Podcast Episode: Involving young people: messages from research
Category: Young people
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
HW - Helen Whincup
Helen Whincup, teaching fellow at the University of Stirling, reflects on a qualitative study entitled ‘Involving Young People Messages from Research’ which examines how young people feel involved or not in assessment and decision making. It was recorded at a Scottish Childcare Protection meeting on the 30th of April 2012.
HW This morning is thinking about some of the messages from research about what children have said about their feelings about being involved and I will also be drawing on the research that I have been doing. On Friday Lorraine Radford was here and she was looking at a huge, huge, huge research involving thousands of people, mine’s not that big, mine is a kind of a small qualitative research today, so very different from that. So as I say we will be thinking about what young people have said about how they felt involved or not in assessment and decision making. But one of the things I thought, because I looked at who was here before I started today and a huge amount of experience in the room from practice, from education and from research, and I guess just thinking intuitively, if you were to do a list of what you think children and young people would have said about what they have found helpful in terms of practitioners and what they would have found not so helpful. I have put this up, the Children’s Charter, just because that should underpin all our contact with children and young people and it’s something that’s familiar to us, and one of the things that’s come up out of the research is that we can, sometimes the way that we think we are listening and the way that children think we are listening can be different. Alison McLeod and some of you will be familiar with the work, she has done a really nice book called ‘Communicating with Children’, did some research, and she talked to children and she talked to their social workers and when she talked to social workers, they related any number of really innovative ways about how they listened to children, but when she talked to the children they were saying well, no, they don’t listen to me, and she kind of pondered on that and thought well what’s the difference, why is there a dissidence their understanding? And one of the things that she found was that if we don’t act upon things that children tell us, then fairly reasonably they think that we’re not listening to them. So listening needs to be involved and needs to be linked to action. So when we are looking at the kind of Children’s Charter which in a way seems simple, actually under all of these things it’s really complex about, well what does respect our privacy mean in terms of who we tell things to, what does it mean in terms of involve us, and some of the research would seem to indicate that sometimes we are not quite so good at involving children as we think we are, so I have put that up really to look at the listen to us one. So as I say that should underpin what social work practitioners do, what health, what education do, and most of the research that I will be drawing on is from social work, most of it’s from the UK, where it’s from Scotland I will kind of flag that up, and where it’s not from the UK I will say, because obviously there are different systems. But I am also going to touch upon research from education and from health because social work practitioners aren’t alone in finding it difficult sometimes to involve children and young people.
Okay these are some of the kind of key messages from some of the research and I guess when we are thinking about the messages from research about what children and young people were saying, we need to put that first in the context of the research that’s been done and there are some difficulties in research with children, so the first bit in terms of research with children is accessing children and young people. Most of the research that takes place with children and young people, particularly small scale qualitative research, is done via gatekeepers and certainly the research that I am doing, I am currently concluding interviews with children, young people and social workers and team managers and I am looking at children and young peoples experience of being on home supervision orders, and that’s largely because where things that we’ll come to in terms of some of the messages from research is that different groups of children are researched more, partly because they are easier to access, so children who tend to be researched are children who are in foster care, in residential care. Children who tend not to have as much research done with them are children who are looked after at home, and that’s interesting given what we know about outcomes for children who are looked after at home. So when we’re thinking about the messages from research we first of all need to put that into the context of who are researchers talking to, Thomas and O’Kane have written quite a lot about the parallels between research and practice, so when I am going through some of the messages from research, I am looking at some of the difficulties for researchers in accessing young people and maybe why they don’t speak to particularly young people, there are very similar messages to why within practice, particular young people might be absent from assessment and decision making processes. So first of all in terms of access and research, one of the things that a number of researchers have found is that it’s been difficult to access children, so Gilbertson and Barbour, they were trying to do some research with children and young people who were in foster care and what they found was that where placements were a bit shoogly, practitioners were not likely to pass information onto children and young people because they thought maybe the very act of speaking to someone is going to make that more difficult for them, it’s going to bring things up that they people find it difficult to cope with afterwards, but consequently that meant that the only people who spoke to Gilbertson and Barbour were the people who had really quite stable placements, so there’s a whole group of children who were missing from that research. Similarly Leeson, and I am going to touch upon Leeson later on, wanted to speak to young people in residential care and found that residential staff were anxious because they saw young people as being too emotionally damaged to participate in research, and that links to something I am going to talk about in a minute, it’s about perceptions of children and childhood, so how we view children and childhood more generally