Real involvement is yet to come

Protects’ emphasis on involving young people must survive the policy’s demise,
writes Martin Hazlehurst.

participation is a key theme in social care these days. People welcomed Quality
Protects’ requirements to involve young people in service planning, the
development of their care packages and to ensure effective mechanisms for
handling complaints.

Independent reviewing officers have been
appointed to safeguard the involvement of looked-after children in their
statutory reviews and there are more children’s rights and advocacy services.
Most departments can point at a consultation event, young people’s panel or
survey of young people’s views to support the change in their approach. The
Department of Health and the Social Services Inspectorate have set up
initiatives such as the annual Teenagers to Work Programme and the recent
involvement of young people in inspections through the Listening and Responding

But, at the risk of upsetting many of my
council colleagues, I think we need to ask whether anything changed as a result
of this and will the commitment survive the impending end of Quality Protects?

Perhaps the seeds of the problem were sown in
Quality Protects itself. The objective of participation did not come with
performance indicators to measure progress. Councils were asked to set their
own. A review of management action plans in 2000 showed the expected activity,
but little evidence of hard outcomes arising from it.

Few social services departments have
addressed the fundamental cultural, structural and anti-discriminatory issues
involved in empowering young people to question what is being done for them.
Too often involvement is concentrated on a few professionalised articulate
young people brought out each time elected members or the SSI want to be
reassured that they do have a say. For the majority of young people the Catch
22 of "I won’t get involved until I believe I am being involved" has
not been confronted.

Social work curriculum and training has yet
to grapple with the issues of sharing power and empowerment. The forthcoming
Integrated Children’s System is in danger of missing the opportunity to engage
more effectively with young people in their care planning and review.

In a couple of years Quality Protects will be
no more. Will what follows provide even the same amount of impetus for
children’s services to change? Can social care complete the move from the why
of participation to the how? Only if we make it happen.

Martin Hazlehurst is the assistant director
of First Key (The National Leaving Care Advisory Service)

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