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Children's Consultation and Participation

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

Working Together 2015 states clearly that one of the key principles underpinning safeguarding should be: ‘’a child-centred approach: for services to be effective they should be based on a clear understanding of the needs and views of children.’’

It is essential therefore that children and young people are enabled by professionals to participate in matters that affect them, particularly any plans or arrangements that will affect them and/or their family and are consulted with regard to processes designed to improve services both to them individually and more generally.

RELATED CHAPTERS

Recording Policy and Guidelines

Social Worker Visits to Looked After Children Procedure

Advocacy and Independent Visitors Procedure

Appointment and Role of Independent Reviewing Officers Procedure

Looked After Reviews Procedure

This chapter was added to the procedures manual in June 2017.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Benefits of Participation
  3. Barriers to Participation
  4. Promoting Participation
  5. Participation - the Role of the Social Worker
  6. Participation - the Role of Managers
  7. Processes for Consulting Children and Young People


1. Introduction

Participation of children and young people in decisions about their lives is an essential part of growing up and if done well it enhances children’s safety and well-being and improves services designed to support and protect them. In the world of social care it is often happening in complex and emotionally charged situations. To be done well it requires a commitment at all levels of an organisation to reflect on and promote:

  • Positive attitudes to children;
  • Skills at communicating;
  • Financial resources;
  • Commitment to developing services which support children’s participation, such as advocacy and participation services;
  • Honest consideration of what expectations are of what can be achieved and what the level of willingness is to change existing services and decisions in response to children’s views.

The Local Authority is actively seeking to ensure children and young people are consulted about decisions and processes that affect them. The Munro Review made clear that what is important to children and young people is ‘reliability, honesty and continuity’. The Local Authority is committed to ensuring that children and young people are informed about what is happening to them and promotes opportunities to contribute to what is happening. The aim is to share and practise positive approaches to effective communication and learning through active listening. The Local Authority is committed to both speaking and listening clearly, purposefully and honestly with children and young people.

The Local Authority seeks to consider identity, diversity, culture, sexual orientation, language, disability, delayed speech, low confidence and trust in all its interactions with both children and adults.

Every member of our staff is committed to seeking and recording the views of every child they work with. They will also record the decisions that are made and the influence that the views of the child/young person have had on those decisions. Where decisions are made that are different from or contrary to the views of the child or young person this will be clearly recorded with the reasons for the decision clearly explained.

In addition, the Local Authority will ensure that systems are in place to support formal consultation with young people’s groups and will seek to aggregate individual issues and concerns so that managers may consider the impact those current services have on young people. This information may be used to inform future developments.

In Gateshead, children and young people have the opportunity to influence the services they receive in a number of ways. While it is important to hear the views of children and young people, we also need to recognise the growing number of young people who are not happy to take part in any activity aimed at sharing their views. Young people have consistently told us that they do not like to be “over consulted”. This is why we have become better at collating the individual voice of the child and gathering and using the individual issues raised by young people to contribute to service development and delivery. An example of this would be to use MOMO to gather the individual views, but then to use this data on a quarterly basis to identify the bigger issues that young people are identifying about services they are receiving.

In terms of formal consultation, we use a number of methods to gather views and these include:

  • Annual Survey for Looked after children and young people – the annual survey was developed from the Office of the Children’s Rights Directors Annual Care Monitoring Exercise. By creating our own survey, this has allowed us to focus on additional areas which were not included in the national survey. The content of the survey is guided by the relevant services, for example, the LAC Health Team. The results are fed into the relevant decision making arena and feedback is provided to children and young people about the differences their views have made;
  • Annual Survey for Care Leavers – as above, however, the survey is aimed specifically at care leavers;
  • Annual Survey for Children and Young People receiving a service from the Safeguarding and Care Planning Teams – As above, but this survey is aimed at children subject to a child protection plan or a children in need plan;
  • One Voice Youth Network – Our Children in Care Council has the opportunity to meet directly with senior managers. A gap has been recognised in terms of consulting with young children, and the network has committed to organising and running consultation events to gather the views of younger children who are looked after;
  • Looked after Children Events – Many different events take place throughout the year, including the family fun day, Christmas party and the annual celebration and awards event;   
  • Involvement in Training – One Voice Youth Network has developed and delivered a training course around communicating effectively with young people. The group has delivered a training session about social media to Members of our Corporate Parenting Overview and Scrutiny Sub Committee and plan to roll this out to social workers, foster carers and residential staff;
  • Creative Arts Based Projects – Our Children’s Rights Service has a long history of using various arts based methods to gather and share the views of children and young people;
  • Young People’s involvement in foster carer reviews – young people are annually requested to complete a document which is used to influence their Foster Carers’ Annual Review.  
  • Membership of Gateshead Youth Assembly (GYA) - GYA is Gateshead’s well established group for young people to share their views. Membership is made up from three elected representatives from schools and other organisations. Our One Voice Network has two members in GYA;
  • Corporate Parenting Overview and Scrutiny Committee – this committee has annual time set aside for regular attendance by service users. Young people attend the committee twice per year (the committee meets four times per year) and present on issues affecting looked after children and young people;
  • MOMO App – MOMO is an award winning app which helps young people express their views more clearly, get more involved in meetings and make better decisions alongside their social work teams. It can be used on a normal computer, as well as iPhones and Android devices.

