Facilitating child participation

As the person responsible for safeguarding the best interests of the child, the guardian must help the child participate in all decision-making processes affecting him or her, ensuring that the decision-making authorities respect the child’s right to be heard and that his or her views are given due weight.

When necessary, the guardian should speak on behalf of the child and communicate the child’s views. This requires that the guardian systematically consult with the child. To help strengthen the child’s participation, the guardian should assist the child to form his or her own views by keeping him or her adequately informed of all relevant aspects, taking into consideration the child’s age and maturity 1.

Effective child participation is a key quality safeguard for a guardianship system. This should also include taking the opinion of the child into account and enabling a child to launch a complaint or consult a person of trust.

  • Child’s opinion


    The right of the child to be heard is an individual right, but also a collective right for groups of children. In practice, this means that the individual child has a right to be heard in all matters affecting them, but also that EU member states and other actors have a responsibility to listen to groups of children and their experiences, for example when planning services such as reception for unaccompanied children.

    However, participation is the exception rather than the rule in European systems for unaccompanied children. This is, firstly, the result of the responsibility for the target group often being decentralised to various agencies throughout the country, so structured feedback collection is not carried out by a single responsible actor. A second reason is the fact that the target group itself is not easily approachable because of language difficulties, cultural barriers and frequent movements. Collecting feedback is therefore more difficult than for other groups of children, for instance in regular youth care.

    At the same time, it is very important for people working with these children to involve them properly and gain insight into their circumstances, well-being, need for support, current situation and future plans. Firstly, because it enables them to work on the relationship with the child and make an effective support plan and, secondly, because it provides them with recommendations for general improvements in the care being given to the children2.

    Training and tools

    Tool: workbook for newly arrived children

    A practical tool for working with identity and belief in the future, while also providing an opportunity to practise language and learn important concepts. The workbook is available in English; Swedish and Danish.

    Other practical material for professionals working with unaccompanied children in Swedish. (Published by the Strömsund municipality, Sweden.)

    Tool to support the collection of children’s views on protection and reception services

    Since 2009, Nidos in the Netherlands has incorporated the outcomes of academic research into policy changes aimed at increasing opportunities for unaccompanied children and promoting their best interests. This research is conducted annually through semi-structured interviews supplemented by international questionnaires on well-being, students interviewing children as semi-peers, group discussion methodologies such as the World Café, evaluation sheets, and cultural sensitivity interview training for guardians.

    The different instruments are described in a tool (2014) to help collect children’s views on protection and reception services. The tool can be used by guardians, social workers, daily carers or any other professionals working with unaccompanied children. You can find the tool here.

    Tool to evaluate guardianship services

    Nidos in the Netherlands has developed an evaluation sheet that can be filled in by the child at the end of guardianship. You can find the tool here.

    Training manual on realising children’s rights

    SOS Children’s Villages International has developed the training manual Realising Children’s Rights’ (2015) for care professionals working with children in alternative care. The manual is available here.

    Tool to support child participation

    The project Alone in Finland (Yksin Suomessa) has produced material in Finnish about supporting child participation, including checklists, tools and games. You can find the tool here.

    Good practices


    The Finnish Red Cross supports former unaccompanied children who have been granted residence permits. Their Young Influencers Team discusses issues they find important and collects the opinions of their peers. They show them their own potential and possibilities for action, encourage and support them and make sure that they are heard in various contexts (media, research, public talks). They also raise the awareness of decision-makers regarding the difficulties unaccompanied children experience during their integration process. The Red Cross staff help the Young Influencers Team by facilitating their access to venues where they can convey their message.

  • Complaints


    Effective child participation is a key quality safeguard for a guardianship system. This should also include the possibility for a child to launch a complaint. It is very important for a guardian to explain to children how they can submit a complaint if they are really not satisfied about something.


    In the Netherlands, guardianship institutions are obliged by law to establish an independent complaints procedure. A complaints commission is made up of at least three independent people who are not employed by the organisation itself. The procedure for launching a complaint against Nidos (the national guardianship institution for unaccompanied children in the Netherlands) is available here (in Dutch, French, Portuguese, Arabic and Somali).

    Information for Finnish guardians on the possibilities for unaccompanied children to make a complaint in the asylum seeking phase is available (in Finnish) here. For unaccompanied children in their integration phase, this information can be found here.

    In Greece, unaccompanied children who want to launch a complaint have the right to complain to the Public Prosecutor.

    Good practices

    The Netherlands

    Nidos seeks to promote and facilitate child participation in the monitoring and evaluation of guardianship services. Children are given the opportunity to express their opinions in different ways:

    • they talk about their experiences and express their views in meetings and surveys on their welfare, organised annually;
    • at the end of a guardianship period, they complete an evaluation form on the performance of their guardian and the implementation of their individual plan;
    • they have the opportunity to issue complaints against their guardians if their rights are violated or they feel that their needs are not met.

    To ensure that children are adequately informed and to facilitate child participation, Nidos has developed an introduction leaflet which contains all relevant information on guardianship, including the complaint procedure. Information is provided in the children’s national languages3.

    In 2016, Nidos also started to use cultural mediators. This has proved to be very helpful. Nidos will be developing an education programme on cultural mediation (in Dutch) in 2018-2020.

  • Person of trust

    If children do not feel safe, for example at school or at home, it’s important for them to be able to confide in someone and talk about their fears. As a guardian, it’s important for you to explain to them that they should talk to a person they trust. This can be someone in their network, their guardian or anyone else they know.