Learning and Reflections, Minoritised voices & expertise by experience, Programme Themes, Reconfiguration of services

TCE Year 2 Priorities: Children and young people’s voice


Hello – and welcome 

We are really looking forward to working with you on our action research project on children and young people’s voice. 

Young People’s voice is one of our programme priorities, and our aim is to identify and share ways in which senior leaders can bring children and young people’s voice into strategic discussions about child exploitation and extra familial harm.  This piece of work is being led by Ellie Fairgrieve (The Children’s Society) and Isabelle Brodie (University of Bedfordshire). 

To get this underway, we have scoped examples and evidence of children and young people’s participation work from within the consortium and across the sector.  We’ve also pulled together evidence from TCE’s own learning and evaluation to date, including our sector survey, bespoke support project applications and project learning reports.  

From our initial scoping focused on participation of children and young people’s views into strategic responses to tackle child exploitation, there is some recognition of the importance of children and young people’s views, however, it is not clear how this contributes to decision making within local areas.  Children and young people are too often absent from the debate – and there is uncertainty about what to do about that. 

We want to find out more. 

The next stage of our approach was to talk to the sector via Twitter (@EllieFairgrieve and @uniofbedsCSE). Conducted during November we asked a question a week and collected the responses received. This blog looks at the questions and some of the responses from the sector.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at ellie.fairgrieve@childrenssociety.org.uk / @EllieFairgrieve and Isabelle.brodie@beds.ac.uk / @uniofbedsCSE

Diary #Week 1 – 6th November 2020 

Well, our Twitter conversation is underway!  A huge thanks to everyone who has contributed. 

Our first question for the sector was: what does children and young people’s voice mean to you, as a strategic leader?’  

The thinking behind this question was that we need to know how people understand ‘children and young people’s voice’ before we can go on to consider if, and how this already takes place, or could take place better.   

We know from discussion with the sector and from research literature that many different terms are used in relation to children and young people’s ‘voice’ – participation, consultation, co-creation and so on – and these can also be used in different ways.  People also have different experiences of trying to do this.  And it can be difficult to question what is meant by ‘voice’ in a professional context. 

We were a little unsure the level of response we would get to this first question, but are really pleased that people ‘liked’ the idea and the question, and that discussion is underway.  People reminded us that: 

  • There are young people who are working as strategic advocates, and who are ‘raising their voices’.  It is important to look at different services and sectors, and some responses flagged that there are some really good examples of how young people contribute to strategy in the health sector and elsewhere. 
  • It should not just be thought of as ‘nice’ or an afterthought, but core to what we do. 
  • Things that help facilitate children and young people’s voice include having national champions who keep issues on the agenda, and having dedicated staff who support them. 
  • Involvement needs to be genuine, meaningful and sustained. 
  • Things will go wrong, but that’s OK and it’s important to keep moving forwards. 
  • And a challenge – even if we are trying to ensure children and young people are part of developing strategy, how do we hear, understand and respond to what they are saying? How do we cede power and follow through what young people are saying to decision making? And most importantly, how do we feedback to young people about what action has been taken as a result of their input? 

These are all really important points, and an essential foundation to the way we proceed in our thinking about the children and young people’s strand of work in our Tackling Child Exploitation (TCE) programme.  

This is a new way of working for both of us, and is also new to TCE as a programme – and we know there is still a lot to learn.  Next week we’re planning to extend our Twitter reach and perhaps be more pro-active within the conversation.  We also need to follow up on some of the examples we’ve been given. 

Thank you again, and we look forward to talking more! 

Diary #Week 2 – 13th November 2020 

Both Isabelle and I are so pleased with the engagement we have received from our Twitter conversations so far – it’s been wonderful to hear from so many of you, especially connecting with colleagues across the sector that we haven’t previously met.  

Our second question was: what is your approach to engaging CYP (Children and Young People) in participation work to inform strategic work to develop child exploitation and extra-familial harm responses? 

