A local government perspective on children’s civic participation: reflections on Auckland-based projects with children 12 years of age and under
de Jong, Liana Ruth
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Children’s right to participate in decision-making processes that affect them is enshrined in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC); New Zealand ratified UNCROC in 1993. As part of its commitment to adhere to the Convention, New Zealand is obliged to actively promote children’s participation by ensuring children are heard and their views are taken into account in decisions that affect them, in accordance with their age and maturity (UNCROC, 1989), including across the range of governmental settings. Local government is an important forum for engagement with children and the realisation of their rights (UNICEF New Zealand, 2010). This research reflects on children’s right to participate at the local government level in Auckland City, and from the perspective of local government officers. It explores the policy context in which this right must be realised, and Auckland Council officers’ perceptions of barriers to, and enablers of, the civic participation of children 12 years and under on matters under the responsibility of local council. The data has been drawn from Auckland-based projects undertaken up to, and including, the change to the Auckland Supercity structure - a structure which incorporates eight previously separate councils in the Auckland region into one local government body. Interviews with five council officers were conducted under the qualitative descriptive framework. A thematic analysis was completed, and findings reflecting the participants’ own voice are presented. Overall the findings show that there is much to support younger children’s participation at a local government level in terms of international law, national strategy and local policy and action plans. The interviews indicated that consultation with younger children was a positive experience for participants, and that children actively engaged. However, challenges exist in the complexity of translating children’s participatory rights to the front line of communities in the civic space in an on-going and sustainable way. Recommendations from this research centre on ensuring that UNCROC is promoted in the local community, and within Council as the framework for consultation practice. A metaphor of participatory practice is presented as a foundation for exploring the need to ensure that younger children’s right to participate at a local government level is nurtured and supported across the community (Shier, 2010b). Finally, it is offered that, given the focus on long-term policy and priorities being undertaken in Auckland City at present, this is a critical time to review and debate children’s active citizenship in Auckland.