Effective student councils in second-level schools, is cited in Towards 2016, as a key innovative Government measure. In 2009, the DCYA entered into a formal partnership with the Department of Education and Skills to support the effective development of student councils and to oversee the running of the student council support service. This support service was the main recommendation of the final report of the Student Council Working Group (2003-2005), which was established, chaired and managed by the DCYA.
Eleven second-level students, aged between 13 and 17 years, were members of this Government Working Group, which in 2003 marked a milestone in public policy-making. On behalf of this Working Group, the DCYA produced research on student councils and the first-ever student council resource pack and diary, which continue to be in strong annual demand by schools.
During 2007, the DCYA established the Inclusion Programme to develop best practice in participation, by providing new opportunities for seldom-heard young people to become involved in decision-making structures. This decision was taken in recognition of the difficulties often faced by seldom-heard young people in effectively taking part in Comhairle na nÓg or other decision-making forums for young people.
The aim of the programme was:
- to provide meaningful participative experiences for the young people involved in the programme; and
- to identify good practice in enabling seldom-heard young people to take part in decision-making structures and processes.
Seven organisations, which work with seldom-heard young people, were funded over a two-year period to support the involvement of a number of young people in the DCYA Children and Young People's Forum (CYPF), Comhairle na nÓg and other programmes or projects that involve children/young people in decision-making.
The funded organisations were:
- Belong To
- FDYS Youth Work Ireland
- Irish Wheelchair Association
- Irish Association of Young People in Care
- Inclusion Ireland
- Pavee Point
The DCYA has captured the learning from this programme (2007 – 2009) through an independent evaluation, which highlights the benefits accrued from the programme, but identifies considerable challenges in providing relevant participation opportunities to seldom heard children.
In order to address the findings of the evaluation and build on the work of this programme, the DCYA commissioned research in January 2011 comprising of a literature review and identification of good practice in the field of participation of seldom heard children and young people relevant to the Irish context. This research will include participation of key groups such as Travellers, children and young people with disabilities and children and young people from disadvantaged/vulnerable backgrounds/communities.
The DCYA Children and Young People’s Forum (CYPF) was established in 2004 as a reference panel:
• to advise the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the DCYA on issues of concern to children and young people;and
• to undertake projects or activity at the behest of the Minister or the DCYA in pursuing issues or initiatives that require an input from young people
There are 35 young people on the Forum aged 12 – 18 years, from all parts of the country. They are nominated to the CYPF through Comhairle na nÓg and organisations representing seldom-heard children/young people. Approximately 30% of the members of the Forum are nominated through organisations that represent children and young people living in the care of the State, young Travellers, children and young people from disadvantaged communities, children and young people with disabilities, gay and lesbian young people and other seldom-heard young people.
The CYPF has been an invaluable resource to the DCYA. The members have been consulted on, or been involved in many initiatives including:
- The design and content of the national recreation policy;
- The development of student council resources;
- Tender evaluation committees for relevant projects;
- Health service provision for teenagers;
- The Mid Term Review of the National Children's Strategy;
- The development of child and youth-friendly versions of the United Nations; Convention on the Rights of the Child;
- Supporting national consultations with teenagers on alcohol misuse and mental health;
- Working with transport providers on reduced fares for 16 and 17 year-olds; and
- Working on homophobic bullying.
The DCYA Children and Young People’s Participation Partnership Committee oversaw implementation of the Comhairle na nÓg two-year development plan (2009-2011). The committee was comprised of representatives of the DCYA, the Department of Environment and Local Government, the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Arts Sports and Tourism, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, the student council support service, the HSE, the youth sector (National Youth Council of Ireland, Foróige, Youth Work Ireland and other youth organisations), City and County Development Boards, young people and other key stakeholders.
The committee successfully completed the work in March 2011. New structures to oversee implementation of effective participation in decision-making for children and young people will be established in 2012, under the new National Children and Young People’s Policy Framework (2012-2017).