You should always obtain the consent of children and young people to participate in organisational decision making at any level.
Valid consent rests on the following core principles.
Consent must be informed
Children and young people must have the capacity to understand the situation and the consequences of taking part. They should be provided with comprehensive information about the project that is clear and understandable.
Consent must be voluntary
This can be difficult to achieve given the nature of power relations between children and adults. Organisations that seek to recruit children and young people through schools should be particularly mindful of this, given that it is typically compulsory for students to comply with adult requests in the school environment. A child or young person’s refusal to participate should always be respected.
Consent must be current and renegotiable
Consent must be checked regularly throughout a project since a child or young person’s relevant circumstances or views may change over time. Children and young people should know that they are free to withdraw from a project at any time.
People have the legal capacity to consent if they have the mental ability and maturity to understand the nature and effect of what they are consenting to. Age is a relevant, but not decisive, factor in assessing this (Youth Affairs Council of Victoria, 2004).
However, when seeking to involve the participation of children and young people under the age of 16 years, your organisation generally should obtain the permission of an adult who has legal responsibility for the child or young person, such as a parent, carer or government official.
Often the age where consent is required will vary according to the particular young person and the nature and environment of the particular project. For example, organisations recruiting children and young people through schools will need to obtain parental consent in addition to children and young people’s consent regardless of the age of the children and young people. There may be instances where seeking parental consent is inappropriate and/or offers no protection, such as when parents are neglectful or abusive (Spriggs, 2010). If parental consent is sought, children and young people should be informed and consulted about participation in a way that facilitates them making a choice separate from that made by their parents or carers.