can affect how we engage children and young people, both in research but also in practice. So one of the things that can come up is that gatekeepers can be anxious about involving young people, so can make decisions for young people that they are not going to participate and that’s certainly one of the things that I found. The other thing that I found in the research that I have been doing is that gatekeepers have been anxious about me, so they wanted to get children and young people who were particularly articulate and one of the things I have had to kind of go through is I am okay with monosyllabic teenagers, I have got one, so let me speak to the people who aren’t articulate and again that’s going to pick up on another thing in terms of assessment and decision making. Sally Holland did some research on involving parents and also involving young people in assessment and one of the things that she found was that often assessments are talk based, so if you are not so articulate, then what does that mean about what your capacity to be involved in an assessment, but also what does it mean about your capacity to be involved in research, because you are tended not to be asked. So again those kinds of parallels between research and practice. Particular children are likely to be excluded from research, so for example children with a disability are very rarely included in research, unless it’s research to do with what it feels like to be a child got a disability and it’s intentionally broad, what they … much of the research has found is that any label of any type of disability means that you are less likely to be included in research, whether that’s a physical disability or a learning disability and the research that you are likely to be included in tends to be about what’s it like to be a child with a disability, rather than what subjects do you like at school, what do you do in your spare time, so it tends to be kind of focused on one area of your identity, and I guess again … I talked a minute ago about Sally Holland in terms of talk based assessment, another piece of research that she did looked at how social work practitioners present children’s identities within assessment and found that they tended to be very kind of simplistically, so it looked at one bit of your identity, so if you were asked to think about all the different things about you in terms of your identity, you might think about your friends, your family, your job, you might think about being a parent or not a parent, you might think about having a dog, any number of things you would think about for your own identity, but what they found for children is that the identities tended to be seen in terms of developmental stage and attachment, those were the 2 bits of identity. So again when we are thinking about how we involve children in assessment and decision making, if we only see them in terms of, okay are they meeting their developmental stages, again that means we are less likely to involve them in ways that have resonances with them. So children and young people are most likely to be excluded from research, but also who are less likely to be included in innovative ways in terms of assessment and decision making are children who have some label of a disability, and again in terms of research where children did have a disability, gatekeepers often made the decision that participation might cause them distress, or alternatively that if we had difficulties communicating, that it might … we might have to get additional resources, so again that might mean that they were excluded.
The other thing that happens is that children’s views were often sought via their parents, so Kirsten Stalker did some research along with Connors and found that children who did have a disability, where they’re involved, it was proxy, so it was via the parents. The other people who are likely, young people who are likely to be excluded from research, but also who are less, far less likely to participate in assessment and decision making processes are younger children, so when you read through the research about children’s views, often it’s children who are 11, 12 plus that are included, and on Friday when Lorraine was here, she was talking about who was included in that kind of huge research that she did and it was young people, 11 plus. And again when we are thinking about, well what’s the why of that, that’s partly linked to our perceptions of children in childhood and views of competency and agency, at what age we think children are competent to give a view.
Karen Winter did some really, a very nice piece of research, a very small study and she spoke to 4 and 7 year olds about their experiences of living at home, in really very neglectful situations, and the interesting thing about her study was that the social workers hadn’t talked in detail to the children about what they had experienced because A, they thought it might upset them, B, they weren’t sure what they would remember because for some of them, at the time of the research they were 4 to 7, so some of them had been at home when they were younger, and for some of them they weren’t sure about how to approach it, so how do I talk to a 4 year old about what he or she might have experienced, and one of the things that she found was that they had very clear recollections of being in extremely neglectful situations and were able to describe things that happened and describe rooms, and when she showed the research to social workers who had been involved with the children, the were really surprised because the children’s recollections were really accurate. So that sense if actually if we ask it in the right way, young people can be really involved.
Alison Clark did some research with pre-school children where she got them to walk about the nursery taking photos and talk her through, what’s your sense of what’s here, and one of the things that she found interesting was that they had a very different sense of the space to the adults around them, so the quiet space that was seen by adults as the quite space, was seen by children as that’s where you go when you have done something wrong, so again that sense of children having a very different view to the adults around them. And Reece Emmond who is that Stirling University did some research where she was based in a children’s home and again the young people’s views of safe spaces in that residential home and staff’s views of safe spaces were slightly different. So again it’s about how do we engage children and young people, because the Winter stuff weren’t talk based and the Alison Clark stuff was using photographs as a basis for talk. So younger children might be excluded.