The following engagement infrastructure map describes where children’s engagement groups and forums fit with the Council’s local and strategic processes. It shows how groups like One Voice Youth Network can share their views into existing structures.

This structure is not exhaustive; it shows a snapshot of specific groups of young people who are regularly consulted with by the Council and partners. It shows some of the recent links that these groups have had.

When young people have been asked their views, this consultation needs to be fed through to the relevant decision making body, so that their views can influence the commissioning and delivery of services for children and young people.

voice_of_children_and_yp


2. Benefits of Participation

Much has been written on the benefits and barriers to participation in matters that affect them. In brief the benefits for children and young people are:

  • Having a safe space to reflect on the events that have brought them into contact with Social Care;
  • The opportunity to give their version of what has happened to them and to say what they would like to happen in the future;
  • The sense of empowerment that comes from being listened to and seeing what one has said making a difference to what happens;
  • The possibility of having their concerns and issues dealt with at an early stage, which could have an immediate impact for them in terms of how they identify their ‘quality of life’;
  • The opportunity to have explained to them what is happening in the present moment and what is likely to happen in the future and what will be done to keep them (and their siblings) safe.

For parents/carers the benefits of children’s participation can be:

  • The opportunity (perhaps for the first time) to hear their children’s views about what has happened and what they want to change;
  • A model of communicating that may improve their relationship with their child(ren).

For professionals and organisations offering services to children and young people the benefits can be:

  • Reinforcement of a focus on the child’s safety and wellbeing;
  • A self auditing tool;
  • The greater likelihood of effective engagement with the Plan by the child / young person themselves;
  • A focus for all professionals to work from.


3. Barriers to Participation

There are a number of barriers to participation. Broadly speaking these are:

  • Structural - complex procedures and lack of clarity about responsibilities; too many changes of personnel;
  • A lack of clarity about what participation is or confusion over how it will be addressed and a lack of clarity about what it can and cannot change and what it should deliver for the child, the family and the organisation;
  • Competence - staff lacking in experience or having an inability to effectively communicate with children, or children of a particular age or from a particular culture;
  • Capacity - a lack of time (e.g. staff too overwhelmed by other pressures) or other resources required to enable participation, thus ‘rushing’ or making it a ‘box ticking’ exercise;
  • Inadequate plans that fail to be clear about who will be responsible for ensuring participation;
  • Children’s behaviour - can be misinterpreted and sometimes causes a barrier for professionals and carers. Those seeking to engage often need a variety of tools / methods and patience/space to deal with this to promote engagement;
  • Children themselves can become disinterested and disengaged because of delays;
  • Children are far more spontaneous and their timescales are far shorter;
  • Professionals need to ensure that children have a variety of times, people, places and approaches to participation available to them (i.e. seeing children on their own, allowing time after traumatic events).


4. Promoting Participation

The Local Authority has a number of formal processes for seeking the Participation and consultation of children and young people. Staff, carers, managers and others who come into contact with children are encouraged and enabled to see each and every interaction as a potential opportunity to develop trust and confidence such that children and young people feel able to confide and state their views and preferences in matters that affect them.


5. Participation - the Role of the Social Worker

The most important means of encouraging and enabling participation by looked after children and young people in decisions that affect them and their lives remains the relationship with their Social Worker and other significant professionals and adults in their lives.

Enabling children and young people who have not previously had opportunities to express their views is demanding and can be challenging work that requires creativity, empathy and resilience on the part of the worker. Consultations need to be planned for, reflected on and, if necessary, returned to in order that children and young people are given every opportunity to express their views.

In order for them to express views about matters that affect them it is also vital that children and young people are in possession of information and have experiences that enable them to make informed choices.

If participation is not possible or is restricted for whatever reason, steps should be taken to ensure those affected are informed of decisions as soon as practicable after they are made, and an explanation for the decision given, together with the opportunity to make a comment and express their views.

