Involving children and young people in developing social care
What 'structure' meansOpen
Once participation has been adopted as a central value within an organisation, it is essential to plan and develop the structures necessary to enable young people to become active participants (Wright and Haydon, 2002). This includes considering the planning, decision-making processes and resources needed to develop participation within the organisation.
Why structure is importantOpen
The establishment of an effective structure for participation 'provides pathways for children and young people to join in the life of the organisation' (NSW Commission for Children and Young People, 2004). As Matthews states (in Davies and Marken, 1998): 'Poor participatory mechanisms are very effective in training young people to become non-participants.'
Even where organisations have made an overt cultural commitment to greater participation, the required shift in processes and systems often fails to occur. The common consequence is workers who are highly committed to participation operating in the face of persistent, sometimes hidden, organisational barriers (Hutton, 2004).
As Cutler and Taylor (2003) suggest, without the appropriate and adequately resourced structures to support the practice of participation, 'there is a grave danger that such policies remain as window dressings.' Organisations, therefore, may demonstrate a strong cultural commitment to participation, but without an infrastructure to support this commitment, participation cannot be properly sustained.
Structures that provide a role for children and young people to influence change and decision-making processes should not be seen as additional 'bolt-on' dimensions, but should be developed as part of an organisation's infrastructure. Clark and Moss (2001) provide examples of organisations that have developed structures to enable children and young people to be listened to. Although they acknowledge that children do not always feel listened to within legal processes, they say that the role of the guardian ad litem (with the specific skills and expertise that it brings with it) has become critical in enabling young people to have a voice in public law proceedings. It is the development of this specific role that has enabled the establishment of clear pathways in which young people's views can be fed into a predominantly adult-focused arena.
Developing a participation strategyOpen
A strategy or plan is an important structural tool in developing participation across an organisation. It can provide a framework for setting outcomes and outlining the process by which children and young people will have the opportunity to participate.
If you are not very specific about [what you want to do] then it's very difficult for the young people because they don't know what you want them to inform you on and advise you about.
The strategy should be informed by an organisation's knowledge of the different methods of involving young people (see Practice) and a clear, shared understanding of why children and young people are being involved (see Culture). Kirby et al (2003) describe participation as a 'multi-layered concept'. They suggest that at least six dimensions should be taken into account when considering participation:
- level of participation
- focus of decision-making
- content of decision-making
- nature of participation activity
- frequency and duration of participation
- which children and young people are involved.
These six considerations can offer organisations a structure for discussion about the development of a participation plan, in partnership with children and young people. The Taking part toolkit (Wright and Haydon, 2002) provides a framework for developing a participation plan:
- who will be involved
- how children will be selected/elected/encouraged to participate
- who the children and young people will represent
- how children and young people will be involved
- the roles and responsibilities of children and young people
- adults' roles and responsibilities
- how people find out about the effects/impacts of participation.
Although a plan is important in enabling adults and young people to have a clear vision of how young people will be able to effect change within an organisation, Kirby et al (2003) suggest that planning must remain flexible to ensure that participation remains a dynamic process that can develop and change over time. Therefore, any plan should be reviewed - by adults, children and young people - at regular intervals.
You need boundaries on it and you need to set a limit on expectations and stuff like that, but within that you don't want to set it up so tightly that there is no scope for young people's imagination or creativity to come through and shape it as well.
Creating partnerships or links with other organisations is an important element in establishing an effective structure for participation. Knowledge of local, regional and national participation initiatives can encourage the sharing of experience and skills, as well as identify gaps and opportunities for partnership working. Kirby et al (2003) summarise how partnership working can contribute to capacity building within an organisation and help catalyse organisational change both internally and externally:
- On-going collaboration with dedicated participation development organisations brings the capacity and experience to develop new work.
- On-going collaboration between different organisations exposes staff to other ways of working and can encourage change in practice.
- Voluntary organisations can have more scope to develop innovative work and be less constrained by statutory policy requirements.
- Consultations and participation initiatives that are jointly funded by different agencies (e.g. health, social services, education) can help to ensure that young people's own agendas are identified and explored, rather than forcing topics to be defined by or relevant to one specific agency.
- Establishing partnerships between services and advocacy organisations helps ensure that young people have an independent advocate in personal and group decisions and that their views are represented in a number of agencies.
Practitioners also identified that partnerships with other organisations can prevent duplication of practice and provide access to a wider group of young people:
Linking with other organisations is vital because it helps you have access to children and young people who you wouldn't have links with otherwise.