The other people who are likely to be excluded are … and I have put it, I have purposefully put it in, what are they called, 66 and 99s?
Thank you, inverted commas, so I put in “hard to reach” because sometimes we talk about children and young people being hard to reach, but sometimes it’s us who are difficult to access, but … so that’s why it’s in inverted commas, but children and young people who are difficult and who engage in difficult behaviour or behaviour that we find difficult, are sometimes excluded from research but they’re also sometimes not included in assessment and decision making processes as well as they ought to be.
There was … Cross did some research in primary schools, she initially studied kind of 2 classes, 1 in primary school and then when they’ve moved up to high school and it was in Central Scotland and one of the things that she found was that no boys were included in the research in one school and the explanation for that, and I will quote it, “their entanglement in school exclusion processes prohibited their involvement”. So essentially if you were naughty, you weren’t involved in research. So sometimes, thinking and linking back to … Mike Stein was here talking about adolescent neglect, and one of the things about adolescent neglect that comes up is that sometimes the way that teenagers behave can be difficult for adults to deal with and make it difficult for us to access them, to speak to them, because we get focused on what they are doing rather than the why of what they are doing, and certainly in terms of practice the 1 time, I used to work with a young man from being 11 to 18, and the 1 occasion that he was able to remain in a review without leaving in a huff was the 1 occasion where the reviewing officer didn’t start off with al the things he had done wrong over the last 6 months, and I guess thinking about how we involve children and young people, if I went into a meeting and someone talked about all the things that I’d not done or that I had done badly over the last 6 months, I think I might also walk out and I am a reasonably articulate middle aged woman, I am not a 15 year old boy who has difficulty controlling affect, so I guess it’s how we engage young people and how we involve them. So young people who have difficult behaviour are also likely to be excluded from research, but they are also likely to have difficulty sometimes, or we are likely to have difficulty in involving them in more formal decision making processes.
The other thing, I guess links between what we have already talked about in terms of young children and children with a disability, but also older teenagers, is about our perceptions of children and their childhood, influence both where there are children likely to be involved in research, but also whether we are likely to involve them in decision making processes. So thinking about how we view children, whether we view them as competent, whether we view them as kind of incompetent, one of the things that Thomas and O’Kane found is that sometimes the way that we involve children means that we stress the things that they are not so competent at, rather than kind of involving in ways that focus on competence.
Shemmings, in terms of our views of children in childhood, did a really interesting piece of research and it was done with social workers where he gave them a list of questions like, at what age is it okay to have a tattoo, at what age is it okay to stay at your friends overnight, and found that social workers tended to fall into 2 camps, and it’s an interesting title and the title of the journal is why I picked it up in the first place, because it’s called ‘Professional Attitudes to Children’s Participation and Decision Making, Dichotomous Accounts and Doctrinal Attitudes.’ So that’s what attracted me to it. And what he found, and the reason why he’s titled it Dichotomous Accounts and Doctrinal Attitudes is that practitioners tended to fall into 2 camps, both camps linked to social work values, so thinking in terms of core social work values, 2 of them would be enabling and protecting. What he found is that if you were a protector, so if you thought in terms of my core social work value is about protecting, then even though generally you could think of all types of reasons why children and young people ought to be involved in assessment and decision making, you could come up with any number of reasons why this particular young person shouldn’t be, because it was about protecting them. Conversely, if you fell into the enabling camp then you were far more likely to involve children and young people in decision making processes. The reason it’s called Dichotomous Accounts and Doctrinal Attitudes is because never the twain would meet, so you were either a protector or an enabler. So it’s a really interesting one to have a look at, to just think about yourself and think well, I think I am an enabler, but actually am I more likely to come up with any number of reasons why this young person can’t, young people generally ought to be included but not mine, not this one, so it’s an interesting one to think about, about how we view children and childhood. And it’s not just social work practitioners, so thinking in terms of health and education, about how health practitioners view childhood. Imelda Coin did some research where she looked a children and young people’s involvement in decisions about health and one of the things, she found there were 2 major obstacles to participation, so even though Children’s Charter applies to health, there’s also other things that apply to health in terms of engaging children and young people in decision making, she found 2 obstacles to participation, 1 was healthcare professionals themselves who were anxious about upsetting or weren’t sure in terms of a young persons level of understanding, but the other thing that she would was an obstacle was parents, what she found was that either parents weren’t sure about information being shared with the child, or that health professionals tended to talk to parents, so often if you were the parent, I would talk to you and I would leave you out to have a discussion between ourselves, and that consequently children and young people were marginalised. Now that’s despite the fact that Alison did a huge bit of research that looked at children’s involvement and found that even really very young children, if given accurate information, could make very significant decisions about their own health. So again that sense of how we view children in childhood being really core to whether we involve children and young people.
