views to be acted upon as appropriate. While there is a growing emphasis in social work practice on a child’s right to participate, less attention has been given to how best to support children’s participation. A systematic review and narrative synthesis of twenty studies with varying methods explores how effective processes, commonly used in social work practice, are in supporting children’s participation in decisions concerning their personal welfare, protection and care. The review explores the effectiveness of the following processes: the use of advocates; a child’s attendance at an assessment, planning or review meeting; Family Welfare Conferences; and recording a child’s views in writing. There is indicative evidence that the use of advocates is an effective means of supporting children’s participation. Findings in relation to the other processes reviewed are mixed. A key factor influencing how effective these processes are in supporting children’s participation is the quality of the relationship with the child and his or her caseworker. Children’s rights, user participation, child protection, child welfare Introduction Embedded in Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and in domestic law in the UK (1989 Children Act, 2004) and in Ireland (1991 Child Care Act; 2013 Child and Family Agency Act) is a child’s right to participate in decisions that directly affect them. The term ‘participation’ is broadly used to encompass a range of practices, as illustrated in various models (e.g. Shier, 2001; Hart, 1992). However, when referring to a child’s legal right to participate, Article 12 of the UNCRC is the guiding instrument. To aid practice, Lundy (2007) conceptualised Article 12, outlining the four chronological steps to be followed in the realisation of this right: first, ‘space’: children must be provided with the opportunity to express a view in a space that is safe and inclusive; second, ‘voice’: children must be facilitated to express their view; third, ‘audience’: the view must be listened to; fourth, ‘influence’: the view must be acted upon as appropriate and the reasons for the decision taken must be communicated to the child. Children do not have the right to a definitive say in the decision-making process but their views should be given due weight, having regard to their age and maturity. Realising a child’s right to participate is of particular importance when decisions are taken concerning a child’s care, protection or welfare. As Thomas and O’Kane (1999) remind us, most children do not have formal decisions taken about where they should live, who should care for them or what their needs are; these are taken for granted. But, for children in contact with child-welfare and protection services, these decisions are made by professionals who may be relative strangers. Involving the child in the decision-making process respects the right and dignity of the child to have a say in decisions that can profoundly affect their lives. Having the input of the child can also ensure the decisions taken are responsive to their needs (Mason, 2008; Kiely, 2005) and it is more likely that children will respect decisions that they have been party to rather than those that are imposed upon them (Kiely, 2005; Cashmore, 2002). However, supporting children’s participation in the child-welfare, child-protection and alternative-care context can be challenging. There is limited guidance available for professionals on how best to create the conditions for space, voice, audience and influence in accordance with the Lundy model. A scoping of the literature revealed that common processes currently used to support the individual child to be involved in decision making include: the use of an advocate to bring a child’s views to the attention of decision makers; a child’s attendance at assessment, planning and review meetings; engaging in a process of family-led decision making, as happens in a Family Welfare Conference (also known as Family Group Conferences); and recording the child’s views in writing. The aim of this systematic literature review is to provide a narrative synthesis of the evidence on how effective these processes, commonly used in practice, are in realising a child’s participation rights. It is intended to highlight processes that are effective in both supporting children to communicate their views and providing an opening for children to influence the decisions taken, in compliance with Article 12 of the UNCRC and the Lundy model (2007). Method To systematically review the literature means ‘to identify, evaluate and summarise the findings of all relevant individual studies, thereby making the available evidence more accessible to decision-makers’ (Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, 2009, p. 1). This review sought to comply with the Social Care Institute for Excellence guidelines governing the conduct of systematic reviews (Social Care Institute for Excellence, 2010). Search strategy There were three rounds of searches to locate the relevant studies. First, searches were conducted using the following social science databases: Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts, Scopus, Sociological Abstracts and the Campbell Collaboration Library. Second, additional searches were conducted using our University Library Catalogue, Open Grey database and Google to identify relevant internet-based published reports, as well as journal articles, book chapters and theses not identified in searches using the initial databases. Third, the reference lists of included articles were reviewed to check for missing studies of relevance. Searches were conducted for studies published in English with a publication date from the year 2000 onwards. The year 2000 was chosen as, from this date, there was a sharp increase in the number of publications matching the search terms. It was felt that studies of relevance published prior to 2000 would be identified for inclusion in the review of the reference lists. Search terms used were ‘participation’ and its variants, including ‘user involvement’, ‘user engagement’, ‘voice’ and ‘decision-making’. These were combined with the terms ‘children’ and ‘young people’, along with all their variants and the following keywords: ‘child protection’, ‘child welfare’, ‘social work’, ‘social care’, ‘in care’, ‘looked after’ and ‘family support’. Inclusion and exclusion criteria The review included studies that examined the effectiveness of processes designed to support a child’s participation within child-welfare, child-protection and alternative-care services. Participation was defined as the right of the child to express their views in matters affecting them and for their views to be acted upon as appropriate, in accordance with Article 12 of the UNCRC and as conceptualised by Lundy (2007). The included processes were: recording of the child’s views in writing; the child’s attendance at a meeting; the use of advocates; and engaging in a process of family-led decision making, as happens in a Family Welfare