Involving children and young people in developing social care
Case study 9: Reference Group, Cheshire and Warrington Connexions
Service provided by organisation
The Reference Group is jointly run by Connexions and the youth service. Connexions is the government's support service for all young people aged 13 to 19 in England. It provides advice, guidance and access to personal development opportunities to support a smooth transition to adulthood and working life.
Characteristics of children/young people involved
Approximately 30 young people aged 13-19 are involved in the Reference Group. Young people with an interest in youth services were recruited by personal advisers. It is a mixed-ability group, including young people with learning disabilities and one young person who is visually impaired.
How participation has been developed
The Reference Group was established in 2000 to help meet Connexions' key principle: to involve young people in the organisation's service delivery and planning. The group meets every month and involves two members of Connexions' staff - a youth participation consultant with a practical focus and a director with a strategic focus - and four members from youth parliament.
As a new service, the Reference Group has been involved in organising Connexions' organisational structures, and regularly meets with various members of Connexions, including the management board. The Reference Group has been involved in numerous activities including:
- producing job descriptions
- recruiting Connexions' and external organisations' staff
- producing a training video on active involvement
- peer consultancy work on local services
- designing publicity material
- auditing services funded by Connexions
- presenting at conferences
- voting on organisational decisions such as tender bids.
Members have also become Connexions staff, through 12 youth link worker roles in the region.
Participation is written in the organisation's mission statement and in the job descriptions of personal advisers, and is in guidance received by staff when they join Connexions. An 'Active Engagement' working group has been established, attended by team leaders for participation. There are also training review days about active involvement that staff at all levels of the organisation must attend. All staff are given a checklist of 'active involvement' to inform their work.
Changes or improvements as a result of children and young people's participation
The group has:
- redesigned the previous adult-led participation charter to produce the Young People's Entitlement Charter. This idea came from the group, as they wanted all local organisations to share a common language about involvement. All the local youth services have signed up to this.
- developed questionnaires for young people who access Connexions service. Personal advisers must get 50 young people from each school to respond to these each year.
- evaluated projects with Ofsted, which has been influenced by the value of involving young people
- highlighted young person-led issues, such as changing the opening hours of Connexions services to evenings during the week and Saturday mornings
- rebranded Connexions' publication material for young people.
Connexion also has a young person's active involvement plan.
[The young people's] panel isn't just talking and answering questions, it has a role. I've got to know the youth services sector, an understanding of all the agencies involved, and the culture of the sector which has played a lot into my career plans and decisions. Now I'm training as a youth worker at university.
Evidence of outcomes from participation
The project has produced the following documentation to evidence the development of participation:
- Connexions' key objectives, which include the participation of young people
- job description
- group newsletter and minutes.
Contact person and role: Linda Mottram (director of external affairs) or Zarah Quraishi (youth work participation consultant)
Address: 2 The Stables, Gadbrook Park, Northwich, Cheshire CW9 7RJ
Telephone: 01606 305 202