What we hoped this question would achieve is for us to increase the sector’s understanding of how senior leaders are working with children and young people, and to share approaches to encourage others to do so. Approaches across the sector can vary significantly, from engaging young people in participation work to informing a campaign or design a service specificationHowever, we wanted to probe a little further to identify specific examples and to consider what skills are specifically required from us as senior leaders to enable meaningful participation.  

Some of the examples of approaches we heard about were: 

  • Build requirement to coproduce service with young people into the contract/commissioning process” 
  • “Young person led social media campaigns” 
  • “Through the development of a trusted relationship it enabled young people to see the system problems, and for them not to face it as ‘my problem’” 
  • “Gathering insights from 1:1 work and looking at themes across the board in order to use these themes to inform decisions about which systems we focus on in our systems change work” 
  • “Co-designed an exploitation model with young people. Young people designed the tools, the pathways and practice standards to develop the complex safeguarding model to respond to exploitation” 
  • “We have recently used music and graffiti sessions to enable young people to describe their experiences and we are using these messages to update our campaigns, interventions, and overall approach to engagement with children and young people” 
  • “Young people have been part of our recruitment strategy and interviews for staff across the service. 
  • “Open access participation – explaining the project, how young people can be involved if they want to – being ok that young people will dip in and out as they choose and they are welcomed back when they are ready” 

Something to consider further is the importance of placing participation at the core of all our activities and decisions we make. What would our strategies and action plans look like then? We think they would look different with children’s and young people’s input.  

We recognise that is helpful for us to share how young people can participate, but equally important is: what are the skills required from us to enable meaningful participation? 

  • Investment of time and energy to move beyond feedback to collaborative service design 
  • Listen with intent to stop young people feeling as though “you keep asking us but no-one listens” 
  • Be open to self-reflection – is my approach to participation achieving what I hoped for? If not, who can help me? 
  • Be brave to act and work creatively – the best of ideas come from stepping outside our comfort zones and trying new approaches. If we do not try, how will we know?  
  • Work hard to share power and control and as Abianda described “Work in a non-hierarchical way to challenge unequal dynamics power & oppression” 
  • Ask open questions e.g., “what needs to change?” 
  • Embed feedback loops. Let’s stop asking young people for their involvement and then not giving them feedback on how their input has contributed or influenced the work 
  • Being honest with young people about where/how the request has come about and what you would like from their involvement
  • Respect young people – respect their views, respect their knowledge and experiences of their own lives , respect their contribution and respect that what we may want to hear might not be the answer we receive.  

We will be using these skills to inform our work on the TCE programme. 

Next week we’re looking forward to more engagement and wanting to understand what the barriers are in engaging CYP in participation work to inform strategic responses for child exploitation and extra-familial harm

Thank you again, and we look forward to talking more! 

Diary #Week 3 – 20th November 2020 

As the weeks go on, we are accumulating a store of ideas and insights.  So far, it has been clear that those responding feel strongly that children and young people’s involvement in strategic discussion and decision making about child exploitation should be part of the fabric of work in the sector.  It should not be an optional extra. 

Of course, it can reasonably be argued we are talking to the converted – our Twitter audience consists of people and organisations who are signed up to the idea that children and young people should, and have a right to, participate in strategic decision making. 

Maybe that Twitter bubble is replicated in other contexts, both organisationally and at policy level?  Who are we missing? Are we talking to people who don’t agree, or have reservations and don’t feel able to voice them? And if we are not, then how do we reach them? 

It is also clear that examples of such participation are often presented as exceptional, and therefore unusual, practice.  So we wanted to explore that gap more. 

Our third question was: What is stopping us from engaging children and young people in participation work to inform strategic responses for child exploitation and extra-familial harm? 

We got fewer responses this week – perhaps because people feel they’ve already answered this in other comments.  However, some interesting themes nevertheless emerged about the perceived barriers. 