Conference. In some disciplines, only studies with an experimental design, often randomised control trials, can provide evidence of ‘what works’ because they generate unambiguous findings about cause and effect (Bryman, 2008). As Bryman (2008, p. 103) notes, ‘in most of the social sciences there is far less consensus about what is the appropriate approach to research’ to provide evidence of effectiveness. To bridge the gap between the understanding of the different forms of evidence, Veerman and van Yperen (2007) developed a model in which evidence generated from youth- and family-based projects could be categorised on a four-point scale, ranging from minimum-level evidence to the higher-end RCT ‘gold standard’ level of evidence. Level one (descriptive evidence) can identify potential interventions, while level two (theoretical evidence) can identify plausible ones. Level three (indicative evidence) identifies functional interventions. It requires preliminary evidence that an intervention works in practice and can include client satisfaction, goal attainment, service evaluations and quasi-experimental studies. Level four (causal evidence) requires clear evidence that the intervention caused the desired results, involving a randomised control study (RCT) or a well-designed repeated case study. In this literature review, studies were only included if they provided indicative (level three) or causal evidence (level four) of effectiveness. The review excluded studies reviewing the effectiveness of processes that support children’s participation in court proceedings. While fundamental decisions concerning a child’s care are made in court, it was felt the scope of the search would not comprehensively return studies identifying or measuring the effectiveness of processes designed to support the child’s voice to be heard in court proceedings. Including processes that support children’s participation in court would require widening the search to include legal databases and additional search terms, which was not feasible in the time frame for this review. Screening and data extraction As outlined above, there were three rounds of searches. The first round returned 1,092 journal articles from the social science databases. Citations and abstracts for all articles were exported to Endnote X7 software. Reviewing these articles involved a two-stage screening process. Initially, two reviewers screened the publications by title and by abstract. Following this round of screening, 1,008 articles were removed. The second stage involved a full-text screening of the remaining seventy articles (after duplicates were removed). After the second round of screening, ten studies were retained. The second and third rounds of searches identified a further ten publications for inclusion. A flowchart of the search and screening process is included in Figure 1. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Flowchart of the search and screening process Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Flowchart of the search and screening process A narrative synthesis approach is used to describe and compare the findings of the quantitative and qualitative studies included, using both text and Table 1. The following data were extracted and are detailed in Table 1: author(s), date, country where the study was conducted, study context (classified as a child-welfare, child-protection or alternative-care process), relevant process reviewed, study design and sample, and level and type of evidence the study yielded. The findings section provides a narrative description of the results of the individual studies. Quantitative data synthesis was not possible as standardised measures were not used across the studies. Table 1 Studies Author(s)/year/country Context Process Study design and sample Level and type of evidence 1. Bell, 2011, Chapter 7 (UK) Child protection Attendance at meeting Interviews with children (n=27) L3 (SU testimony) 2. Bell, 2011, Chapter 6; Bell and Wilson, 2006 (UK) Child protection FWC and advocacy 20 FWCs sampled. Questionnaires completed by children immediately following the FWC (n=15). Interviews with children six weeks after FWC (n=9) L3 (SU testimony) 3. Boylan and Braye, 2006 (UK) Alternative care Advocacy Interviews and focus groups with children in care (n=39). Eleven had experienced the involvement of an advocate. Observation of sixteen CiC review meetings L3 (SU testimony and observation) 4. Bruce, 2014 (UK) Child protection Recording a child’s views Review of child-protection case files (n=28) in respect of ten children. Twelve months later, review of child-protection case files (n=15) in respect of eleven children L3 (case-file analysis) 5. Chase et al., 2006 (UK) Alternative care Advocacy Analysis of feedback evaluation forms from young people (n=60) who had used an advocacy service. Interviews with twenty-one young people (n=21), advocates (n=17), foster parents (n=2) and a carer (n=1) L3 (SU and SP testimony) 6. Dalrymple, 2002 (UK) Child protection and child welfare Advocacy Interviews with children (n=10) who had opted for an advocate at a FWC, a group meeting with four of these children, as well as a workshop with advocates (undisclosed number) L3 (SU and SP testimony) 7. Daly, 2014 (Ireland) Alternative care Attendance at meeting Interviews with young people (n=10) in care. Interviews with professionals (n=7) involved in young people’s care reviews L3 (SU and SP testimony) 8. Goldbeck et al., 2007 (Germany) Child protection and child welfare (primarily child-welfare cases) Attendance at meeting Eighty child-protection and welfare cases sampled. Cases randomly assigned to a control group (case conference as usual) and intervention group (expert-assisted case conference conducted in the absence of the child). A self-reported follow-up assessment was conducted by the caseworker six months post the case conference L4 (RCT) 9. Holland, 2001 (UK) Child protection and alternative care Recording a child’s views Analysis of written records from sixteen child-protection assessments carried out by two social work agencies, operating in the statutory and voluntary sectors, in respect of twenty-one children and sixteen social workers. Between one and four interviews with the social workers and observation of video-taped assessments with parents L3 Indicative (case-file analysis, SP testimony) Author(s)/year/country Context Process Study design and sample Level and type of evidence 1. Bell, 2011, Chapter 7 (UK) Child protection Attendance at meeting Interviews with children (n=27) L3 (SU testimony) 2. Bell, 2011, Chapter 6; Bell and Wilson, 2006 (UK) Child protection FWC and advocacy 20 FWCs sampled. Questionnaires completed by children immediately following the FWC (n=15). Interviews with children six weeks after FWC (n=9) L3 (SU testimony) 3. Boylan and Braye, 2006 (UK) Alternative care Advocacy Interviews and focus groups with children in care (n=39). Eleven had experienced the involvement of an advocate. Observation of sixteen CiC review meetings L3 (SU