Programme Blogs, Research and Evidence

‘Nothing about us without us’: The Young People’s Action Group’s reflections on TCE’s conference


On the 16th of March, 2022, the TCE Support Programme delivered the final event of its 6-month 2021/22 Learning Programme, ‘Strategic Improvement in Child Exploitation and Extra-Familial Harm’. The in-person conference was an opportunity to share the insights and learning from three years of delivering a nation-wide programme, and was attended by over 50 professionals from a broad range of organisations and sectors.

The event focused on amplifying insights from the Joining the Dots framework, which was designed to support local area safeguarding partnerships to bridge boundaries, lead with care and to work with complexity, curiosity and uncertainty. At the event, TCE also shared the four key themes that help make an impact when responding to child exploitation and extra-familial harm, namely: 

  • developing a shared vision
  • putting connection and communication at the centre
  • being professionally curious
  • offering leadership in complexity.

Read more about what has been learned from the first three years of the TCE Programme

The Programme team worked with the Young Person’s Advisory Group (YPAG), who work alongside London’s Violence Reduction Unit, to help shape and co-facilitate the conference. Throughout the first three years of the TCE Programme, YPAG collaborated on several of the Programme’s themes. The Programme team was delighted YPAG wanted to be part of the event. After the conference, facilitators asked delegates to share their reflections on the event and three young people (Sarah, Bipin and Lewis) offered their thoughts.

Event design

It is the maxim of our team, the ‘Young People’s Action Group’, that there is ‘Nothing about us without us’. Thus, when the Tackling Child Exploitation Programme introduced themselves to us, and what they wanted us to accomplish with them, we agreed to be a part of the design, development and delivery. Specifically working on ‘Joining the Dots’, our voices were respected and utilised throughout in breaking down the boundaries that separate young people from professionals… We helped to break down the definitions of these terminologies and discover what these ideas meant to us and young people.

By simplifying such vague and complex terms whilst keeping their potential impact on young people as a focal point of our contributions, we have been able to advise on making sure the toolkit is ‘young people friendly’. Awareness of the complex and evolving nature of exploitation, of cultural competency and of the need to create a direct link between professionals and young people proved to be three essential elements of the toolkit and how we as young people would like to view it. So, when it came to attending the event in mid-March, we were fully prepared on how we wanted to interact with the professionals from all different sectors, and how we could utilise our time most effectively.


We started the co-designing process of the event in January in our YPAG meetings and we consistently had meetings with the TCE team until the event in March. In the meetings, we were able to learn about Joining the Dots through the use of Jamboard. In these meetings we were part of the planning of the event and were able to express our opinions on how the day should go. From the meetings, we developed a strong understanding of the three ‘dots’ and all of us were comfortable with the idea of doing workshops relating to any of them. I personally felt that all our voices were listened to and the event reflected what we had been talking about in our meetings with the TCE team.


On presenting

The conference included a keynote speech from Dr Carlene Firmin (Durham University), TCE insights shared by Dez Holmes (Research in Practice) and a talk entitled, ‘What does systems change mean?’ from Nerys Anthony (The Childrens’ Society). YPAG members Bipin and Leonita, helped open the conference by sharing their reflections of interacting with strategic leaders and professionals, and the use of language and how it impacts young people being supported by the child protection and youth justice systems.

At the start of the event, I had to deliver an opening speech to everyone outlining what we do as the YPAG and how we would be co-facilitating workshops later in the day. This was especially useful to me as it has allowed me to have the opportunity to build confidence when speaking to a large group of professionals – something I did not think I would be able to do a few years ago.


On co-facilitating workshops

YPAG co-facilitated three workshops during the conference, leading multi-agency conversations about the Joining the Dots framework, encouraging reflections, and exploring opportunities for local area partnerships to make use of the ideas generated by the joining the dots framework.

We co-facilitated workshops with the professionals regarding one of the ‘dots’. These were very useful as we were put into smaller groups, thus a rapport between us and the professionals was necessary. In my workshop (leading with care) with [YPAG member] Jade, we used post-it notes to ask the professionals their opinions on how they can change how they work with exploited children. The professionals were very engaged and very willing to challenge themselves on how they carry out their work. From the responses Jade and I received, it was clear that the workshops were useful. I would be very willing to do something similar in the future!


I was tasked with co-facilitating a group session on bridging boundaries, and how to ensure young people are completely involved in processes that are made for them (again, our motto is, ‘Nothing about us, without us!’). I think the most important part of bridging the gap between professionals and young people is making sure our voices are heard, prioritised and truly valued. It is so important that professionals are up to date with the way young people think today. Being a co-facilitator at the TCE conference was an amazing experience, and I hope many more young people are able to experience this kind of opportunity.


In my session, I spoke about working with complexity, curiosity and holding uncertainty – what it meant to me and how I thought young people should be involved within the toolkit. Afterwards, I invited discussion around some key questions regarding that particular ‘dot’ and how professionals may take this framework on board in their own day-to-day tasks. Overall, facilitating was a challenging yet rewarding task. I was met with some difficult individuals, but the majority of people were keen and willing to hear my views about how to make an impact.


Final Reflections

As a young person it can often be intimidating to challenge industry experts – or anyone older than you really – on how they operate and how they do their jobs. However, it is extremely important that young people’s voices are heard and valued. The world we live in is ever-changing, so the methods professionals use to tackle exploitation and engage with young people should be flexible and adapt to these changes.


To conclude, the idea of involving young people in the planning and design of the event has proved to work and I think this event was a major example that other organisations can learn from. The fact that we were able to deliver to such a high standard goes to show that we, as young people, are very capable and the TCE Programme has done an excellent job in portraying this.


Reflecting upon the whole experience, I was able to develop my own professional skills by being able to directly contribute in discussions with professionals that I myself had not really been engaged in before. Co-facilitating showed me where my strengths and weaknesses lie in presenting, and developing the project introduced me to a range of different evaluative skills.

Youth participation and youth engagement are not the same. I can directly say I participated in the design, development and delivery of the Programme and not just engaged with it by giving my view. I have dubbed my own term for the relationship between young people and practitioners in the professional world, ‘the pen and the people’. The structural integrity of an organisation and its processes is mostly down to the professionals, ‘the pen’, who understand how certain processes have to run. The culture and its impact can be evaluated by ‘the people’ – those who the pen will have an impact on, or people who can better sympathise with those who are impacted by the pen. That is my experience with the Tackling Child Exploitation Support Programme. Providing alternative views, both in speaking with leading practitioners, and in designing the project itself.


TCE would like to thank YPAG team members for all their hard work and enthusiastic co-facilitation at the conference. If you would like to find out more about the work of YPAG, please visit their website.

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