Exercising caution when eliciting young children’s ‘voice’

Martina Street, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK (

Background: The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child has been praised for raising the profile of children’s rights. However, participation, especially of young children, is said to be the least well developed in practice, and methods of eliciting children’s voice are crucial to this endeavour.

Aim: This paper aims to question and broaden the means by which children’s voices may be heard.

Method: Semi-structured interviews with seven mothers living in one of the most economically disadvantaged areas in a northern English city were conducted as part of a small-scale qualitative study about young children’s well-being in low-income areas.

Results: Findings highlight the potential pitfalls of separating out children’s rights from human rights agendas, which may also serve to separate and abstract children from their social and material contexts.  Eliciting children’s voice(s) alone may potentially misrecognise children’s ‘mutualities of being’, and that their well-being is interdependent with their social, material, temporal and spatial contexts.

Conclusions: The findings suggest that eliciting young children’s voice(s) necessitates the inclusion of other voices, past and present from the socio-cultural contexts in which they are entangled and from which they are hewn.

Implications for children: You have a right to be involved in decisions that affect you and for your voice to be heard by grown-ups, but grown-ups must also pay attention to the voices of other people in your family and neighbourhood.

Implications for families: Your children have a right to be involved in decisions that affect them, and to have their views taken seriously. However, their views must be understood in relation to yours, and that of their significant others and their communities. This is a very tricky balancing act, and it may not always be possible to reach agreement.

Implications for practitioners: It is important for young children’s well-being that you provide them with opportunities to express their views and to treat these views with respect. However, it is also important that you recognise that children’s well-being is interdependent with their m/others and their contexts, and that these must be respected and well-resourced to support all their well-beings.

Key words: children’s voices, families’ voices, professionals’ voices, wellbeing, vulnerable communities, qualitative methods

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: