When setting standards for staff working with vulnerable children it pays to consult the service users. Amy Taylor reports on a Families for Children scheme
Since late 2007, the Children’s Workforce Development Council has been asking vulnerable children for their views on the professionals who help them.
The CWDC has held 14 events across England with children and young people aged 0-24, including looked-after children and disabled children, who come into contact with children’s services. It has gathered the views to feed into a UK-wide review of the national occupational standards for children’s services professionals being conducted by Skills for Care and Development (SfC&D), the sector skills council for social care and the children’s workforce in the UK. The standards are statements of the skills, knowledge and understanding required to work in children’s services.
Independent fostering and adoption provider Families for Children took some young people along to the first consultation day held at Chelsea Football Club’s Stamford Bridge ground last November. It felt the experience was so worthwhile that it offered to host one of the subsequent events.
So three representatives from the CWDC last month went to meet 13 fostered children and children from families who foster, aged 11-16, at a Families for Children centre in Laughton, East Sussex.
“We have just started developing participation at Families for Children and this was an opportunity for the young people to have their voices heard through other organisations nationally,” says Jessie Cullen, a social worker at Families for Children.
Alex Brookes, participation co-ordinator at CWDC, says that listening to children is essential to ensure a top quality workforce.
“Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child children have a right to be involved in decisions that affect them.
“Children should be involved in decision-making so if we are deciding what should be the standards for people that work with them then we feel that they have the right to be included in those standards,” she says.
Many of the qualities required by children’s services professionals are complex concepts, sometimes making them difficult for children to put into words. As a result the CWDC team has developed practical exercises to overcome this.
The children in Laughton chose to look at the topics of “working together” and “leadership skills” in relation to the professionals they had come into contact with.
In order to explore joint working the children chose cards which contained instructions that they had to keep to themselves. These gave them a non-verbal way of communicating, such as by touching their head, and told them to look out for a person carrying out a certain action different to their own. This was the only person they were able to communicate with. On the reverse of each card was a section of an image. Once each child found their correct partner they were able to complete the image.
Rob Nicols, from the Standards and Qualifications section of the CWDC, says: “The point of the game was about working together and the difficulties that you might face. It was harder for the children to get it together [due to not being able to communicate verbally],” he says.
At the end of the exercise the CWDC team asked the children what the problems were in everyday life when joint working didn’t take place. The youngsters felt there was less listening and more arguments.
The exercise to explore leadership involved the group splitting into two teams and two project managers being appointed. The groups were given the task of purchasing components to build a car. At the end of the task the children flagged up the need for service leaders to ensure each member of their team was supported and delegated.
The CWDC is compiling the children’s views into a report of key messages for the SfC&D consultation which will include a summary of what the young people have said for each group involved.
Cullen says children’s views are taken on board throughout Families for Children when recruiting staff. She says it’s important that the children see their input being turned into practical action, showing that they are being taken seriously.
“They are the ones who know what they want and it’s important to involve them and make sure that they see results.
“All of our young people are going to be having a vote soon. This is about showing them that actually speaking up and telling people their opinion is important.”
Skills for Care & Development
● Make things as engaging as you can.
● Use interactive exercises to explore abstract concepts.
● Try to keep things fast paced.
● Ask the children to evaluate what you do and provide ideas, allowing you to refine your work for next time.
This article is published in the 14 August edition of Community Care under the heading Louder than Words.