In a nutshell
Yes, but with some care. Attention must be paid to ethical issues and the approach adjusted to suit the context.
One factor to consider is that a long, slow process may not be suited to an emergency setting, where protective action might need to be taken quickly. In these situations, a modified community-led approach could be applied.
For example, in northern Afghanistan in 2002, ChildFund trained local facilitators to host a child-led risk mapping. Children drew pictures of their village and identified the places and risks that were dangerous for children. Subsequently, the children presented their findings via role plays to their villages. One of the main risks involved young children falling into uncovered well holes and dying as a result.
Community members became concerned about this problem and immediately decided to address it. They identified pieces of wood that were nearby, and the used the wood to cover up the holes that had posed a threat to young children. This community action took shape in a short period of time, was conceptualized and led entirely by community people, and helped significantly to protect young children. The action was owned by the community, and local people took considerable pride in what they had accomplished. Children also felt proud, since the adults had listened to them, and their inputs had likely helped to save the lives of other children.
However, community-led approaches are not appropriate in all settings and can even cause harm.
For example, immediately following the Rwandan genocide in 1994, genocidaires controlled the camps for displaced people. If the displaced people had held collective meetings and discussions, these would likely have been seen as a form of political organizing and could have triggered violent retribution.
Given these possible tensions and different contexts, no universal checklist exists for enabling community action on behalf of children in emergency settings. Still, in most settings, including in protracted crises, it has proven useful to have a slow process of dialogue that included many different people and puts the decision-making power in the hands of local people—in other words, a community-led approach.
How to adapt this approach to different contexts
A bottom-up community-led approach is not a “silver bullet” to be used in all situations. Emergency settings in particular present significant pressures and divisions that may mean a top-down approach is more appropriate. But even in such settings, it might be possible to overlay top-down and community-led approaches.
Also see some of the other links below for more on the use of community led approaches in protracted crises.