The other thing that’s come up from the research in terms of children and young people for the research that has been done, so for children who were articulate, didn’t have a disability, were aged over 11 and weren’t in a shoogly placement, what they said was that sometimes they were asked their views in ways that weren’t helpful. I talked earlier about Holland’s research about Talk Based Assessments, if children were asked to write things down and they weren’t that good at writing, that wasn’t helpful in terms of them seeing themselves as competent or being viewed by other people as competent. Similarly if they were asked to talk in meetings, that was really difficult. There was a big piece of research done by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner in England and it’s called, I think it’s called ‘Don’t make Assumptions About Me’, and they talked to young people about their experience of being involved in reviews, so formal decision making processes, and 1 of the things that they came up with was that sometimes they were asked really awkward questions in front of their parents, questions that they couldn’t really honestly answer, so that bit about how we involve them. The other thing that’s come up, 1 of the young people I spoke to and I will call him Malcolm, he’s 15, and he was talking about his experience of social workers, and he said they use big words, he said well every time the social worker said something, at the end of every sentence I had to say, sorry, what did you mean, now that makes you feel incompetent, it also takes a lot of guts to say I don’t know what you are saying there, it’s much easier just to pretend, and I have sat in any number of meetings where I have not understood what people have said but I have sagely nodded and then got out at the end and said do someone, did you understand that, and they were like, no I didn’t understand it, now if you are 15, it takes a lot to say to someone, I don’t know what you mean there. So the use of language, the use of words, and another boy that I talked to, a 9 year old boy and I will touch upon him later, he talked about 1 of the reasons he liked going to children’s hearings was because he found out why he had a social worker, and I said “oh right, why did you have a social worker?", and he said, “because I had inappropriate clothes.” Now that was what he had taken from that, so the language being really important, the language that we use and the information that we give people. Inappropriate clothes for him meant too small, too thin and too old, so essentially he was being seen because he was experiencing chronic neglect, but the reason he had been told was ‘inappropriate clothes’. So language being really important. And that being part of how we ask children’s opinions, the way that we talk to them, the language that we use.
You mentioned the ‘Having Your Say Forms’, again the jury is out on that, some of the research on using forms is that it’s helpful, there has been quite a bit of research done on using computer assisted interviews, and Lorraine touched upon that when she was here on Friday about using computers as part of research. Dylis and Morgan did some research on computer assisted interviews formed as part of children giving their views, and found that for some children they really liked it, but for other children they didn’t and sometimes we can make assumptions that because they’re a teenager they will like computers, and that assumption might not be accurate. The other thing, Abelour did a big piece of research in terms of using computers and they found that what made a difference was having someone sitting with you doing it, so it was about the relationship and I think someone talked about having someone with you, getting to know them. So it wasn’t necessarily the computer, it was about someone doing it alongside you that was helpful.
