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Press Release: New Research: Opportunity for children to influence and have their say online

New Research: Opportunity for children to influence and have their say online

TU Dublin and the Ombudsman for Children’s Office

Digital Voices: Progressing children’s right to be heard through social and digital media is new research carried out by the Technological University Dublin for the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO). Digital Voices investigates opportunities to mobilise social and digital media to diversify how children can be heard by public policy makers, decision-makers and service providers.

To date, the OCO’s work on children’s rights in the digital environment has largely focused on children’s safety and protection – a vitally important issue. However, as the significance of the digital environment for children continues to grow, we wanted to examine how children’s right to be heard can be progressed through social and digital media, especially in the context of public decision-making.

Like so many other organisations, the OCO has relied heavily on digital technologies during the Covid-19 pandemic. The past year has solidified the importance of digital and social media to communicate, entertain, stay informed, and to educate.  Digital Voices looks at the barriers to mobilising social and digital media to advance children’s right to be heard in decision-making, and at how these barriers can be overcome. It highlights good practice and makes recommendations on core actions to advance the use of social and digital media as ways for children to express their views and be heard by public bodies in Ireland.

Digital Voices involved a consultation with 155 young people aged 8 to 17, as well interviews with civil and public servants, youth workers, NGO representatives, educators and industry specialists.

Children who took part talked about the wide range of benefits that social and digital media bring. In particular, they highlighted “Communication and being in touch” and “The internet as an Information Space”. They recognise the barriers and challenges in the digital environment, including cyberbullying and unwanted communications. Overall however, they are confident about their ability to express themselves online and believe the internet is a good place for young people’s voices to be heard.

“Young people don’t see an offline and online world that perhaps adults might. It’s just one world for young people so it’s where young people are at and it’s vital then for the youth sector and the youth workers to meet young people where they’re at.”(Youth Organisation).

Professor Brian O’Neill who led the TU Dublin research team said:

“We were delighted to have the opportunity to work with the OCO on this very important initiative.  Digital Voices is about bringing a new perspective to children and young people’s involvement in public decision-making.  The young people and the many professionals we consulted were convinced that there is a huge opportunity for us here to mobilise youth voices in a very positive way through their digital participation. ”

Valeria Setti, European Commission Coordinator for the Rights of the Child and keynote speaker for the Digital Voices webinar continued:

Digital Voices confirms what the 10,000 children who contributed to the new EU Strategy on the rights of the child told us: that they are active citizens and that social and digital platforms can be a key instrument to achieve greater participation.

“There is a political momentum for bringing the participation of children in democratic and political life to the next level. In 2022, the European Commission will launch a new EU Children’s Participation Platform, and the outcome of the Digital Voices research will certainly help inform our decisions”.

Digital Voices suggests a number of action points to mobilise social and digital media:

  • Convene a Digital Participation Expert Group
  • Develop a Charter for Children and Young People’s Digital Participation
  • Develop a Digital Participation Toolkit
  • Establish a dedicated Digital Participation Space
  • Initiate demonstrator projects to pilot new and innovative forms participation in decision-making processes.

The Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon said the research and recommendations are a call to action for stakeholders and Government when it comes to protecting children’s rights online. Niall continued:

“Taking this agenda forward will require leadership, collaboration and coordination. Digital Voices presents all of us who have a responsibility to advance the realisation of children’s right to be heard with a stimulating opportunity to diversify how we fulfil this responsibility.”


Notes to editors

  • Children’s right to be heard is a fundamental right set out under Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Ireland ratified in 1992.
  • The Digital Voices webinar will take place on Thursday 23rd September from 11am to 1pm.


Speakers include:

  • Philip Jaffé, Vice-Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
  • Regina Jensdottir, Head of the Council of Europe’s Children’s Rights Division and Council Coordinator for the Rights of the Child
  • Valeria Setti, European Commission Coordinator for the Rights of the Child
  • Professor Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology, Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics
  • Professor Pat Dolan, Director of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, NUI Galway
  • Jane McGarrigle,
  • Sabrina Vorbau, European Schoolnet Digital Citizenship Team
  • Emer Neville, ISSU President
  • Professor Brian O’Neill, TU Dublin