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Delivery Team Reflection – Part 4 – Children and Young People’s Voice thematic project



As part of my time as an intern at the Tackling Child Exploitation (TCE) Support programme,  two colleagues and I worked on one of the Programme priorities, Children and Young People’s Voice. The discussion was around how we at the Programme, through a consortium of different organisations, could focus on implementing youth voice. My colleagues and I carried out a number of activities, including consulting with young people to explore how to include and prioritise children and young people’s voice at the strategic level. This blog outlines the steps we have taken, the outcomes from these, the questions we are left with and some challenges to the sector.

Background / context:

Firstly, we started scoping the broader literature around young people’s voices in services via youth led, co-authored or co-produced resources, safeguarding toolkits, feedback frameworks, peer support projects, etc. And, secondly, we consulted with children and young people directly on how they would like their voices to be heard at the strategic level. We are aware that there is an abundance of literature that suggests that youth voice is being included within organisations via their safety toolkits and through broader operational decision-making, and there are step-by-step guides on how to do this. However, feedback from the Programme’s Bespoke Support Projects suggested that professionals still face challenges and difficulties in doing so, especially on how to include children and young people’s voices in strategic decision-making. This led us to consider some key questions to ask children and young people about whether they felt it was important for their voices to contribute to strategic decision-making in a child exploitation context and if so, how that should happen.

The questions we proposed were:

  • Do you think children and young people are listened to about child exploitation (i.e. sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation – e.g. county lines – and trafficking and modern slavery)?​

  • Who do you think should be listening to children and young people about child exploitation?​

  • What do you think the people in charge should be doing about it?​

  • If you, as a child or young person, could make any changes, what would those changes be?

My colleagues and I contacted three different organisations who were already running pre-existing consultation or participation groups involving children and young people.

Identified themes

Throughout the consultation, the focus quickly shifted  to how children and young people want to be included, where they felt professionals needed to pay more attention and what they felt needed to be done going forward. In total, we had 5 consultation group conversations with a number of young people from 3 different services, with different experiences of exploitation and of a variety of different ages (15-25). The recurring themes (i.e. what young people said they wanted) that I identified from the consultations were:

  • Opportunities to upskill, further education options, development of learning.

  • Role models that give examples of how to get out of an area or situation, e.g. exploitation; to share experiences e.g. involvement in gangs and its consequences, and exploitation more broadly, as a form of peer support.

  • Attention to language, i.e. for professionals not to use words to describe exploitation that children and young people wouldn’t use.

  • To be heard and listened to, and to be able to hold professionals to account for not listening, or not acting on / inappropriately commenting on children and young people’s experiences.

  • Engagement in communities from government, decision-makers and professionals, especially in ‘less desirable’ areas, which is needed for better representation and to give better examples to young people (both locally and nationally).

  • More funding and investment in services, especially in less desirable areas, with a key focus on prevention and intervention.

  • Young people’s views of training / awareness needs for other young people and professionals:
  • Peer support groups within services, providing a mentor whether that is a peer mentor or professional. Young people said that this would help them to hear other people’s experiences but also to have an alternative example outside of their normal circles.
  • Professionals need to ask how to best support the young person and get to know them (to interpret support needed).

  • Performative action, false allies and tokenism are all things young people have mentioned. These are not only from our group discussions but also cited more broadly in the literature. Young people recognise that there are challenges here for professionals but expect them to approach / support them with a flexible, inclusive and open-minded approach. Examples were given around things like mental health awareness days, where such issues are raised in the context of a single event but many young people face mental health challenges daily. Similarly, people of colour described being singled out to support Black Lives Matter when there’s a protest or when it’s Black History Month, but at no other point throughout the year.

  • Something we have heard from professionals and young people throughout the sector is that children and young people are still not heard or listened to and that they need better representation (in terms of, for e.g., race, class,  gender, sexuality, and disability) across the sector.

  • Wider society needs to be educated about changing the stigma around different forms of exploitation, alongside children, young people and professionals. Young people said they would like there to be more training, awareness and accountability in challenging stereotypes delivered by people that have experience of exploitation.

As you can see from the above themes, we have solidified some issues that the sector has already been aware of and have added weight to them. Arguably, it has also brought to light some new challenges and chances to make working with children and young people inclusive in all ways. Although, like the Twitter blog from my colleagues, Ellie Fairgrieve and Isabelle Brodie, we have possibly been left with more questions than answers.

Challenges to the sector:

To date, our consultation work has enabled me to hear directly from children and young people, and has posed some questions and issues to reflect upon. I believe if we all took a moment to reflect and identify actions or ways of addressing some of these challenges, it would enable us to make a strong effort to change, challenge and improve what we can in both our own approaches and the practices around us.

  • Why are children and young people still feeling unheard and not listened to?
    Can we, as professionals, be better at listening without responding, and be transparent about what we can and cannot achieve not only for ourselves but also for young people?

  • How can we challenge ourselves and broader society on the current stereotypes, stigmas and narratives that children and young people are subjected to?
    By c
    hecking and making ourselves aware of our own bias, and by challenging ourselves and possibly others, both in our personal lives and work lives. It’s important to make time to engage with children and young people, even if our role does not demand direct involvement.

  • Young people have mentioned working with more care. What if we, as a mutually beneficial exercise, introduce informal feedback between professionals and young people?
    Starting your working relationship with open discussion, and giving each other feedback on when something is done well or when there is room for improvement, encourages more informal and mutual feedback. The Open University has created guidance and given some key suggestions on how we can improve and / or challenge our working relationships with young people.

  • Altering our language so that we aren’t using lots of jargon.
    Although I feel this is self-explanatory, it isn’t to say that young people are not willing to learn the professional terminologies used within the exploitation sector. We can, however, decrease the use of jargon in general terms. For example, using acronyms for a service or describing forms of exploitation in a way that a young person would not. Most young people change their language to communicate with us. It is only fair that we reciprocate.

  • Professionals need to be more inquisitive and investigative when it comes to spotting the signs of exploitation.
    Look beyond young people’s actions and consider the reasons why certain behaviours are surfacing. Also, ensure professionals equip themselves with the knowledge they need to safeguard young people from child exploitation.

  • Use some of your time in your role as a professional to volunteer directly with children and young people as a means of maintaining rapport, engaging with their community and seeing what / how decisions affect that community.
    Spending time at your local community or youth centre, participation or activist group, or scout, guide or sports club, etc. can build relationships and help you understand what is important to children and young people.

  • Ensuring that young people have / make places (when appropriate and possible) to be on boards, panels, groups that make operational and organisational decisions.
    Including young people in sharing their thoughts on your service, research, project, etc. allows them to contribute in non-tokenistic ways on how that piece of work / service, etc. looks and functions. They could even take part in project delivery.

  • Ensure staff members are representative of our wider society and focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
    alternative ways of recruiting members of staff and really utilising data collected from applicants, interviewees, and successful candidates. Make sure we are actively contributing to this data set to understand why our workplaces are imbalanced in terms of identity, and how this affects our work with each other and young 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

Joining the Dots
Our collective knowledge of and understanding of child exploitation is still a developing field. Ideas and examples from across the sector and beyond may help bring a fresh new perspective or unlock a problem. The resources below are part of this rich conversation...
Read more

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