Key Learnings from the PEER Project. A Combined Research Paper

Beremenyi, Balint Abel, Larkins, Cath orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-2999-6916, Percy-Smith, Barry and Roth, Maria (2017) Key Learnings from the PEER Project. A Combined Research Paper. Project Report. Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB).

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The inclusion of participation rights in the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) promotes the right, independent of age, for all citizens to actively ex- press their opinion and take part in decisions regarding all aspects of their lives. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNComRC), the Council of Europe’s strategy for Building a Europe for and with Children, as well as their 2012 Recommendation on the Participation of Children and Young People Under the Age of 18 underline the importance of the right and have developed guidance on how to encourage and empower children to participate. For many children in European societies there is a growing pool of opportunities not only to take part in education, health care, entertainment, sports and culture, but also to become actors who influence such settings at strategic as well as interpersonal levels (Davey, Burke, and Shaw 2010).
The extent of child and youth participation varies between countries and according to social and minority status, not all having equal chances to participate (Lundy and Stalford 2013; Lansdown 2011). According to the Youth Report 2012 (European Union 2012) data, youth who are most likely to not participate in any organizational form come from Cyprus (67%), Lithuania and Hungary (both 63%), followed by Romania (60%) (EC - DG Education and Culture 2013, 10; ECORYS 2015). Children from low social economic status families and ethnic minorities, especially Roma, have a much lower level of participation. Al- though progress has been made in some countries, Roma and Traveller children and youth are mostly overlooked, due not only to their age, but also to their social economic status and ethnic prejudices (Schuurman 2012; Sykora 2012). In countries like Romania, Bulgaria and Lithuania, many Roma children cumulate social disadvantages, such as growing up in poverty, in social and spatial marginalized areas, with limited access to good quality education, barriers to adequate health care, etc., which reduce their chances to influence formal processes and decisions that affect them.
Although widely recognised as fundamental, child and youth participation rights are hardly addressed through National Roma Strategies or youth policies (Schuurman 2012). Roma minority ethnics, including children are seen as passive beneficiaries of social policies and interventions, often not tailored according to their needs or worse, built on existing stereotypes. For marginalised children and young people in particular, their right to participate and act as citizens and equal stakeholders needs to be fostered through both research and action (Larkins 2016).
In this context, with funding from an EU Fundamental Rights and Citizenship grant (JUST/2013/FRAC/AG/6230), a consortium of universities, research institutions and NGOs working with Roma children and young people established a participatory action project called PEER1 (Participation and Empowerment Experiences for Roma youth). Following the Youth participation in Development Guide

1 The consortium was coordinated by Dr Prof Maria Roth (Babes- Bolyai University) and the lead researcher was Dr Cath Larkins, University of Central Lancashire. The content of this paper does not reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the manual lies entirely with the authors. Reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged. ©European Union, 2016

(DFID-CSO Youth Working Group 2010) one of our key operating concepts was the three lens approach to youth participation: in order for services to work with children as beneficiaries, workers have to engage with them as partners and support youth to become leaders.
In this research paper we describe the aims, general approach and activities of the PEER project. We outline the diverse contexts in which we worked. We then provide an over- view of the key learning from the project. We conclude that Roma children and young people, in order to exercise their right to participate as citizens, will readily engage in participation opportunities whenever they can take an informal and flexible approach to engage with them on issues that they choose and that have direct relevance to their own lives, and whenever structural, institutional and expert support is available to them.

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