If it is then felt that a different decision may have been appropriate, steps should be taken to reconsider the decision.

If decisions are made against people's wishes, they should be informed of the decision and the reasons for the decision should be explained. In these circumstances, the person should be informed of any rights they have to formally challenge the decision, and of the availability of the Complaints or Grievance Procedure (see Complaints and Representations Procedure).

Sometimes children and young people express their preferences through their behaviour rather than through words i.e. by running away or by having tantrums. It is important to attempt to see beyond the behaviour and to try to see what the child or young person is trying to express. (Note: that where children have returned home from having run away, the ‘return’ interviews should be conducted by an independent person who has been trained to undertake this. See North and South of Tyne Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures, Children Missing from Care, Home and Education Procedure).

Finally, children and young people should be made aware of the systems and processes available to them if they wish to raise concerns or complain and what, if any, other forms of redress may be available to them if things go wrong.


6. Participation - the Role of Managers

Managers must ensure that social workers and/or staff have the time and resources available to them to ensure the effective participation of children and young people.

Managers should:

  • Use supervision to consider issues relating to the Voice of the Child in ongoing cases;
  • Check that records show where and how the Voice of the Child has been sought, what was said and how the child’s wishes have been responded to and, if not, why not;
  • Review, on a regular basis, the various methodologies whereby children’s views are sought;
  • Review complaints or concerns raised by children and young people and what actions have been taken to address these;
  • Review compliments to build on this;
  • Consider how representative issues raised by children and young people are in relation to such issues as gender, culture, sexuality and disability;
  • Ensure processes designed to aggregate issues raised by children and young people are in place and are routinely being used;
  • Ensure processes are in place whereby it can be fed back to both individual children and the wider group what changes have been made as a result of issues raised.


7. Processes for Consulting Children and Young People

  1. Children and young people can be involved in the development of services through the Children in Care Council (CiCC);

    One Voice Network is Gateshead's Children in Care Council and, as such, is the main forum for Looked After Children to influence service design and delivery and help make them the best they can be. The group meets weekly and members are currently looked after or have recently been looked after by Gateshead Council. The group is for young people aged between 11 and 18 years.
  2. Children and young people can also be involved in:
    1. Recruitment;
    2. Training;
    3. Commissioning of Services.

      Involvement in Recruitment and Selection of Staff in Children's Services:
      Recruitment to posts which involve working with or on behalf of young people are expected to have involvement of children and young people in the interview process. Young people are given the opportunity to decide how they would like to be involved.

      Involvement in Training:
      One Voice Youth Network has developed and delivered a training course around communicating effectively with young people. The group has delivered a training session about social media to Members of our Corporate Parenting Overview and Scrutiny Sub Committee and plan to roll this out to social workers, foster carers and residential staff.

      Involvement in Commissioning of Services:
      Young people have been involved in the regional commissioning arrangements for the Independent Visitor Service and the regional Children’s Homes contract.
  3. Looked After Reviews and other Meetings (see Looked After Reviews Procedure);

    Every Review and/or meeting relating to a child’s case is an opportunity for children and young people to participate in their Care Plan and arrangements;
  4. Advocacy and Independent Visitors (see Advocacy and Independent Visitors Procedure);

    Advocates and Independent Visitors support and assist children and young people to participate in the services offered;
  5. Support to children who have communication difficulties see also Children and Young People Aged 0-25 with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Procedure;

    Support and specialist services to children who have communication difficulties will always be offered. For children for whom English is not their first language a translator should be considered to enable the child to contribute. For children with communication difficulties as a result of physical or learning disabilities people who can use whatever medium of communication is most helpful to the child will be used;
  6. Social media;

    Increasingly children and young people are becoming confident users of social media such as facebook, texting, twitter and other apps. We see this as an opportunity for enabling children and young people to participate in decisions about their life whether by texting their IRO or by using social media applications.

    MOMO is an app (useable on normal computers, iphones and android devices), that has helped modernise our systems for involving young people in Gateshead. It enables young people to create a structured statement of their views in relation to most common situations or events they encounter. They can use the app to prepare for a meeting, request a change to their care plan, to ask for help with a problem or complaint or self advocate.

    Anyone can use the app, including children in care, children in need, children with child protection plans, care leavers and even young parents who have children on child protection plans.

    Gateshead Children’s Rights Service uses the app in its day to day, one to one work with children and young people, as well as targeting children and young people before their LAC reviews. The Integrated Referral and Assessment Team has identified two members of staff, who work with children and young people prior to any initial child protection conference, if the child wishes to be involved. The Family Group Conference (FGC) Service uses MOMO with young people prior to their FGC.

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