As a signatory to two key United Nations documents, New Zealand must take into account the perspectives of children with disabilities in the development of policy and law that affects them. To assist with the process of hearing from such children the Ministry of Social Development requested the Donald Beasley Institute (DBI) to develop a practical resource. In the development of that resource it became clear that policy developers could lever off a number of resources currently on the websites of the Children’s Commissioner, Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Youth Development and the Ministry of Health. These departments have guidelines that address consultation with either children or disabled adults, as outlined in subsequent pages. The DBI contribution draws on these documents alongside the literature that addresses children with disabilities’ participation in planning and decision-making.
To provide context to the summary of points to consider when seeking the participation of children with disabilities, the relevant components of the United Nations Conventions are outlined, followed by an overview of the response that New Zealand has already made. Throughout the document the words “child” or “children” imply young people up to the age of eighteen, in keeping with the major United Nations Conventions. The terms “young people” or “youth” will be used when that is how they are referred to in the source of the information. The term “children with disabilities” also aligns with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and is utilised in this document for that reason and because it prioritises their child status.
Crucial to the adoption of meaningful strategies is to hear from children with disabilities about whether or not they need to be provided with opportunities that are beyond those available to all children. We will argue that they do but also that they should not be omitted from strategies open to all. Expert opinion and research is drawn upon to identify important issues for consideration when engaging in participatory approaches with children with disabilities. Specific strategies or tools used to elicit the knowledge and opinions of children with disabilities are outlined, followed by ethical considerations. The document concludes with recommendations for seeking the input of children with disabilities into research and policy advice.
While the term ‘voice’ is used throughout this document, it should not be taken to mean the spoken voice alone. For children with disabilities’ opinions can be sought using a variety of communication strategies and the use of the term ‘voice’ can cloud the reality (Tisdall, 2012).
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