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Protecting the rights of children to be heard is the key to improving wellbeing

Anna Freud has adopted the Lundy model of participation which follows four domains: space, voice, influence and audience. To unpick these four domains and learn more, we’ve asked two of our Participation Advisors and a Participation Officer to share their perspectives.


As this year’s World Mental Health Day focuses on mental health as a universal human right, at Anna Freud we want to highlight how we endeavour to embed the rights of the child themselves in our work to improve their mental wellbeing -involving them and their families in decision-making processes and practices across the organisation.

The idea of involving service users in the decision-making process, to design services that are set up to benefit them, is often a common goal. However, what needs to take place to make this a reality can often be seen as complex, time consuming and costly. But at Anna Freud, by adopting the Lundy model of participation we’re learning, that it doesn’t have to be! This framework for participation follows four domains: space, voice, influence and audience. To unpick these four domains, we’ve asked two of our Participation Advisors and a Participation Officer to share their perspectives.  

Nasreen Siddique, Youth Participation Advisor 

As a young person, it’s important for me to feel respected and treated like an equal when I’m involved in participation work. I want to feel listened to and as if my input is meaningful and will help bring about change for the better. I feel the Lundy Model helps achieve this by focusing on the human rights of a child, in particular article 12 which states that it is a child’s right to have their view heard and given due weight. I don’t think participation is about making unrealistic promises about what changes can be made or how much control a young person can have but is instead about remaining transparent with the young person and keeping them informed at every stage of the participation project. 

When creating opportunities for young people, it’s important to be accessible and not gatekeep opportunities. When considering space, keep young people informed of what opportunities are out there. I first started participation work through Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and after leaving CAMHS, I was still able to continue with participation work through the connections I made. It’s important to help young people find these connections and let them know that just because one project ends, it doesn’t mean their participation journey has to end.  A helpful way I’ve been able to find different participation opportunities is through signing up to mailing lists and newsletters. 

Professor Lundy herself explains that when supporting a young person to share their voice, they should have access to as much information as possible beforehand- this can be done by creating child-friendly versions of information. When considering voice, I think it’s vital to also facilitate other forms of communication and help young people to express themselves if they are unable to speak up. What has worked for me is being able to draw or write how I feel and being asked questions and being able to draw my responses. 

For me, the most important part of audience and influence is transparency. You must be open and honest with young people and the scope of the participation work. It’s important for young people to feel listened to and to actively consider their input and ideas. It’s important that where young people cannot reach an audience directly, a trusted adult can advocate on their behalf and share their ideas for them. Another important factor of influence is to ensure feedback is given and the young person is clear on the outcomes on the project, even if it’s not what they expected. It’s far worse to leave a young person in the dark and for them to not know what changes are starting to take place and how they influenced it. Keeping young people in the loop and informing them of what they’ve achieved with participation work can help build their confidence and make them realise their opinions do matter. 

Dina Koschorreck, Parent/Carer Participation Advisor 

Professor Lundy has emphasised that enabling participation of children is not a gift practitioners and parents generously bestow on children, but it is every child’s right to be heard and involved in decisions affecting them. She spoke about how children’s voices must be taken seriously, and practitioners need to not just listen but ensure that children’s views are reaching the relevant audience (i.e., decision makers) and secure influence (i.e., there needs to be a measurable impact). However, often this is still far from reality.  

The lack of a safe space where we feel free to express our voice is a challenge faced not only by children but also by parents. Families with children who have additional needs, who often rely on a range of services, both universal and specialised, need to keep practitioners on their side. This often leads families like mine to choose our battles when advocating for our children. Some issues remain unaddressed and therefore unrecognised. though not unimportant.  

Due to the power imbalance, I often find myself behaving more like a supplicant rather than a rights holder when interacting with practitioners. This is why the fact that the Lundy model is rights based is such a crucial aspect. The Lundy model has the potential to fundamentally shift our understanding of power dynamics between service providers and service users. Participation offers a means for my voice to be heard, empowers me and allows me to raise issues I might have avoided with professionals directly involved in my family’s care.  

Professor Lundy says, “voice is not enough.” It is important to acknowledge that many families do not even have a voice. They might lack the time or energy to engage in participation or avoid contact with practitioners due to previous negative experiences. I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I can participate. However, when engaging on low-level participation, such as responding to questionnaires, I often question the impact of my input. Who will review the results? What analysis will be conducted, which conclusions drawn and what actions will be proposed, if any? At times, feedback forms can feel more like an exercise in securing future funding than a way of improving services.   

The Lundy model, on the other hand, provides a structured, practice- and results-oriented framework for participation. When correctly applied, this approach ensures that the views of children and parents are not merely heard but acted upon, thereby facilitating meaningful improvements in services. 

Gráinne Farrell – Anna Freud Participation Officer

Mental health is a universal human right. And yet, many people face barriers to accessing mental health support. Young people and children are particularly impacted by barriers to mental health support with many feeling unheard and unseen by mental health professionals.

For me the Lundy model asks us to look at the voices in the room and to ensure that young people's voices are represented at every stage. It gives young people a seat at the table in conversations about issues that affect young people today. Their views and opinions are given due weight because their lived experience matters. By listening to their lived experiences, we are able together to better shape and design mental health support services which have a positive impact on young people's lives. It’s only by involving those who use the services that we are trying to change, do we have a chance in creating positive change.

The Lundy model also holds us accountable for ensuring those views are taken into account, given an audience and have an influence. This means involving young people in every stage of the process and keeping them informed on decision-making processes. It means treating young people with dignity and respect.

The Lundy model is really about cohesion- it's about bringing together all the people with the capacity to create change and those with lived experience of the service- to create change together.