Respecting a child’s sense of agency and belonging

As babies and young children grow and develop a sense of agency, they realise that they can contribute to and make their own decisions and control their own lives. A child’s sense of agency is essential to a strong sense of identity3 and has been identified as a foundation for learning and wellbeing.2

So, what is agency?

Having agency means “being able to make choices and decisions to influence events and to have an impact on one’s world.”1

The National Quality Framework (NQF) and National Quality Standards (NQS) specifically highlight a child’s sense of agency as a key concept to a child’s development5.

  • NQF Outcome 1.2—Children develop their autonomy, interdependence, resilience and sense of agency.
  • NQS element 1.1.6—Each child’s agency is promoted, enabling them to make choices and decisions and to influence events and their world.

Making space for a child’s sense of agency to be expressed is actively encouraged and discussed in the approved learning frameworks.  Enable children to be involved in genuine decision-making by providing them with opportunities to decide what they’ll do and how they’ll do it.

A young girl exercising her sense of agency by choosing to play a triangle rather than a xylophone

A child’s sense of agency in the early years is very much linked to a sense of belonging

This sense of belonging thrives when a child has trust in the adults and carers/educators around them and the environment in which they are cared for (NQS Standard 5.1—Relationships between educators and children).5

Developing such a trusting bond with infants and children is vital and when we listen with respect to children’s voices, words and ideas, we enhance this trust, showing them that they are heard.

Listening deeply, being present and being willing to see the world through the eyes of the child are just some ways of respecting a child’s sense of agency. 

All early years educators have a critical role in developing this sense of agency and belonging in children.


  1. Early Years Learning Framework V2.0 p.64
  2. PROMOTING CHILDREN’S AGENCY IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION: Angela MASHFORD-SCOTT* & Amelia CHURCH**Novitas-ROYAL (Research on Youth and Language), 2011, 5 (1), 15-38.
  4. EYLF Postcards—Thinking about the EYLF—Thoughts to inspire.
  5. Guide to the NQF