The key themes emerging from this discussion were: 

  • Commitment is essential, and is too often lacking – especially from senior leaders.  Not everyone recognises the fundamental value of working with young people to enable them to participate.
  • Funding for services – austerity and other policy decisions have reduced investment in services for young people.  Many services have disappeared. 
  • As well as funding for services, the way in which resources are spent is also important.  People said that funding is also needed to give workers the time and skills they need to work with young people in a relationship based way.   Young people need to have access to different opportunities in sport, arts, music that will extend their skills and resilience, and enable services to support their participation.   
  • Language is important, and can obscure what is happening – for example, what do people really mean when they say that there has been a consultation with young people?  Would young people agree – and if so, which young people?  We need to be more honest about what is going on!   
  • Young people’s previous experiences of services, including instances where they do not feel they have been listened to or where no action has been taken in response to their views. 
  • Leadership is key – senior leaders need to be able to invest time and resources in their staff so that they can work to develop relationships with young people, that will in turn create opportunities for participation in services.  They also need to be “brave enough to take on board what CYP have said, even though some of it may go against the grain of our usual approaches”.  

All these points need further exploration.  For example, if there is lack of commitment, why is this? Have people tried a participative approach, and found it too difficult – or felt hamstrung by lack of resource or support? 

We are now starting to think about what the next stages of this project will involve – if you have any thoughts, please don’t hesitate to contact us on Twitter @isabellebrodie4 or @EllieFairgrieve or by email ellie.fairgrieve@childrenssociety.org.uk and Isabelle.brodie@beds.ac.uk

Diary #Week 4 – 27th November 2020 

Isabelle and I have taken some time this week to think further about the responses we have received so far enquiring about how the sector engages young people’s voices in strategic decisions, and especially about how we can utilise this opportunity to make a difference and contribute to this space.  

This week we reached our final week of asking our set of Twitter questions. In case you missed it, we asked ‘what support or information do you need to engage children and young people into the strategic dialogue?’ 

Our week 3 diary entry is proof of the pudding that our Twitter audience consists of people and organisations who are signed up to the idea that children and young people should participate in strategic decision making! We did not get as much engagement this week but I truly believe it is because our question did not reach those who may be able to share some suggestions.  

@nerysanthony responded with

 “Not sure it’s support or information but a recognition that this takes time and any involvement needs to be in the interests of the young person. Not just because strategy development would be better for their involvement”  

And we could not agree more. We have discussed how we do not feel that senior leaders do not want to include young people in strategic decisions or do not know how to but there might be conditions senior leaders and partnerships need to enable this to take place, including the letting-go of power. 

Some of the wider activity taking place in the TCE Programme may be helpful in thinking about this. We have been working with some of my The Children’s Society colleagues from the Accelerating Impact team – @gemmadrake to explore the long-term system change goal that TCE is working towards (more about that another time).This week we explored the enabling conditions the TCE programme needs to support local areas to develop strategic responses to child exploitation and extra-familial harm. Some of the enabling conditions discussed that initially come to mind are:  

  • Holding a space with sufficient and quality time to be able to focus and conduct participation 
  • An enthusiasm and drive for collaboration and co-production at a strategic level 
  • Access to the system – having and giving permission with stakeholders and sharing information, knowledge and experiences 
  • Permission to challenge – how we get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We referenced this in our week two blog that a skill required to enable meaningful participation is to respect young people and respect that what we may want to hear might not be the answer we receive.  

And these are just a few! We would be interested in hearing what you perceive the enabling conditions may be for senior leaders to engage children and young people’s voice into strategic discussion about child exploitation and extra familial harm. 

So that is the end of our Twitter questions (for now!) We are in the process of drafting what our next set of actions will be – we guarantee this will involve consulting with young people but if you have any ideas or want to contribute to our work please do contact us on Twitter: @EllieFairgrieve or @isabellebrodie4 or by email: ellie.fairgrieve@childrenssociety.org.uk and Isabelle.brodie@beds.ac.uk  

Ellie and Isabelle  

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