We believe that engaging with children and young people, and often their families and communities too, in decisions about their lives improves things for everybody.
It’s the right thing to do
- The right of a child or young person to be heard is included in the UN Convention of Rights Article 12 – a right to an opinion and for it to be listened to and taken seriously.
- The Children’s Act 2004 emphasises the importance of speaking to the child or young person as part of any assessment.
- The importance of speaking to children and young people and their families and gathering their views has been consistently highlighted in lessons learned from serious case reviews.
- The principles that the Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND) Code of Practice works to ensure that SEND provision has regard to the views, wishes and feelings of the child or young person and their parent/carers, the importance of the child or young person participating as fully as possible in decisions, and the need to support the child or young person and their parent/carers to help them achieve the best possible educational and other outcomes.
It gives a different perspective
There is a danger that only the most motivated groups, powerful people, strongest opinions or loudest voices are heard or considered. Decision makers should involve everyone with an interest, especially those individuals and communities including children and young people and, especially those at risk of marginalisation whose voices are more seldom included. Without a full range of perspectives, decisions may be unfairly balanced in favour of certain groups – or may unwittingly create barriers for others.
Benefits to children and young people
Participation can help children and young people and their families to:
- develop important and useful skills and feel valued and included
- have a real say in shaping their own lives
- have opportunities to achieve accredited training
- get services that can meet their changing needs and hopes
- have opportunities to share their views
- be valued in their communities
- get better and more relevant services
- be seen as and valued as citizens
- feel better about themselves, and their abilities
- build on existing skills and develop new ones
- the good things that children and young people and their families do are shared.
Testimonials from children, young people and their families
- ‘Knowing that I make a difference‘ – male, 16 years, Somerset Youth Forum
- ‘Having a voice and chatting with everyone’ – female, 16 years, Somerset Youth Forum
- ‘Building life skills, developing communication, teamwork, critical thinking and feeling like I’m making a difference; genuine changes have happened as a result of our actions’ – male, 18 years, Somerset Youth Forum
- ‘The things I like about Youth Forum are the subjects that we cover and discuss. How everyone is open to new ideas and are respectful and listen. That the forum is a safe environment to share.’ – female, 15 years, Somerset Youth Forum
- ‘Meeting new people and finding out their opinions on things’ – female, 17 years, Somerset Youth Forum
- ‘Meeting new people and feeling that my opinion is important’ – female, 12 years, Somerset Youth Forum
- ‘Being able to make a difference and being heard’ – male, 11 years, Somerset Youth Forum.
Benefits of Participation for organisations and services
- Identify children and young people’s needs
- Provide evidence for change
- Create services to meet needs
- Service satisfaction
- Create a professional relationship
- Time and money saving
- Families are more able to sustain the care of their child
Barriers to Participation
Involving children and young people and their families in decision-making makes good sense but can become difficult for a variety of different reasons. These may include:
- children and young people and their families not wanting to get involved
- lack of staff, resources, motivation or time within your organisation or project to involve children and young people and their families
- communication barriers such as language and cultural differences
- lack of skills to listen, and work with children and young people and their families
- lack of knowledge on safeguarding and concerns over ethical constraints of involving children and young people and their families
- working flexibly with children and young people and their families. Some issues are access, time, venues for example
- lack of confidence in knowing how to involve children and young people and their families meaningfully
- lack of awareness of the benefits to be gained
- over enthusiasm by workers who believe they know what is needed and how it should be delivered due to their experience.
Principles of Participation
- Children and young people and their families have equal opportunity to be involved.
- Children and young people and their families are valued and taken seriously.
- The involvement of children and young people and their families is monitored, evaluated, reported and improved.
- The involvement of children and young people and their families is a visible commitment which is properly resourced.
- Opportunities to participate are accessible, fair and impartial including accessible venues. This includes time, date, venue, accessible, toilets, parking, food and refreshments, digital requirements, equality and diversity and cultural needs recognised and met.
- Children, young people and their families are treated respectfully for their participation including reciprocity (reward, recognition, celebration) and feedback about what has changed because of their involvement.