One of the benefits of having a network is that you feed into, instead of create, more and more forums for children and young people. It's about identifying what already exists and then identifying these pathways, rather than creating new pathways.
A number of publications now include mapping exercises and case studies of participation practice. These may provide a useful starting point from which to identify potential links or partnerships.
Identifying participation championsOpen
A number of research studies have found that the successful implementation of participation plans is facilitated by the identification/appointment of a member of staff dedicated to the development of participation. The study by Robson et al (2003) of user involvement in voluntary organisations found that 'specialist posts or designated parts of job descriptions that focused on user involvement did give an impetus to communication with users.'
There needs to be someone to drive the participation strategy, there needs to be teams of people who are committed to driving it forward, otherwise it just becomes an add-on.
In Oldfield and Fowler's mapping of participation in England (2004), 43 per cent of voluntary and statutory sector organisations felt that the appointment of specific members of staff to support participation was the most important action that organisations could take to promote participation. This belief was reflected in the fact that three quarters of the organisations said that they provided dedicated staff time to participation - either full-time workers or a designated number of hours per week from specific members of the staff team.
For this role to be grounded in a participative structure, young people should be supported to contribute to the terms of reference and, if it is a designated member of staff, to the recruitment process (see Resource tool box: Involving children and young people in recruitment and selection).
Kirby et al (2003) provide examples of a number of different approaches to developing a structure that encourages the development of participation through specific posts or forums:
- identifying existing staff to become champions for participation
- establishing staff planning groups for participation
- establishing a participation department
- commissioning external organisations and/or working in partnership with others to promote participation
- establishing young people as champions - either providing specific posts for young people to support participation or creating forums by which young people promote participation within an organisation
- employing specialist participation workers.
The Carnegie Young People Initiative survey of the training, support and development of 186 participation workers (Kilgour, 2002) found that participation workers often felt isolated in their roles. It recommended the formation of links with specialist participation networks to provide opportunities for support and shared learning.
Training was also identified as an important area for consideration when developing specific participation posts. Of respondents, 92 per cent said that participation workers should receive training in participation techniques and strategies, and 83 per cent said that they should receive training about evaluating young people's participation.
Issues to consider when developing a participation worker's post, as identified by practitioners
- Develop a clear outline of what you are expecting them to do and how.
- Identify their learning and development needs.
- Allocate a realistic budget.
- Identify who the post is for and how it will be used.
- Decide what level the post will be placed at within the organisation - post-holders need to have enough power to influence strategic developments while remaining 'in touch' with children and young people.
In developing a role for a participation champion, it is important to consider the potential limitations of such a post. There is the risk that, by identifying an individual to develop participation, the responsibility is taken away from all workers within the organisation.
It can make people think that they can just leave it up to someone else so everyone else just pays lip service to participation.
Specific posts are effective in driving forward the participation agenda, especially in organisations that are just starting to develop participation. However, an organisation that demonstrates an effective culture of participation should incorporate a structure that includes definitions of 'participation' and 'listening to children and young people' as key elements in all workers' job descriptions.
Identifying participation champions
Click here for the Resource tool box
Providing adequate resources
I don't think participation can be done on the cheap, it isn't a cheap option, but I think there is an investment in making sure that people have the skills and tools to do it.
As Kirby et al (2003) state, 'It does not cost anything to listen to children.' However, it does cost money to ensure that participation is effectively developed, sustained and practised within an organisation. Cutler and Taylor (2003) state: 'Other than the employment, often part time, of a worker, it is very rare for an organisation to have a dedicated budget for participation.'
Where budgets are evident, they have often been secured on a short-term basis to fund a specific piece of work involving children and young people. As Oldfield and Fowler's mapping of participation in England (2004) suggests, 'There are strong messages from both the voluntary and statutory sectors about the need for participation work to be adequately resourced on a long-term basis.' Robson et al 's study of user involvement in voluntary organisations (2003) found that 'a specific budget for user involvement activity clearly enabled change.' However, the allocation of this budget has to be appropriately applied for this change to be realised.
Practitioners suggested that, if participation was integral to an organisation's way of working, an additional 'bolt-on' budget should not be required. Instead, current budgets should ensure that they resource children and young people's involvement in decision-making, especially in those services that are meant to be there for children and young people.
Wright and Haydon (2002) provide a summary of the items that need to be considered when developing a budget that enables participation:
- training for staff and young people
- support for staff and young people
- expenses for young people who become involved
- incentives/rewards for young people
- space for young people in a child-friendly environment
- budget for specific participation initiatives/events/publicity.