testimony and observation) 4. Bruce, 2014 (UK) Child protection Recording a child’s views Review of child-protection case files (n=28) in respect of ten children. Twelve months later, review of child-protection case files (n=15) in respect of eleven children L3 (case-file analysis) 5. Chase et al., 2006 (UK) Alternative care Advocacy Analysis of feedback evaluation forms from young people (n=60) who had used an advocacy service. Interviews with twenty-one young people (n=21), advocates (n=17), foster parents (n=2) and a carer (n=1) L3 (SU and SP testimony) 6. Dalrymple, 2002 (UK) Child protection and child welfare Advocacy Interviews with children (n=10) who had opted for an advocate at a FWC, a group meeting with four of these children, as well as a workshop with advocates (undisclosed number) L3 (SU and SP testimony) 7. Daly, 2014 (Ireland) Alternative care Attendance at meeting Interviews with young people (n=10) in care. Interviews with professionals (n=7) involved in young people’s care reviews L3 (SU and SP testimony) 8. Goldbeck et al., 2007 (Germany) Child protection and child welfare (primarily child-welfare cases) Attendance at meeting Eighty child-protection and welfare cases sampled. Cases randomly assigned to a control group (case conference as usual) and intervention group (expert-assisted case conference conducted in the absence of the child). A self-reported follow-up assessment was conducted by the caseworker six months post the case conference L4 (RCT) 9. Holland, 2001 (UK) Child protection and alternative care Recording a child’s views Analysis of written records from sixteen child-protection assessments carried out by two social work agencies, operating in the statutory and voluntary sectors, in respect of twenty-one children and sixteen social workers. Between one and four interviews with the social workers and observation of video-taped assessments with parents L3 Indicative (case-file analysis, SP testimony) Table 1 Studies Author(s)/year/country Context Process Study design and sample Level and type of evidence 1. Bell, 2011, Chapter 7 (UK) Child protection Attendance at meeting Interviews with children (n=27) L3 (SU testimony) 2. Bell, 2011, Chapter 6; Bell and Wilson, 2006 (UK) Child protection FWC and advocacy 20 FWCs sampled. Questionnaires completed by children immediately following the FWC (n=15). Interviews with children six weeks after FWC (n=9) L3 (SU testimony) 3. Boylan and Braye, 2006 (UK) Alternative care Advocacy Interviews and focus groups with children in care (n=39). Eleven had experienced the involvement of an advocate. Observation of sixteen CiC review meetings L3 (SU testimony and observation) 4. Bruce, 2014 (UK) Child protection Recording a child’s views Review of child-protection case files (n=28) in respect of ten children. Twelve months later, review of child-protection case files (n=15) in respect of eleven children L3 (case-file analysis) 5. Chase et al., 2006 (UK) Alternative care Advocacy Analysis of feedback evaluation forms from young people (n=60) who had used an advocacy service. Interviews with twenty-one young people (n=21), advocates (n=17), foster parents (n=2) and a carer (n=1) L3 (SU and SP testimony) 6. Dalrymple, 2002 (UK) Child protection and child welfare Advocacy Interviews with children (n=10) who had opted for an advocate at a FWC, a group meeting with four of these children, as well as a workshop with advocates (undisclosed number) L3 (SU and SP testimony) 7. Daly, 2014 (Ireland) Alternative care Attendance at meeting Interviews with young people (n=10) in care. Interviews with professionals (n=7) involved in young people’s care reviews L3 (SU and SP testimony) 8. Goldbeck et al., 2007 (Germany) Child protection and child welfare (primarily child-welfare cases) Attendance at meeting Eighty child-protection and welfare cases sampled. Cases randomly assigned to a control group (case conference as usual) and intervention group (expert-assisted case conference conducted in the absence of the child). A self-reported follow-up assessment was conducted by the caseworker six months post the case conference L4 (RCT) 9. Holland, 2001 (UK) Child protection and alternative care Recording a child’s views Analysis of written records from sixteen child-protection assessments carried out by two social work agencies, operating in the statutory and voluntary sectors, in respect of twenty-one children and sixteen social workers. Between one and four interviews with the social workers and observation of video-taped assessments with parents L3 Indicative (case-file analysis, SP testimony) Author(s)/year/country Context Process Study design and sample Level and type of evidence 1. Bell, 2011, Chapter 7 (UK) Child protection Attendance at meeting Interviews with children (n=27) L3 (SU testimony) 2. Bell, 2011, Chapter 6; Bell and Wilson, 2006 (UK) Child protection FWC and advocacy 20 FWCs sampled. Questionnaires completed by children immediately following the FWC (n=15). Interviews with children six weeks after FWC (n=9) L3 (SU testimony) 3. Boylan and Braye, 2006 (UK) Alternative care Advocacy Interviews and focus groups with children in care (n=39). Eleven had experienced the involvement of an advocate. Observation of sixteen CiC review meetings L3 (SU testimony and observation) 4. Bruce, 2014 (UK) Child protection Recording a child’s views Review of child-protection case files (n=28) in respect of ten children. Twelve months later, review of child-protection case files (n=15) in respect of eleven children L3 (case-file analysis) 5. Chase et al., 2006 (UK) Alternative care Advocacy Analysis of feedback evaluation forms from young people (n=60) who had used an advocacy service. Interviews with twenty-one young people (n=21), advocates (n=17), foster parents (n=2) and a carer (n=1) L3 (SU and SP testimony) 6. Dalrymple, 2002 (UK) Child protection and child welfare Advocacy Interviews with children (n=10) who had opted for an advocate at a FWC, a group meeting with four of these children, as well as a workshop with advocates (undisclosed number) L3 (SU and SP testimony) 7. Daly, 2014 (Ireland) Alternative care Attendance at meeting Interviews with young people (n=10) in care. Interviews with professionals (n=7) involved in young people’s care reviews L3 (SU and SP testimony) 8. Goldbeck et al., 2007 (Germany) Child protection and child welfare (primarily child-welfare cases) Attendance at meeting Eighty child-protection and welfare cases sampled. Cases randomly assigned to a control group (case conference as usual) and intervention group (expert-assisted case conference conducted in the absence of the child). A self-reported follow-up assessment was conducted by the caseworker six months post the case conference L4 (RCT) 9. Holland, 2001 (UK) Child protection and alternative care Recording a child’s views Analysis of written records from sixteen child-protection assessments carried out by two social work agencies, operating in the statutory and voluntary sectors, in respect of twenty-one children and sixteen