Children's participation in decision-making : engaging with foster parents to explore their perceptions and attitudes
Venton, Elaine Susan
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Child participation and participation in decision-making is a phenomenon that has received much scholarly attention since the ratification of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. It is now 25 years since the UNCR was introduced and over these years participatory processes that respects children’s rights has evolved. South Africa has incorporated many international rights into the Constitution and although far from complete, child law is progressing and moving towards a framework in which children’s rights are realised. The introduction of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 was one such framework that gave rise to the rights of children to be involved in decision-making processes. The right to be involved in decision-making processes also included children who reside in alternative care/child protection. This study explored participation in decision-making within the context of a child protection environment and explored the perceptions and attitudes of foster parents, being the primary care-givers of foster children, towards child participation in decision-making. This study viewed participation in decision-making holistically and not merely from a rights perspective. The study emphasized the importance of context and socio-cultural factors that impact the realization of child participation in decision-making. Furthermore, this study viewed participation through the lens of a health promotion perspective in order to better understand the dynamics and challenges to participation in the unique environment of child protection. A qualitative research methodology was used because this approach aims to understand how people make sense of their everyday lives. It was important to understand the subjective meaning that participations had towards participation in decision-making. The researcher is of the view that participation in decision-making should not be viewed in isolation but should take into account the social context and the interaction of environmental factors that impact the life of a child. It was for this reason that Bronfenbrenner’s ecological perspective was deemed an appropriate lens in which to view participation. This perspective of Bronfenbrenner (1986) also takes into account the chronosystem which considers the accumulative affects over time that impacts an individual. Within the context of child protection this is extremely important due to the difficult life histories and accumulative effects of trauma on children who live in the context of child protection. The sample consisted of nine participants who were legally fostering children through a prominent child protection organization. Participants were mainly from female-headed households and all resided in the Hibiscus Coast and Izingolweni local municipality in the Ugu District of Kwa Zulu Natal. All participants were first language isiZulu speaking. Foster parents who were judged to be competent and experienced foster parents were identified. Participants ranged in age from 47 years to 66 years. Purposive sampling was used to identify participants that would be best able to answer the research question. Data was collected through two focus groups. The focus group discussion was around the topic of child participation in decision-making. Six pre-selected questions were identified and the participants were asked to make a creative collage that would reflect their answers to the relevant questions. As participants were isiZulu speaking an interpreter was used for the duration of the focus group discussions. Data was transcribed and thematically described by way of thematic analysis. Four main thematic categories emerged that corresponded to the six questions asked in the focus groups. The four thematic categories were: Category 1: participation in decision-making enhances a sense of belonging, connectedness and family unity. Category 2: participation in decision-making encourages inter-generational dialogue and bidirectional communication. Category 3: systemic influences that challenge participation in decision-making and 4: the influence of culture on child participation in decision-making. Although the overall attitudes and perceptions of the participants towards child participation in decision-making was positive, it emerged that there were certain challenges unique to this context of foster care and participations experienced confusion and ambiguous emotions at times regarding certain topics that they felt were inappropriate to discuss with children. Participants were of the view that they needed to be equipped with skills to enable them to be better able to communicate with their children on the more difficult life transition topics. Cultural belief systems played a large role on how participants viewed participation in decision-making. Further research is needed into participation in decision-making within the context of child protection which takes into account the socio-cultural aspects as well as the systemic factors that influence participation in decision-making. Participation in decision-making needs to be viewed as a process and not a once off event and it needs to be viewed holistically and not merely from a rights perspective which only presents with a one-sided view and fails to take into consideration culture and context.
- Humanities