Involving children and young people in developing social care
Case study 16: The Voices Project, Cumbria Youth Alliance
Service provided by organisation
The Cumbria Youth Alliance is the umbrella organisation for the voluntary youth sector in Cumbria. Voices is one of its key projects and aims to support and enable young people to have a voice in their local community and to interact with key decision-makers and policy-makers. Voices is led, managed and evaluated by young people and is supported by two adult youth workers. The project is currently funded by the Carnegie Trust and Voluntary Action Cumbria.
Characteristics of children/young people involved
Voices involves young people aged between 13 and 25 years old throughout Cumbria. They usually become involved through Youth Alliance projects or through the membership of the Cumbria Youth Alliance. Local youth groups were also asked to choose Voice representatives.
The project consists of young people of mixed gender. All are white, and many come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds such as the care system.
How participation has been developed
Voices was set up in 2000 with the aim of involving children and young people in local services in Cumbria. It has two members of staff and a core group of 15 young people who guide the project.
Young people are involved at every level, including the steering group that influences the project's development. They have designed a Voices website and newsletter to ensure that the project is accessible to young people. There is a cycle of young people 'moving up' within the project and attaining increasing levels of involvement. The current coordinator began his involvement in Voices as a member, then became a volunteer and, finally, a staff member.
When young people first join the group, they undergo a training needs analysis and relevant training is then provided. To ensure that Voices remains relevant to young people, only young people decide which issues the group should address. Because of the large distances that some members have to travel across Cumbria, the group often meets on residentials rather than at daytime sessions.
Through Voices, young people have been involved in:
- recruiting the chief executive of the youth service
- delivering workshops to other young people in youth projects/organisations on issues such as drugs awareness
- peer research to identify possible issues/needs within Cumbria, such as a rural isolation/social exclusion programme
- planning of 'Big Fest', a day celebrating youth culture that was attended by more than 400 young people.
Changes or improvements as a result of children and young people's participation
- Developed young people's skills in working in communities.
- Developing transferable skills such as citizenship and key skills
- Gaining qualifications in peer research
- Providing young people with a sense of achievement and knowledge that they have contributed to their community
- As a result of the project, one young person was nominated for a national award for their work in the community.
The project wouldn't exist without young people running it. It is a totally young person-led organisation. Through this, I believe that other organisations in the local area have realised how important and beneficial involving young people is. The issues which have been highlighted and events which have been produced were all directly because of the young people involved.
Evidence of outcomes from participation
The project has produced the following documentation to evidence the development of participation:
- peer research training programme, accredited by the Open College Network
- report from two youth-led conferences
- training programmes developed by young people for young people on issues including drugs awareness, getting involved in politics, and rural isolation
- monthly newsletter.
Contact person and role: Cath Clarke (chief officer) or Jonathan Parr (north coordinator) or Adam Wilson (south coordinator)
Address: Cumbria Youth Alliance, 54a Main Street, Cockermouth CA13 9LQ
Telephone: 01900 822 110