social workers. Between one and four interviews with the social workers and observation of video-taped assessments with parents L3 Indicative (case-file analysis, SP testimony) Table 2 Quality appraisal of studies Authors Trustworthy Appropriate Relevant Overall 1 Bell, 2011, Chapter 7 Low Medium High Medium 2 Bell, 2011, Chapter 6; Bell and Wilson, 2006 Medium High High High–Medium 3 Boylan and Braye, 2006 Medium Medium Medium Medium 4 Bruce, 2014 Medium High Medium Medium–High 5 Chase et al., 2006 Medium High High High–Medium 6 Dalrymple, 2002 Medium High High High–Medium 7 Daly, 2014 Medium Medium High Medium–High 8 Goldbeck et al., 2007 High High Medium High–Medium 9 Holland, 2001 Medium High High High–Medium 10 Holland and O’Neill, 2006 High High High High 11 Hoy, 2013 High High High High 12 Jelicic et al., 2013 Medium High High High–Medium 13 Oliver et al., 2006; Knight and Oliver, 2007 Medium Medium High Medium–High 14 Morgan and Fraser, 2010 Medium High High High–Medium 15 Ney et al., 2013 Medium Medium High Medium–High 16 Roose et al., 2009 Medium High High High–Medium 17 Sanders and Mace, 2006 Medium High Medium Medium–High 18 Thomas and O’Kane, 1999 Medium High High High–Medium 19 Tregeagle and Mason, 2008 Medium High High High–Medium 20 Vis and Thomas, 2009 Medium Medium High Medium–High Authors Trustworthy Appropriate Relevant Overall 1 Bell, 2011, Chapter 7 Low Medium High Medium 2 Bell, 2011, Chapter 6; Bell and Wilson, 2006 Medium High High High–Medium 3 Boylan and Braye, 2006 Medium Medium Medium Medium 4 Bruce, 2014 Medium High Medium Medium–High 5 Chase et al., 2006 Medium High High High–Medium 6 Dalrymple, 2002 Medium High High High–Medium 7 Daly, 2014 Medium Medium High Medium–High 8 Goldbeck et al., 2007 High High Medium High–Medium 9 Holland, 2001 Medium High High High–Medium 10 Holland and O’Neill, 2006 High High High High 11 Hoy, 2013 High High High High 12 Jelicic et al., 2013 Medium High High High–Medium 13 Oliver et al., 2006; Knight and Oliver, 2007 Medium Medium High Medium–High 14 Morgan and Fraser, 2010 Medium High High High–Medium 15 Ney et al., 2013 Medium Medium High Medium–High 16 Roose et al., 2009 Medium High High High–Medium 17 Sanders and Mace, 2006 Medium High Medium Medium–High 18 Thomas and O’Kane, 1999 Medium High High High–Medium 19 Tregeagle and Mason, 2008 Medium High High High–Medium 20 Vis and Thomas, 2009 Medium Medium High Medium–High Table 2 Quality appraisal of studies Authors Trustworthy Appropriate Relevant Overall 1 Bell, 2011, Chapter 7 Low Medium High Medium 2 Bell, 2011, Chapter 6; Bell and Wilson, 2006 Medium High High High–Medium 3 Boylan and Braye, 2006 Medium Medium Medium Medium 4 Bruce, 2014 Medium High Medium Medium–High 5 Chase et al., 2006 Medium High High High–Medium 6 Dalrymple, 2002 Medium High High High–Medium 7 Daly, 2014 Medium Medium High Medium–High 8 Goldbeck et al., 2007 High High Medium High–Medium 9 Holland, 2001 Medium High High High–Medium 10 Holland and O’Neill, 2006 High High High High 11 Hoy, 2013 High High High High 12 Jelicic et al., 2013 Medium High High High–Medium 13 Oliver et al., 2006; Knight and Oliver, 2007 Medium Medium High Medium–High 14 Morgan and Fraser, 2010 Medium High High High–Medium 15 Ney et al., 2013 Medium Medium High Medium–High 16 Roose et al., 2009 Medium High High High–Medium 17 Sanders and Mace, 2006 Medium High Medium Medium–High 18 Thomas and O’Kane, 1999 Medium High High High–Medium 19 Tregeagle and Mason, 2008 Medium High High High–Medium 20 Vis and Thomas, 2009 Medium Medium High Medium–High Authors Trustworthy Appropriate Relevant Overall 1 Bell, 2011, Chapter 7 Low Medium High Medium 2 Bell, 2011, Chapter 6; Bell and Wilson, 2006 Medium High High High–Medium 3 Boylan and Braye, 2006 Medium Medium Medium Medium 4 Bruce, 2014 Medium High Medium Medium–High 5 Chase et al., 2006 Medium High High High–Medium 6 Dalrymple, 2002 Medium High High High–Medium 7 Daly, 2014 Medium Medium High Medium–High 8 Goldbeck et al., 2007 High High Medium High–Medium 9 Holland, 2001 Medium High High High–Medium 10 Holland and O’Neill, 2006 High High High High 11 Hoy, 2013 High High High High 12 Jelicic et al., 2013 Medium High High High–Medium 13 Oliver et al., 2006; Knight and Oliver, 2007 Medium Medium High Medium–High 14 Morgan and Fraser, 2010 Medium High High High–Medium 15 Ney et al., 2013 Medium Medium High Medium–High 16 Roose et al., 2009 Medium High High High–Medium 17 Sanders and Mace, 2006 Medium High Medium Medium–High 18 Thomas and O’Kane, 1999 Medium High High High–Medium 19 Tregeagle and Mason, 2008 Medium High High High–Medium 20 Vis and Thomas, 2009 Medium Medium High Medium–High Findings Included studies A total of twenty studies were included in this literature review. Most of these studies did not focus exclusively on the effectiveness of one or more of the processes under consideration in this literature review, but their findings produced relevant evidence in this regard. The studies included are primarily small qualitative studies and the level of evidence documented is mostly indicative, drawing on service-user and service-provider testimonies. The Social Care Institute for Excellence (2010) advises that research capturing the views and perspectives of service users and carers provides a vital perspective on the effectiveness of an intervention. Of the studies included, five focus on a child’s attendance at a meeting, six on recording a child’s views in writing, six on the use of advocates and four on Family Welfare Conferences (some studies provided evidence of the effectiveness of more than one process). The studies were almost evenly divided between children subject to a child-welfare or child-protection concern and children in alternative care. Almost all the studies included in this literature review focused on the participation of children aged seven to eighteen. Over half were undertaken in the UK, with the remainder from Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Norway, Canada and Australia. Quality appraisal All studies identified as meeting the inclusion criteria were appraised for quality. Common factors considered in an assessment of quality are: the trustworthiness of the study in terms of its methodological quality; the appropriateness of the research design used for both the individual study and for addressing the systematic literature review aim; and the relevance of the study to the focus of the literature review (EPPI-Centre, 2010). Using the EPPI-Centre weight-of-evidence (WoE) system developed by Dickson and Gough (2008), two reviewers independently appraised each study and assigned a high, medium or low WoE to the trustworthiness, appropriateness and relevance of the study. The reviewers subsequently discussed any discrepancies and agreed on the overall WoE by calculating the average agreed weights (Table 2). In accordance with the Social Care Institute for Excellence guidelines (2010), it was not the intention to exclude any topic-relevant studies that may have received an overall low WoE. Instead, the