The Right of the Young

Dr Elaine Au (right) and Dr Anna Hui, Associate Professors of the Department of Applied Social Sciences of CityU announced the research findings on “The awareness and practice of teachers and social workers on the Participation Rights of Children”.

(From left to right) Dr Elaine AU of CityU, Ms Maria CHEUNG of New World Development Company Limited, Mrs Priscilla LUI, BBS of Hong Kong Committee on Children's Rights, Ms FONG Yuk-chi of St. Matthew's Lutheran School (Sau Mau Ping), Ms Blondi KWOK of Playright Children's Play Association, Mrs LAI WONG Suet-wing of Hong Kong Family Welfare Society, Ms Elaine CHENG of YiDian (International) Education, Dr Anna HUI of CityU.

Children’s right to be heard, otherwise known as their right to participation, is one of the basics stipulated by the relevant UN convention. However, the precise meaning and application in different settings such as home, school and the community have rarely been discussed and explored.

Currently, there is insufficient data on how teachers and social workers see children’s rights and how they promote them in practice. Therefore, the Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights (HKCCR), with sponsorship from the New World Group Charity Foundation, has initiated a project entitled “New World made by KIDS”. By means of research, training workshops and producing a guidebook, the aim is to promote children’s right to participation in the community.

HKCCR entrusted the research aspect to the Department of Applied Social Sciences at City University of Hong Kong (CityU). One key objective was to investigate the awareness and understanding of children’s right to participation among teachers and social workers in Hong Kong. The other was to identify good practices in promoting child participation in schools and NGOs. The study was conducted between February and September 2016. The research team consisted of Dr AU LIU Suk-ching Elaine, Dr HUI Nana Anna, Dr LAM Hing-po Sally and Dr Diego BUSIOL.

In Study One, a total of 331 teachers and 99 registered social workers replied to a questionnaire. The majority of respondents (90%) claimed to know about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, 82% had received no professional training on the implementation of children’s right to participation. And almost two-thirds (62%) admitted to not fully understanding the concept. Over 60% of respondents said their workplace provided no clear definition of child participation or guidelines on promoting related rights.

In Study Two, nine focus group interviews were conducted with a total of 37 participants. These included seven teachers from primary schools and three from secondary schools; seven social workers or professionals from child-related NGOs; and 12 primary school students plus a further eight from secondary schools.

Dr Hui Na-na Anna, Associate Professor of the Department of Applied Social Sciences at CityU, pointed out that social workers were found to be more familiar than teachers with the concept of children’s right to participation. They were also more active in seeking to inform children - and communities –about their rights and how to exercise them. Social workers saw respect for children’s right as a step towards personal and community development. Teachers, though, were concerned that promoting children’s rights might generate more confusion and conflict for individuals.

In addition, social workers were more likely than teachers to accept children’s views regarding the design and implementation of services and activities.

The research also revealed that children are not used to talking about their own rights. Indeed, one social worker noted that, when talking to children about their rights during weekly school assemblies, they often ask what rights they have and if it is appropriate to talk about this topic. Activities which encourage discussion make them more aware of the subject and inspire them to think more deeply.

Based on results and observations from the study, four recommendations can help to promote children’s participation in Hong Kong. Firstly, as in many other places, a Children’s Commission should be set up to let children make their voices heard in a focused, structured way. Secondly, education about children’s rights should become an integral part of the school curriculum as soon as possible. This would also allow youngsters to take a more active role in learning and to understand their role as respectful and responsible citizens.

Thirdly, the Convention on the Rights of the Child should be part of the training of pre-service and in-service professionals in child-related jobs. In particular, that applies to teachers and social workers. Lastly, it is important to share good practices which encourage and implement child participation in meaningful ways.

To this end, Adult First? was officially launched after the research findings were announced. It serves as a guidebook with handy tips, information about international standards, and real-life stories to help professionals learn about children’s right to participation and how to hear their voice more clearly. The HKCCR is also planning to organise a series of workshops in the second half of the year to offer further practical advice on listening to children and encouraging them to speak up.