The past decade has seen an increasing recognition and acceptance of the right of children and young people to participate in developing social care. Social care organisations have begun to acknowledge that, when listened to, children and young people can play a vital role in the planning and delivery of services.
As a result of this, children’s participation has become a key target for social care organisation in the statutory, voluntary and private sectors. At times, this can lead to the participation “box” being ticked by organisations because they can demonstrate that they have involved children and young people in an activity, rather than because they can provide evidence of change or improvement as a result of their participation.
Benefits of participation
The term “participation” incorporates children’s involvement in every area of service development – from commenting on environmental factors like office space to contributing to their individual care plan.
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.
The Social Care Institute for Excellence’s work on looked-after children has found that children and young people may not always feel free to say what they really think: for example, they may be worried about upsetting their foster carers and birth families. Practitioners must often go the “extra mile” to ensure that children and young people feel comfortable to participate.
Without the effective practice of individual practitioners on a day-to-day basis, children and young people’s participation will fail to effect positive change. In addition, if children and young people have repeated experiences of adults failing to involve them effectively in decision-making processes, their desire to participate in the future will decline and the principle of participation will be devalued.
Question of rights
Participation in decision-making is a right of all children and young people – no matter how great the challenge for practitioners to involve them.
Every effort should be made to provide practitioners with the knowledge, time and support to involve all children and young people who access their services. Equally, children and young people should be granted the time, training and support to be able to participate.
Children and young people are often seen as a homogeneous group. However, as Beresford and Croft (1993) suggest: “Different children and children of different ages may be able to participate in different ways and to different degrees, but then the same is true for adults.”
Oldfield and Fowler’s mapping of children and young people’s participation in England (2004) found significant disparities between the levels of involvement granted to different groups of children and young people.
Although respondents reported some success in involving what are often seen as “hard to reach” groups of children and young people, two-thirds of statutory agencies and half of voluntary agencies found it difficult to include specific groups. These groups included black and ethnic minority children and young people, those in rural areas, disaffected children and young people and those who do not access education, training or employment.
Competences required by adults
● Understanding what participation means and why is it important.
Competences required by children and young people
● Understanding what participation means and why is it important
● Beresford, P. and Croft, S. (1993) Citizen involvement: A practical guide for change, Macmillan.
● Oldfield, C. and Fowler, C. (2004). Mapping children and young people’s participation in England, National Youth Agency.
● Practice guide 6: Involving children and young people in developing social care
● Practice guide 3: Fostering
● Resource guide 07: Participation: finding out what difference it makes
● British Youth Council
● Children’s Rights Alliance
● A National Voice