Involving children and young people in developing social care
What 'review' meansOpen
This guide employs the term 'review' to refer to the process of monitoring and evaluating the participation of children and young people. Patton (1997, cited in Kirby and Bryson, 200 2) provides a useful definition of this process: 'Evaluation is the systematic collection of information about activities, characteristics and outcomes of programmes to make judgements about the programme, improve programme effectiveness and/or inform decisions about future programming.'
Why the process of review is importantOpen
As Cutler (2003) suggests, 'any system of standards must require evidence to demonstrate that the standard has been reached.' Without reviewing participation within an organisation, there is no recorded evidence that children and young people have been actively involved, contributed to change or stimulated improvement within services.
Unfortunately there is evidence to suggest that many organisations fail to review the participation of children and young people. Oldfield and Fowler's mapping of children and young people's participation in England (2004) found that there was limited use of 'monitoring and formal evaluation procedures' in both the voluntary and the statutory sectors. Franklin and Sloper's research into the participation of disabled children and young people in social service departments (2004) found that more than half of the respondents could not indicate change resulting from the involvement of children and young people. Where change had occurred, the majority of respondents referred to a change in the activities that they provided.
Kirby et al (2003) found that there were four common reasons why organisations often failed to evidence outcomes resulting from children and young people's participation:
- Organisations believe that they are too early on in the process of participation to be able to evidence change.
- Organisations provide descriptive accounts of what they have done to involve children and young people, rather than what has changed as a result of their involvement.
- Organisations find it difficult to evidence possible outcomes of participation - such as young people's increased self-esteem.
- Organisations find it difficult to attribute change specifically to the involvement of children and young people as there may have been other factors that contributed to the outcomes.
As Kirby et al suggest in their second point, where organisations have reviewed the participation of children and young people, the focus has tended to be on monitoring the outputs rather than the outcomes. This is often due to the fact that an increased number of funders and partner agencies require organisations to evidence that they have involved children and young people, rather than monitor the quality or impact of this engagement. Numerous mapping exercises have been undertaken to demonstrate how children and young people have been involved, but they provide very little evidence about the outcomes of this involvement.
There are a number of reasons why outcome focused evaluation is important when reviewing participation. First, there is a growing emphasis on the importance of evidence-based practice. As Kirby and Bryson (2002) state, 'it is recognised as good practice to review and reflect on interventions, even when they appear to be working, to ensure we develop our work further.' The process of review, therefore, provides the opportunity for organisations to determine what has been effective in terms of effecting change within their service and what could be developed to ensure children and young people have more influence in the future.
Robson et al 's research about user involvement in voluntary organisations (2003) found that change was more likely to occur in those services that continually monitored their policy and practice relating to participation. Regular review processes also enable organisations to see the benefits of children and young people's involvement - and, as a result, maintain participation high on their agenda.
The most important reason for any organisation to review participation is to be able to evidence improved outcomes for the children and young people who access their services. As Wade (2001) suggests: 'The participation of children and young people in the issues that affect them is only as good as the changes to their benefit which result.' If an organisation adheres to this principle, it has an ethical obligation to review participation to ensure that children and young people's involvement is effecting change and/or improvement.
First and foremost, you need to identify what the young people thought about it, what difference has it made to the young people who have been involved and what difference has it made to the service and their expectations of the service.
Developing review systemsOpen
A number of issues need to be considered when reviewing the participation of children and young people within an organisation:
If we don't know what we are trying to do, it is difficult to measure it.
The importance of establishing clear outcomes for participation is discussed in Culture. An organisation that has developed a culture of participation, with a clear understanding about why children and young people should be involved and the possible impacts of their involvement, can then evaluate whether participation has achieved its proposed outcomes. Kirby and Bryson (2002) propose that 'evaluation can only be as good as the clarity of the intended outcomes and processes employed by programmes.'
Organisations often create barriers to effective review processes, by either failing to establish proposed outcomes from the start or by defining outcomes that are unrealistic or impossible to measure. The process of developing outcomes should include what an organisation hopes to see change for its service, its service users (i.e. children and young people) and wider key stakeholders (e.g. the local community) as a result of involving children and young people. These outcomes (Wright and Haydon, 2002) need to be:
- realistic: the development of effective participation is time consuming and organisations should acknowledge how much real change is possible within a certain time frame.
- measurable: outcomes should identify what will change/improve as a result of participation and should be measurable to evidence the change.
- specific: outcomes should provide clear proposals for change (which both adults and young people can understand) so that it is clear where evidence needs to be recorded and collected.
The involvement of children and young people in defining outcomes for participation is crucial in enabling adults and young people to have shared influence over the development, delivery and review of services.
