Involving children and young people in developing social care
Organisations need to adopt a whole systems approach to participation to affect change or improvement in their services. This approach suggests that there are four parts of service development that need to be considered:
It is helpful to consider these as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Using this model, participation is not about reaching the top of a hierarchy or ladder. It is about putting different pieces of the puzzle together in a way that can support organisations at different points in their journey towards involving children and young people.
- A culture of participation should demonstrate a commitment to the involvement of children and young people, which is shared and understood by managers, practitioners, children and young people.
- Although frequently identified as a barrier to participation (Hill et al, 2004; Hutton, 2004; Lansdown, 2001), increasing numbers of participation guides (as well as practitioners, children and young people) now acknowledge culture not just as a barrier, but as a legitimate area for service development.
- Culture is not static but something that can change over time. The guide suggests that organisations should consider the following areas of service development to establish an effective culture for participation:
- establishing a shared understanding of participation
- ensuring managers actively support and sustain the development of participation
- ensuring that all staff are committed to participation
- developing a participation charter
- showing evidence of participation in organisational policies and documents
- publicising commitment to participation.
- It is essential to plan and develop the structures necessary to enable children and young people to become active participants (Wright and Haydon, 2002). Such structures include staff, resources, decision-making and planning processes.
- Even where organisations are committed to a culture of participation, they do not always change their ways of working as a result (Hutton, 2004; Cutler and Taylor, 2003). Participation can only create change or improvement when children and young people can influence decision-making processes.
- The guide suggests that organisations should consider the following areas of service development in order to establish effective structures that support participation:
- development of a participation strategy
- partnership working
- identification of participation champions
- provision of adequate resources for participation.
- For children and young people to become involved, practitioners need to be able to work in a way which enables participation and ultimately affects change or improvement within the organisation. Practitioners and their managers' awareness of the benefits of participation may assist in this process. They are often motivated to work in social care because they want to improve children and young people's lives: a participative approach may help them to achieve this aim by ensuring that their ways of working are based on what is important to children and young people. It may lead to improvements in skills, knowledge and job satisfaction.
- Poor participatory practice is frequently cited as an obstacle to participation. Good practice on a day to day basis is essential in ensuring that children and young people have a positive experience of becoming involved and are able to affect change within the organisation.
- Many social care organisations demonstrate a great deal of positive practice which has enabled the involvement of children and young people. It is important that this practice is recognised and shared.
- The guide suggests that the following key practice points should be considered so that children and young people can be actively involved in both collective and individual decision-making:
- involvement of all children and young people, which means involving children and young people from different age groups, including young children, and children and young people from specific groups, including those who are seldom heard - such as disabled and black & minority ethnic children and young people, those in rural areas, those who are homeless, asylum seekers and refugees, and young offenders
- ensuring the safe participation of children and young people
- creating an environment for participation
- using flexible/creative approaches
- understanding the different mechanisms for involving children and young people in both the operation and the strategic development of an organisation, as well as individual decision-making processes
- providing opportunities for both practitioners and children and young people to develop the necessary skills, knowledge and experience.
- In this guide, 'review' means the process of monitoring and evaluating the participation of children and young people.
- Review is a way of recording how children and young people have been actively involved and, more importantly, how participation has helped change or improve social care services.
- There is a clear gap in evidence to show how participation has helped change or improve social care services. More work is needed in this area.
- The guide proposes that organisations need to consider the following elements when reviewing participation:
- identification of proposed outcomes
- involvement of children and young people
- resourcing review systems
- establishment of systems to provide evidence of the process of participation (i.e. what the organisation is doing to involve children and young people) as well as the outcomes of participation (i.e. what has changed within the organisation as a result of involving children and young people).
- Children and young people need to participate actively and meaningfully in all these activities from start to finish. They should be involved in defining the aims, objectives, processes, outcomes, and ways and means of measuring success.