Learning and Reflections, Minoritised voices & expertise by experience, Programme Blogs, Programme Themes

Delivery Team Reflection – Part 3 – Children and Young People’s Voice thematic project

Publication

 


Kirsche Walker is a Research Assistant who undertook an internship on the Tackling Child Exploitation (TCE) Support Programme between February and April 2021. The TCE Programme is a consortium of The Children’s Society, Research in Practice and the Safer Young Lives Centre based at the University of Bedfordshire. Her background is research in children and young people’s participation and engagement in politics, citizenship (or civic) education, and to what extent marginalised children and young people’s voices are included in this.

One of the priorities for the second year of the Programme was to implement Children and Young People’s Voice. My role has been to contribute to where this could happen, where and how this could be most effective and also how we implement this as a consortium, strategically to develop examples of best practice for the wider sector, driven by challenge, discussion, trial and change.

The purpose of including young people’s voices is to help to ensure that the Programme is informed by where children and young people would like to see change within the Programme, in their local areas and more broadly within the sector. Ellie Fairgrieve (TCS), Isabelle Brodie (SYLRC at UoB) and I started to discuss how we would initiate conversations with children and young people, what we wanted to ask them and what support could be offered in return.

Areas of involvement:

During the last three months, I have had the opportunity to be involved in:

  • writing blogs
  • thematic analysis training
  • organising and undertaking consultation groups
  • co-creating the TCE principles
  • literature reviewing
  • attending a ‘County Lines’ conference
  • co-contributing to the delivery of a West Midlands BSP (Bespoke Support Project)
  • taking part in an Action Learning Set group
  • contributing to actions in meetings
  • using Thematic Analysis to analyse the consultation groups notes.

Lessons learned – the impact on me

  • A balanced approach (hobbies, work, life) to working in exploitation is important to avoid burnout.

  • Change isn’t linear. It sometimes comes from an opportunity that arises.

  • From my various roles in participation, youth clubs and residential units, and as a trustee, research assistant, presenter at conferences, deliverer of training, consultant, and member of the Westminster forum, etc., I have learned that in all roles within the sector there are some really tough challenges. It can sometimes feel like you are either firefighting or frozen.

  • Terms such as strategic, operational, organisational and young people need to be clarified. Sometimes taking it back to the basics to really question and think about, for example, where / how children and young people’s voices can be implemented within these spaces is important.

  • Transformational change should not be transactional.[1] When working with young people, the least we can do is offer them something in return and treat them as the professionals they are. And prepare them for whatever path they take by offering mentoring, guidance, skills, training and other opportunities.

  • There are different ways to approach change. It comes in different forms for different young people. For example, changes in service delivery, approaches to support, and so on.

  • Young people should not be solely responsible for looking after themselves. A community approach to looking after young people in terms of protection and truly acknowledging their human rights is required.

  • We need to make a distinction between young people telling their stories and their ‘voice’.. Professionals don’t need to know the story unless a) a young person chooses to tell it in confidence, or b) a professional is the point of contact / supporting a young person in some way (i.e. as a counsellor or support worker, etc.).


Conclusions and my questions for the sector:

Use of language

  • The type of language used in different areas of exploitation differs. I wonder if this could be a barrier to working together more effectively? If we (professionals) could start to use the same language across the sector, would that make a significant change in how we work?

  • How can we include non-gendered and inclusive language?


Reconfiguration of services

  • The recent emphasis on child criminal exploitation and County Lines can mean other forms of exploitation (i.e. child sexual exploitation and modern slavery and trafficking) are sidelined. What does a balance between a vertical and horizontal expansion of services / support look like? How possible is this? What do we need for this to become a reality? Are there any sustainable or functional examples?

  • Poverty is a huge driver for all forms of exploitation, as demonstrated throughout the sector and the literature. What are the opportunities to address the inequalities within our local communities?   

  • ‘Horizontal’ and ‘vertical expansion’ are terms that are shared around strategic decision-making. As above, I wonder what functional examples look like. Might these affect the continuation of smaller / community organisations with little / a lack of funding?

Participation

  • Throughout the last ten years, I have acknowledged that, within the participation and engagement sector, there are two types of children and young people’s involvement. This could be whilst they are using services or after service use:
    • Full involvement
      The child or young person wants to make this their career going forward and to understand how to transition from young person to professional.

    • Partial involvement
      Here, there is some interaction and involvement, but the young person might not want to be directly associated with an organisation or group that reminds them of their experience of exploitation. From what I have seen, young people usually want to rid themselves of this identity but still help others as much as their capacity allows.

How we facilitate this is really important. Revaluating what children and young people get from their involvement, as well as what we get from it and whether it will benefit all parties involved both short term and long term is also really important. Arguably, our work should encourage autonomous decision-making at the very least.

  • It seems that young adults (aged 16 – 21) are not included in most decision-making spaces, organisations etc. I wonder how we can make more space for the older young people who still want to contribute to changing systems?

  • Safety around digital engagement definitely needs to be reassessed, especially during and post lockdown due to the increased risk of harm. What are the emerging / growing dangers, e.g. an increased potential for abuse in the home for being involved in discussions around exploitation?

    Here are some suggestions for alternative ways of working / things to consider:
    • participants could use phones instead of laptops
    • you can agree to certain topics of group discussion before meetings
    • you could use chat boxes or direct messaging on platforms like Zoom
    • you could check in via text during groups
    • you could encourage the use of headphones..

  • Have you or your organisation introduced mapping with children and young people for sites and apps that are ‘safe’ and ‘not safe’?


Inclusivity

  • The ‘elephants in the room’ are the huge lack of diversity within:
    • workplaces
    • the groups of young people receiving support from services
    • the young people who later contribute to the improvement of those same services.

We need to address why this is happening and make changes accordingly. All children and young people deserve to have equal access to and involvement in services from the beginning of their journey to the end. What is preventing this from happening? Are there any barriers, or conversations that aren’t and need to be had?

  • It’s important to involve children and young people in different ways and in different capacities. And to be transparent about involving them in impactful work that is appropriate and useful for all parties.

  • How can we better evaluate how young people access support, and engage and participate in certain spaces?

  • How can we include children and young people’s voices in service development to encourage inclusivity? For example, support for young women and girls might not include those who are non-binary or trans, which then becomes exclusionary.

    Also, we need to acknowledge that when you aim to be inclusive for people with a range of different identities (e.g., queer + non-binary + Black), it can mean:
    • they have to ‘choose’ an identity based on how others perceive them, which may not accurately reflect or encompass the fullness of how they see themselves.
    • certain identities might be at odds with or in conflict with others.

[1] i.e. Relating to exchanges or interactions between people.

This blog is part of a series –

Good practice principles: hearing the voice of children and young people

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

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