quality appraisal was intended to provide transparency in terms of the WoE each study yielded and to ensure that studies with a greater strength of evidence carried more weight in drawing conclusions. Narrative synthesis Process no. 1: Advocacy In this literature review, advocacy was defined as the provision of one-to-one support by an individual or a service for the purpose of enabling a child to have their voice heard. All six studies included on advocacy provide evidence that the use of advocates is effective in enabling children to participate in personal decisions regarding their care, protection or welfare (studies 2, 3, 5, 6, 12, 13). It is reported that advocates give young people the confidence to infiltrate an adult-dominated decision-making process (5) and can help to redress the power imbalances at play (2, 3, 6). They can support the child to influence the decisions taken (5, 6, 12, 13) and facilitate feedback to be provided to the child on the outcome of the process (12). The use of advocates is also found to be effective in supporting looked after children with disabilities to have their views heard (13). Importantly, in all the studies included, children testified to the value of having an advocate. Two of the studies suggest that, for an advocate to play an effective role in supporting a child’s participation, they must be independent of social work services (3, 5). Likewise, a number of other factors have been identified that influence the effectiveness of the role played by advocates. The presence of a trusting relationship between the advocate and the child is important (3, 5, 12). Study 6 found that, from the perspective of the children and the advocates, the optimum is two or three meetings if the advocacy relationship is to be meaningful and effective. Ensuring that all those involved have a clear understanding of the role of the advocate and the limits on confidentiality that the advocate adheres to is a further factor influencing the effectiveness of the service provided (3, 12). According to studies 3 and 13, it can be a challenge for the advocate to maintain the focus on the views of the child rather than having a role in ensuring decisions are made in the child’s ‘best interests’. Furthermore, it is essential that the advocate has the required skills to communicate with children of all ages, abilities and need (5, 12, 13). Process no. 2: Attendance at meetings There is some evidence that a child’s attendance at a planning or review meeting is more likely to result in their participation in decision making (8, 18, 20). Study 20 found that children were three times more likely to express a view and influence the decision in a child-protection process if they attended one meeting, ten times more likely if they attended two meetings and thirty-two times more likely if they attended three meetings (no children in the study had attended more than three meetings). While this study suggests it is important for children to attend meetings if they are to participate, these findings should be interpreted bearing in mind that the case managers convening these meetings had attended training to increase child participation approximately six months previously. In studies 7 and 11, many of the young study participants were of the view that their attendance at a meeting provided them with the opportunity to have their views heard. However, in study 1, the children interviewed were confident they had been adequately represented in child-protection conference reviews whether they were present or not, but only a small number felt they had an influence on the decision taken. In each of these studies, when children attended either assessment, planning or review meetings, the nature and circumstances of their participation were often reported as far from satisfactory. The size of the meeting, its formality and the language used were issues (1, 7, 11, 18). Children described being frightened, anxious, bored and embarrassed or exposed by the open discussion on their lives (7, 11, 18). Their participation was also influenced by the quality of their relationship with their social worker (1, 7, 11, 18), their parents’ support for the participation principle (11, 18), the degree to which the child was prepared in advance of attending a meeting and the opportunity provided to them to communicate their views (7, 11, 18). Study 1 also identified the importance of choice—choice in advance of a meeting about who their social worker was (in terms of gender and race) and choice about the circumstances of the meeting (in terms of who should attend and where it should take place). These are all factors that can influence a child’s attendance at a meeting being an effective process to realise their participation rights. Process no. 3: Family Welfare Conferences Study 1 and 11 found that Family Welfare Conferences can facilitate children’s participation in the development of a plan to address their welfare and protection needs. Study 11, a comparative study of children’s experience of participation in Family Welfare Conferences and Child Protection Conferences, found that Family Welfare Conferences offer a higher level of participation experience in part due to a better knowledge of the process and a less formal atmosphere. In study 10, the majority of children reported being able to participate in Family Welfare Conferences but they did not equate participation with being influential. Yet they were satisfied with the process from the perspective of being able to express their views. Only a small minority had a negative experience, one reason being the gap between the coordinators’ promotion of participation and the family’s adherence to this guidance once the professionals had withdrawn. Study 15 concluded that dominant child-protection discourses and institutional practices can impede the effectiveness of Family Welfare Conferences as a participatory structure. The extent to which the children are prepared in advance of the Conference (2, 10) and the quality of the relationship between the child and the social worker (11) influenced a child’s experience of participation. Process no. 4: Recording a child’s views Recording a child’s views can be interpreted broadly to include documenting their views in a written statement, picture or video clip, their completion of a child-friendly form, as well as professionals recording the views of the child in case records, investigation or progress reports for consideration by decision makers. Traditionally, the latter would appear to be the norm rather than a child’s views being directly recorded (4, 9, 17). There is evidence that, despite procedures in place for professionals to document the views of the child when writing their reports, for example in the ‘views and wishes of the child’ section, this has not been very effective in documenting the child’s authentic views and it does not necessarily correlate with the child’s views being acted upon (4, 9, 16). These studies found that, in multiple instances, a child’s views