Our new blog article, by Duncan, COTA’s Head of Programmes, looks at the importance of communication for COTA. It focuses particularly on ‘effective communication’ with children, essential if children are to participate meaningfully in the decisions that affect their lives.
Children of the Andes (COTA) is not about wealthy people in the UK sending money to help poor unfortunate children in a far off land. COTA is about children and adults in Colombia and in the UK working together and sharing what they have – time, ideas, experience, energy or money – to improve children’s lives. In order for all of us different people to work together – a child with a disability in Cali, a banker in the City of London, a social worker in Bogotá – there needs to be good communication between us all.
So COTA is obsessed with communication.
Communication between COTA and our supporters; communication between COTA in London, Bogota and Cali; communication between COTA and our partners in Colombia: all this is crucial if we are to work together effectively to defend children’s rights.
But there is one group of people who many children’s organisations have traditionally found it difficult to communicate effectively with. And these are the people who it is most important to communicate with if we are to make any difference to children’s lives: that is, children themselves.
By ‘communicate effectively’ I don’t mean adults telling children what’s good for them, or how to behave or what to think. I mean exchanging ideas, opinions and experience so that children and adults can understand each other better. Without this sort of communication, work to protect children’s rights and improve their lives is unlikely to be very effective.
It means adults can understand better what children really want and what aspects of their lives really affect their well-being. Sometimes when you ask a child what would improve his or her life, it can be very different from what you might expect. (Hint: it’s not always ‘more sweets’.)
And, of course, a good way to find out whether your efforts to improve children’s lives have worked is to ask them. What is more, good communication is essential if children are to participate meaningfully in the decisions that affect their lives.
And why is ‘participation’ important?
Well, for a start, participation is every child’s right: Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that every child, capable of forming views, has the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting him or her, and that their views must be given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity.
Exercising this right – being able to express yourself and make your views heard – is, in itself, a source of well-being. Children can learn a lot from the process of taking part in making decisions, so participation is also an important part of a child’s education and development.
So COTA wants to do all we can to ensure that we are getting communication with children right. COTA’s partners are already very skilled at talking and listening to the children they work with. But COTA wants to help make this communication even better so that children themselves can have a greater say in the work that our partners do.
Our new trustee, Julia Hayes, is an educational psychologist and child participation expert. She has been helping COTA improve our understanding of how children can be helped to express their views and take part in the decisions that affect their lives. We will be exploring these issues further with our partners over the coming year and look forward to reporting back.
In the meantime, let’s all keep talking!