Involving children and young people
Young people's involvement in the process of reviewing participation is important in ascertaining what has changed from their point of view and informing them about change that has been effected. By involving them in the review process, an organisation is able to demonstrate the importance of participation in all elements of its service development and delivery. Cutler (2003) states that the involvement of children and young people in review processes 'brings local young people into greater contact with an organisation, builds relationships and gives an authenticity to the claims of an organisation to involve young people'.
While acknowledging these principles, Kirby and Bryson (2002) suggest that there are four questions that organisations should ask themselves when involving children and young people in the review process:
- In what ways do young people want to get involved in carrying out research/evaluations?
- What capacity and skills do young people have to participate effectively in carrying out research/evaluations?
- How can young people's participation be balanced with the demands for rigorous research criteria?
- In what ways do power issues between young people and adults, and between young peers, impact on research/evaluations?
Resourcing review systemsOpen
The reviewing of participation can be undertaken internally by organisations, by children and young people or by external researchers. In all three cases, resource implications need to be considered and accounted for. Staff and young people will require knowledge, skills, tools, support and time to undertake the review process effectively. The commissioning of an external researcher will almost certainly require a budget. The cost of disseminating review findings (in accessible formats for children, young people and adults) must also be considered. Kirby and Bryson (2002) suggest a number of ways in which findings could be disseminated:
- workshops and dissemination events for practitioners and managers
- summary leaflets, posters, video or audio recordings for feedback to young people
- papers, articles and seminars for professional audiences
- media work with communities to promote the importance and effectiveness of children and young people's participation.
Evidencing the process and reviewing the outcomes
Tools and guides relating to the review of participation focus on two distinct areas:
- evidencing the process of participation
- reviewing the outcomes of participation.
As previously discussed, the majority of organisations review participation by identifying what they are currently doing to involve children and young people. This is a valuable exercise as it enables organisations to reflect on their current practice, identify any gaps or areas for improvement and thus develop the participation of children and young people further.
However, without focusing on what has changed as a result of this practice - the outcomes of participation - it is difficult for organisations to assess whether or not children and young people's participation has led to improvements or change. Therefore, they need to consider how they will evidence the process of participation and whether or not this process has achieved positive outcomes for children, young people and the organisation.
Evidencing the process
Many tools that have been developed to map participation practice use Shier's model of participation (2001) as their foundation. Like Shier, they suggest that organisations can be at different stages of involving children and young people, at different times and within different areas of their work. They propose that the aim of developing participatory practice is not to reach an advanced level, but rather to consider and develop structures and processes that promote and sustain participation throughout the organisation (Wright and Haydon, 2002). As White (2001) states: 'Genuine and meaningful participation can occur lower down the participation hierarchy - sometimes it is the only work that is possible.'
One of the most commonly used models is Hear by right (Wade et al, 2001), which provides standards for organisations to map and improve practice and policy within seven distinct areas.
Wright and Haydon (2002) have used a similar model that prompts organisations to evidence participatory practice in four areas of service development and delivery:
- establishing a commitment to participation
- planning and developing participation
- ways of working
- skills, knowledge and experience required by young people and practitioners.
In each area, organisations are invited to evidence whether they are at an emerging, established or advanced level of participation.
Whichever review model is used, organisations need to consider their current involvement of children and young people in terms of their culture, structure, practice and review systems. By considering all four areas, an organisation can develop children and young people's participation so that it is capable of effecting change and improvement.
Evidencing the process
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Reviewing the outcomes
There are significantly fewer tools to support organisations in reviewing the outcomes of participation. Wade (2003) suggests that there are two main questions that organisations need to ask themselves to evidence change as a result of children and young people's involvement:
- Is there evidence that children and young people have been actively listened to?
- Is there evidence of change as a result of listening to children and young people?
Wade's 'What has changed?' template (2004) accompanies the Hear by right standards and provides a tool for organisations to measure change and/or improvement effected by children and young people's involvement.
Issues to consider when reviewing the outcomes of participation, identified by practitioners
Reviews should consider the reasons for change/improvement. Change might happen for a variety of reasons and not specifically because children and young people have been involved.
I can't honestly say that we've changed purely because children and young people have told us that's what they wanted, I would say there is a hidden agenda: the fact that it's cheaper.'
Reviews should recognise that it is as important to identify the small changes as well as the larger ones.
[ Reviewing our outcomes ] has highlighted a lot of really quite small and subtle changes in practice, but really important ones.
Reviews should include an evaluation of the current cultural climate and organisational practice so that, over time, an organisation can evidence changes that occur as the process of developing participation continues.
You need to know what you have got to start with - some sort of measurement of organisational culture, and then introduce participation and carry on measuring and hope that things change.
Review frameworks should be flexible enough to enable innovative and creative methods of evaluation.
They don't talk about their pledge [ proposed outcomes ], they play and they make their pledge in a creative way and then they review their pledge and say what they've done with young people. That's been a very, very useful way of highlighting some really good changes in practice.
Reviewing the outcomes
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Reviewing the outcomes