may not be reported and there is evidence that approaches adopted to record the views of the child either intentionally or unintentionally filtered their views. The studies found that the objective representation of the child’s views left it open to question whether the child’s subjective views were being recorded or whether it was the case manager’s interpretation of their views or what they thought the child would say. In addition, study 9 found that a child’s voice could be effectively silenced by social workers presenting the child’s views as biased or untrustworthy in their narrative. Study 4 found evidence of case managers recording views previously expressed by the child but that were, at the time the case was being considered, potentially out of date. Furthermore, study 17 found evidence of children’s views being recorded collectively—for example, siblings’ views being documented as a collective, rather than their individual views being recorded. Study 14 explored the effectiveness of children self-recording their views with the support of audio-computer-assisted self-interviewing (A-CASI). The study found that, while it may have been an effective means to record the children’s authentic views, there were significant inconsistencies in follow-up and it was evident that the recorded views were often not acted upon. It appears that a contributing factor was that the purpose of collating the children’s views was not entirely explicit, and the child’s use of A-CASI was at the discretion of social workers. Study 19 examined service users’ experiences of participation when subject to two standardised case-management systems. These systems use a number of ‘text-based strategies’ to support children’s participation in the decision making. These included: specific questions on the standardised forms underpinning the processes to elicit service users’ views; questions to identify impediments to service users being able to communicate their views; requirements for service users to formally approve case decisions and to sign the form; a requirement on staff to record dissent when decisions are made; a focus on the individual named child as opposed to treating them simply as part of the family or sibling group; and, in one of the systems, a ‘stand-alone’ document to help young people express their views. While there were mixed findings, the majority of the participants in the study (children and their parents) reported positive experiences of participation when subject to these case-management systems. They reported that they were supported to express a view, listened to and had their views taken into account. Discussion This review provides evidence of how effective the use of advocates, a child’s attendance at a meeting, Family Welfare Conferences and the recording of a child’s views are as processes to support the realisation of a child’s right to participate in decisions pertaining to their welfare, protection and care. The evidence available is primarily indicative, drawing on service-user and service-provider testimonies in studies that are relatively small in scale. There is also very little focus in the literature on the effectiveness of processes to enable young children to have their views taken into consideration. While bearing these limitations in mind, there is indicative evidence that the use of advocates is an effective means of supporting children’s participation. This corroborates an earlier review of the literature by Cashmore (2002), who found that, while adults tend to focus on structures or formal procedures to support a child’s participation, such as attendance at meetings, children have expressed their preference for informal procedures and for a personal relationship with a trusted advocate or mentor. Sinclair (1998) notes that children’s participation in planning their care has become synonymous with attendance at meetings. This literature review indicates that this is not necessarily so. Yet there is evidence that a child’s attendance, and particularly their attendance at more than one meeting, makes it more likely that they will participate in the process. Herein lies an important message for practice, given that the literature reveals that children’s attendance at assessment, planning and review meetings can be relatively low (O’Brien and Ahonen, 2015; Sanders and Mace, 2006; Thomas and O’Kane, 1999). While much has been written about the role and the value of Family Welfare Conferences, very limited literature was uncovered providing evidence of their effectiveness in terms of supporting children to participate in the family-led decision-making process. The review of the literature revealed some evidence that convening a Family Welfare Conference can be effective in supporting a child’s participation. However, there is limited evidence of them facilitating children to express a view and influence the outcome of the conference. In the wider literature, it is evident that, for a variety of reasons, children’s views may not be made known to those attending a Family Welfare Conference (O’Brien and Ahonen, 2015; Connolly and Masson, 2014). If a child’s views are not listened to by those present, this is a significant barrier to a Family Welfare Conference being an effective means of enabling a child to participate in decision making. When a child’s views are recorded in case records or reports and indirectly submitted to decision-making proceedings, it is evident that, for these views to be taken into account, their submission needs to be supported by good practices. Good practice includes clarity around the exact purpose of documenting these views and which meeting they are intended for. Safeguards also need to be put in place to ensure they are the child’s authentic views, which may include documenting the child’s views in their own words with the support of child-friendly forms or asking them to review and sign the records. This review of the literature illustrates that, despite efforts to support a child’s participation and processes being standardised, the realisation of a child’s right to participate can be heavily influenced by whether the conditions are conducive to facilitating the child to express a view in a safe and inclusive space and conducive to having their views listened to by those with decision-making authority. A fundamental factor is the child’s relationship with their caseworker. It is consistently reported that a positive, trusting and stable relationship is instrumental to creating a safe space for children’s participation. This is evidenced in the studies included in this literature review as well as in wider literature (van Bijleveld et al., 2015; Gallagher et al., 2012; Buckley et al., 2011; Bell, 2002; Cashmore, 2002; Munro, 2001). According to Archard and Skivenes (2009), the authentic views of the child will only emerge once a positive relationship between the child and the relevant adult has been established, and this is unlikely to occur in a single meeting. Other factors reported, influencing whether