At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, children and youth were facing unprecedented challenges caused by quarantine measures and school closure policies in nearly every country in the world. At the same time these challenges emerged, child-focused organizations found it harder than ever to communicate with children, needing to adapt their methods of hearing children’s voices and ensuring children’s participation to virtual and physically distanced realities. These adaptations are seemingly harder for adults and their organizations than for children, who are creative, innovative, and tech-savvy. Despite the COVID-19 challenges, children around the world have found meaningful ways to support and protect their peers, families, and communities. Children are on the frontlines of innovative responses and are working closely with their adult allies. The leadership demonstrated through these child-adult partnerships is the underlying inspiration for this guide.
Although the limitations of promoting children’s participation during COVID-19 are strong, child rights and child protection organizations that serve children should also have an obligation to engage with children. This engagement, which is likely to begin as consultation, will help organizations understand children’s realities and adapt their programs, services, and supports to their expressed needs. Clearly, with the new limitations that COVID-19 have created—including restrictions on group gatherings, adaptations or closures of school environments, and significant increases in the amount of time children spend in their households—should lead us to reflect seriously about the ethics of engaging with children in this time. How is it best for adult-led organizations to reach out to children? Who should do so, and how can they do so safely? This guide provides some guidance on those questions and links to additional resources.
But for all of the challenges, adults whose work is child-focused can and should promote children’s participation, even during COVID-19. Child participation is not only possible but is already happening; throughout this guide, you will read about numerous examples of child-led and child-centric initiatives that have emerged as the COVID-19 pandemic has spread around the world.
This guide has been designed so that you can begin with quick tips and tools to start engaging with children immediately—either with tools that this guide provides or with proposed adaptations to tools that you used before the arrival of COVID-19. We hope, however, that you will also consider going deeper and seek to foster more meaningful child participation and, ultimately, child leadership in your programs. The latter sections of this guide help those who have found quick tips and tools to be useful to engage in deeper reflection and action about how they can practically center children’s voices and leadership in their work.
Although the limitations of promoting children’s participation during COVID-19 are strong, child-led and child-centric initiatives have emerged as the pandemic has spread around the world. To highlight some of the creative examples, we launched the 'Spotlight Series: Children as Leaders and Partners in COVID-19'. Below you will find short videos that shine a light on creative examples of child-led initiatives during COVID-19. All videos are available with English, Arabic, French, and Spanish captions.
The first video in our series spotlights Zaina, a 16-year-old teen from Gaza who designed a phone application on her own. She provides us with reflections about how organizations could partner with young leaders like herself.
The second video in our Spotlight Series highlights Artolution Colombia's work centering child participation in their programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local teaching artists and young community leaders who coordinate Artolution’s programs describe their approach to participatory community art projects where children and young people collaborate on public art to convey their shared narratives. Artolution has adapted to pandemic challenges by leading creative virtual projects where children across different countries can connect.
The third video in our Spotlight Series features a Search for Common Ground (SFCG) initiative in South Sudan. SFCG's Youth Talk Project trains and empowers young journalists in Mali, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan to lead discussions around conflict resolution and come up with "win-win" solutions, as student journalist Huda describes in this spotlight video. SFCG's media reach has allowed them to overcome challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and continue engaging young people in South Sudan through their radio program. A core mission of SFCG is to amplify young voices by empowering youth to lead discussions on local issues.
The fourth and final video in our series features Mouvement Africain des Enfants et Jeunes Travailleurs (MAEJT), a youth-led, grassroots network operating across 27 African countries. MAEJT supports young migrants and working children to promote and strengthen their rights. Young members of MAEJT share their personal stories highlighting the ways in which the organization has supported their skill development and given them opportunities to take on leadership roles in their communities. MAEJT's grassroots structure has allowed them to continue engaging children and youth throughout the pandemic and has even given youth a platform to educate their communities about COVID-19.
After a set of orientation sessions, personal and organizational reflections and online trainings with the CPC Learning Network, IICRD, and the CP AoR in May of 2021, the Colombian Red Cross piloted two rapid tools, one long tool, and an adapted tool from the Children as Partners Guide with five groups of children and youth in four communities throughout Colombia.
To accompany the guide, there is a shared Dropbox folder of resources, guides, and ideas for child participation during COVID-19. An annotated bibliography of over 100 resources that are a sample of the larger folder can be found among the resource files below.
The AfriChild Centre in Uganda piloted three tools in several sites, including one virtual tool.
The Lessons Learned brief from a Child Participation Project with the AfriChild Centre in Uganda can be found among the resource files below.
Children as Partners in Child Protection in COVID-19: Full Guide in Spanish
Children as Partners in Child Protection in COVID-19: Full Guide in French
Children as Partners in Child Protection in COVID-19: Full Guide in Arabic
Lessons Learned Brief in Spanish