'Inclusion is a process of identifying, understanding and breaking down barriers to participation and belonging' - Early Childhood Forum (2003)
In an inclusive setting an important principle is that all stakeholders have a voice and are listened to. However, in our preoccupation with planning and outcomes, it is the voices of the children themselves that are often neglected.
The right for children to have a say in matters that concern them is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: Article 12, which states that every child has the right to express their views freely - about everything that affects them. Recently the Childcare Act 2006 has placed a duty on local authorities to take into account children's views of the services they receive.
Listening to children is a vital part of establishing respectful relationships. It can make an enormous difference to how children feel about themselves, as well as helping practitioners by providing insights into children's priorities, interests and concerns.
To be effective we need to view listening as an active process not limited to the spoken word. It can involve painting, drama, photographs, sensory walks and a host of other activities. It is not just about receiving information but how we interpret and respond to it, too. Sensitive use of observation strategies may also be necessary to tune in to what children are communicating.
When there are communication difficulties, the process may involve a high level of interpretation on behalf of the listener. This raises ethical issues which need to be taken into account as part of the process of listening and consultation.
It is important to allow for the emergence of differences of perspective and opinion, to be honest about them and be willing to negotiate.
All young children need careful guidance, so find out what the children need to know in order to make an informed decision and provide the relevant information. Parents should be kept informed and can contribute information about how the individual child communicates.