children are facilitated to express a view, are listened to and have their views acted upon as appropriate, are: the degree to which the child is adequately prepared in advance; the formality of the decision-making meeting and whether the child had an input into its planning; the professional’s communication skills; and support for the participation principle by professionals and parents. Study limitations There is a lack of uniformity in the words used to describe children’s participation within child-welfare and protection services (van Bijleveld et al., 2015). This presented a risk for this literature review that not all relevant publications would be returned with the search strategy employed. To reduce this risk, a scoping exercise was conducted to identify core terms used. These formed the basis of the search. A review of the reference lists of studies included was also an important safeguard aimed at increasing the chances of identifying any outliers. It is also acknowledged that there is a wealth of grey literature in this field, as well as solely internet-based published reports. Many services operating to address a child-welfare or child-protection concern or services for children in care are outsourced to providers in the statutory and non-statutory sectors. Evaluations of these services and the effectiveness of their participatory processes may not be published or widely available. While efforts were made to locate such publications produced in English, this review largely relies on evidence as documented in journal articles. Research gaps There is a need for further research to establish the effectiveness of processes intended to support children’s participation. Nearly all the evidence documented in this review is indicative, at level three of the Veerman and van Yperen (2007) model used to characterise the effectiveness of interventions. There is an opening for further large-scale studies to demonstrate causal evidence. Almost all the studies identified for inclusion in this literature review focused on children aged seven to eighteen. Consequently, there is a need for further research on what are effective processes to support the participation of very young children who come in contact with child-welfare, protection and alternative-care services. Conclusion This systematic literature review identified, evaluated and synthesised the available evidence on the effectiveness of processes intended to support a child’s right to participate. There is indicative evidence that the use of advocates is an effective means of supporting children’s participation as conceptualised by Lundy (2007). Advocates can facilitate children to express a view in a safe space and ensure their views are listened to and acted upon as appropriate. Overall, the findings in relation to the other processes reviewed were mixed. The formality of these processes, a lack of preparation with the child and power imbalances at play can impede them from providing children with a safe space to express a view and to have their view acted upon. When engaging in these processes reviewed, practitioners must be mindful of the need to comply with all elements of the Lundy model, namely space, voice, audience and influence, if they are to realise a child’s participation rights. While this review has been restricted to processes that support children to participate in the child-welfare, child-protection and alternative-care contexts, this study may have important learning for professionals working in the wider contexts of youth work and early-years settings. Likewise, what has been found to be effective in supporting children’s participation in youth work and other contexts may be informative for child-welfare, protection and care services. Acknowledgements This research was conducted as part of the Development and Mainstreaming Programme for Prevention, Partnership and Family Support Study, which is supported by the Atlantic Philanthropies Ireland, Galway University Foundation and the National University of Ireland, Galway. References Archard D. , Skivenes M. ( 2009 ) ‘ Hearing the child’, Child and Family Social Work , 14 ( 4 ), pp. 391 – 9 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Bell M. ( 2002 ) ‘ Promoting children’s rights through the use of relationship’, Child and Family Social Work , 7 ( 1 ), pp. 1 – 11 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Bell M. ( 2011 ) Promoting Children’s Rights in Social Work and Social Care: A Guide to Participatory Practice , London , Jessica Kingsley Publishers , Chapter 6. Bell M. , Wilson K. ( 2006 ) ‘ Children’s views of family group conferences ’, British Journal of Social Work , 36 ( 4 ), pp. 671 – 81 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Boylan J. , Braye S. ( 2006 ) ‘ Paid, professionalised and proceduralised: Can legal and policy frameworks for child advocacy give voice to children and young people? ’, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law , 28 ( 3–4 ), pp. 233 – 49 . Bruce M. ( 2014 ) ‘ The voice of the child in child protection: Whose voice?’, Social Sciences , 3 ( 3 ), pp. 514 – 26 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Bryman A. ( 2008 ) Social Research Methods , Oxford , Oxford University Press . Buckley H. , Carr N. , Whelan S. ( 2011 ) ‘“ Like walking on eggshells”: Service user views and expectations of the child protection system’, Child & Family Social Work , 16 ( 1 ), pp. 101 – 10 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Cashmore J. ( 2002 ) ‘ Promoting the participation of children and young people in care’, Child Abuse and Neglect , 26 ( 8 ), pp. 837 – 47 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed Centre for Reviews and Dissemination ( 2009 ) Systematic Reviews: CRD’s Guidance for Undertaking Reviews in Health Care , York University , Centre of Reviews and Dissemination . Chase E. , Simon A. , Wigfall V. , Warwick I. , Heathcote S. ( 2006 ) Findings from an Evaluation of the Voice Advocacy Service , London , Thomas Coram Research Unit . Connolly M. , Masson J. ( 2014 ) ‘ Private and public voices: Does family group conferencing privilege the voice of children and families in child welfare?’, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law , 36 ( 4 ), pp. 403 – 14 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Dalrymple J. ( 2002 ) ‘ Family Group Conferences and youth advocacy: The participation of children and young people in family decision making’, European Journal of Social Work , 5 ( 3 ), pp. 287 – 99 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Daly F. ( 2014 ) ‘ It’s About Me’: Young People’s Experiences of Participating in Their Care Reviews , Dublin , Empowering Children in Care . Dickson K. , Gough D. ( 2008 ) Supporting People in Accessing Meaningful Work: Recovery Approaches in Community Based Adult Mental Health Services , London , Social Care Institute for Excellence . EPPI-Centre ( 2010 ) EPPI-Centre Methods for Conducting Systematic Reviews , London , Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London . PubMed PubMed Gallagher M. , Smith M. , Hardy M. , Wilkinson H. ( 2012 ) ‘ Children and families’ involvement in social work decision making’, Children and Society , 26 ( 1 ), pp. 74 – 85 . Goldbeck L. , Laib-Koehnemund A. , Fegert J. M. ( 2007 ) ‘ A randomized controlled trial of consensus-based child abuse case management’, Child Abuse & Neglect , 31 ( 9 ), pp. 919 – 33 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed Hart R. ( 1992 ) Children’s Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship , Florence , Unicef International Child Development Centre . Holland S. ( 2001 ) ‘ Representing children in child protection assessments’, Childhood , 8 ( 3 ), pp. 322 – 39 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Holland S. , O’Neill S. ( 2006 ) ‘“ We had to be there to make sure it was what we wanted”: Enabling children’s participation in family decision-making through the family group conference’, Childhood , 13 ( 1 ), pp. 91 – 111 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Hoy M. A. ( 2013 ) ‘The participation promise of family group conferencing—theory or practice? A qualitative comparison study of children’s participation in family group conferences and child protection case conferences’, doctoral thesis, Belfast, Queen’s University. Jelicic H. , Gibb J. , La Valle I. , Payne L. ( 2013 ) Involved by Right: The Voice of the Child in the Child Protection Conferences , London , National Children’s Bureau . Kiely P. ( 2005 ) ‘The voice of the child in family group conferencing model’, in Mason J. , Fattore T. (eds), Children Taken Seriously: In Theory, Policy and Practice, London , Jessica Kingsley . Knight A. , Oliver C. ( 2007 ) ‘ Advocacy for disabled children and young people: Benefits and dilemmas’, Child and Family Social Work , 12 ( 4 ), pp. 417 – 25 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Lundy L. ( 2007 ) ‘“ Voice” is not enough: Conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child’, British Educational Research Journal , 33 ( 6 ), pp. 927 – 42 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Mason J. ( 2008 ) ‘ A children’s standpoint: Needs in out-of-home care’, Children & Society , 22 ( 5 ), pp. 358 – 69 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Morgan A. , Fraser S. ( 2010 ) ‘ Looked after young people and their social work managers: A study of contrasting experiences of using computer-assisted-self-interviewing (A-CASI)’, British Journal of Social Work , 40 ( 2 ), pp. 445 – 61 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Munro E. ( 2001 ) ‘ Empowering looked-after children ’, Child & Family Social Work , 6 ( 2 ), pp. 129 – 37 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Ney T. , Stoltz J. A. , Maloney M. ( 2013 ) ‘ Voice, power and discourse: Experiences of participants in family group conferences in the context of child protection’, Journal of Social Work , 13 ( 2 ), pp. 184 – 202 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS O’Brien V. , Ahonen H. ( 2015 ) Pathways and Outcomes: A Study of 335 Referrals to the Family Welfare Conference (FWC) Service in Dublin, 2011–2013 , Dublin , Tusla—Child and Family Agency . Oliver C. , Knight A. , Candappa M. ( 2006 ) Advocacy for Looked After Children and Children in Need , London , Report for the Department for Education and Skills. Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education . Roose R. , Mottart A. , Dejonckheere N. , Van Nijnatten C. , De Bie M. ( 2009 ) ‘ Participatory social work and report writing’, Child and Family Social Work , 14 ( 3 ), pp. 322 – 30 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Sanders R. , Mace S. ( 2006 ) ‘ Agency policy and the participation of children and young people in the child protection process’, Child Abuse Review , 15 ( 2 ), pp. 89 – 109 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Shier H. ( 2001 ) ‘ Pathways to participation: Openings, opportunities and obligations’, Children & Society , 15 ( 2 ), pp. 107 – 17 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Sinclair R. ( 1998 ) ‘ Involving children in planning their care’, Child & Family Social Work , 3 ( 2 ), pp. 137 – 42 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Social Care Institute for Excellence ( 2010 ) SCIE Systematic Research Reviews: Guidelines , London , Social Care Institute for Excellence . Thomas N. , O’Kane C. ( 1999 ) ‘ Children’s participation in reviews and planning meetings when they are looked after “in middle childhood” ’, Child and Family Social Work , 4 ( 3 ), pp. 221 – 30 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Tregeagle S. , Mason J. ( 2008 ) ‘ Service user experience of participation in child welfare case management’, Child and Family Social Work , 13 ( 4 ), pp. 391 – 401 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS van Bijleveld G. G. , Dedding C. W. M. , Bunders-Aelen J. F. G. ( 2015 ) ‘ Children’s and young people’s participation within child welfare and child protection services: A state-of-the-art review’, Child and Family Social Work , 20 ( 2 ), pp. 129 – 38 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Veerman J. W. , van Yperen T. A. ( 2007 ) ‘ Degrees of freedom and degrees of certainty: A developmental model for the establishment of evidence-based youth care’, Evaluation and Program Planning , 30 ( 2 ), pp. 212 – 21 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed Vis S. A. , Thomas N. ( 2009 ) ‘ Beyond talking—children’s participation in Norwegian care and protection cases’, European Journal of Social Work , 12 ( 2 ), pp. 155 – 68 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.

Journal

The British Journal of Social WorkOxford University Press

Published: Jan 6, 2018

There are no references for this article.

You’re reading a free preview. Subscribe to read the entire article.


DeepDyve is your
personal research library

It’s your single place to instantly
discover and read the research
that matters to you.

Enjoy affordable access to
over 18 million articles from more than
15,000 peer-reviewed journals.

All for just $49/month

Explore the DeepDyve Library

Search

Query the DeepDyve database, plus search all of PubMed and Google Scholar seamlessly

Organize

Save any article or search result from DeepDyve, PubMed, and Google Scholar... all in one place.

Access

Get unlimited, online access to over 18 million full-text articles from more than 15,000 scientific journals.

Your journals are on DeepDyve

Read from thousands of the leading scholarly journals from SpringerNature, Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford University Press and more.

All the latest content is available, no embargo periods.

See the journals in your area

DeepDyve

Freelancer

DeepDyve

Pro

Price

FREE

$49/month
$360/year

Save searches from
Google Scholar,
PubMed

Create lists to
organize your research

Export lists, citations

Read DeepDyve articles

Abstract access only

Unlimited access to over
18 million full-text articles

Print

20 pages / month

PDF Discount

20% off