Okay, the … generally, the message from research and, has been fairly consistent over the years, so from Butler and Williamson in 1994 to the 2011 Children’s Commissioner Report, children have been fairly consistent about what they found helpful, and it’s essentially what you have said. What they have found helpful is practitioners who care, who are reliable and consistent, and that idea of caring being really significant. One of the things that’s come up in my research with young people, but also with social workers is the idea of authenticity, so does someone really care? And I will put up … this is Malcolm, he talked about “all social workers talk to you as if they care but I don’t know if that’s just their job or if they actually do care about you”. So that sense of ‘are you really bothered about me?’ being really significant, and social workers that I have talked to have talked about the ways that they do care, there’s a lovely example in terms of involving a child where a social worker had fairly recently taken on … had been case responsible for a 15 year old girl at that point, when she started working with her she looked at her previous reports and in the previous reports, the girls behaviour, which was quite difficult, wasn’t really seen in the context of this young person has said that she has experienced very serious neglect and very serious sexual abuse. It was presented as in, she’s a difficult girl and she’s involved in A, B, C and D, and she re-wrote, the first thing she did was re-wrote all the young person’s reports and went through it with her and then about 6 months later, 1 of the things that the girl asked her to do was help her do a search for her birth mum, she had been living with her dad for years, not seen her birth mum for about 13 years. Now my guess in terms of getting to know them and do they care is that had the worker not done that first bit of work, that young person probably wouldn’t have asked them to be involved in that, that significant piece of work. So that bit about how we involve young people, the range of things that we do, how we show that we care being really significant. So, practitioners who care and are reliable and consistent being a biggie. And that consistency being really important because 1 of the things that has come up is that if it’s not, then A, it gets in the way of people making relationships, but also if I have to keep telling my story to someone else again and again and again, I am not likely to be feeling as though I want to be involved in that process. So again the importance of consistency.
Practitioners who listen and really importantly, and you picked up on it earlier, listen and act, so act in terms of this is what I am saying to you is important to me, really importantly having information about processes in which they are involved. I talked earlier about the 9 year old who said ‘I liked going to a Children’s Hearing because I found out why I had a social worker.’ Sometimes we think that we have given children and young people information about processes, but we might have explained it to them at a time when loads of other stuff was going on. Cleaver and Walker who did a review of the DOH assessment process in England found that it was really important to give people things about, this is what we have talked about, this is what the process is and this is what is going to happen next. Just really simple stuff. So information about processes. And one of the things that I mentioned, the report by the Children’s Commissioner, they found that when they interviewed children and young people they categorised the information they had into kind of minimal information, partial information or clear understanding. They found that older young people tended to have a clearer understanding of what they were involved, but they spoke to a 7 year old who thought that the social worker was coming around to make sure his bedroom was tidy. So 1 of the things that they found in terms of where young people didn’t have a clear understanding of, this is why you have a social worker involved, these are the processes, is that they tended to take responsibility themselves, so the reason I have a social worker, the reason why I am involved in this process is because I have done something wrong. So really important in terms of having information.
Processes that include them in ways that are meaningful, so for example children and young people may or may not decide to take part in decision making processes, they … if they do, they need to be properly prepared, they need to be supported while they are there and we need to get feedback from them. But they also need to know that there’s a range of other ways that they can express their views, and one of the things that much of the researchers found out is that it’s an either or, well you either come and you sit, and while you’re sitting in a big meeting full of adults, we ask you stuff, or you don’t come, but not necessarily innovative ways of giving your views but not necessarily being there.
A girl that I interviewed last week talked about going to meetings, and she talked about, she kind of did that with her hands to say I sit there, and this adult says this and then this adult says this and this adult said that, so that sense of not being involved in a way that’s meaningful for them.
So the not so helpful was where practitioners were constantly changing, unreliable or inaccessible. Stevenson and Hallett did some research about who young people would contact if they needed support and friends, and part of this is absolutely appropriate, you would think you know you would go to your friends or your family, but 1 of the reasons why they didn’t contact formal agencies is because sometimes they were difficult to access, sometimes the phone … I have been doing my research in a local authority that’s just moved to one of those numbers that everybody phones, so if you want your bins changing or you want your street cleaning, or any number of things, you phone the same number, and if I was … if I didn’t have much money and I was a 13 year old phoning, I think I would give up actually, so that bit about ‘are we easy to access’, ‘do we make services accessible for children and young people’ So practitioners keep changing, but unreliable or inaccessible, so do young people … are we easy to access? So if you were 15 and trying to contact your agency, would it be an easy thing to do or a not so easy thing to do? And we are going to look at a kind of structure and culture in a little while.
‘Feeling like they have no control’, I think someone … yes someone said that, having no control over decisions. Brigid Daniel and Sharon Vincent looked at the calls to Childline over a period of 1 year and that was a big thing that came up with children and young people, was that where children … one of the things that prevented young people contacting, or was that anxiety, that, I might then not have control over what happens, so that sense of, I am going to get on board a train and it’s going to keep going and actually I want to get off now please. So that sense of no control. And not feeling listened to and included.
These are some of the quotes from young people that I have spoken to as part of my research and they pick up on some of the messages. So Malcolm was 15 and he came up with, ‘they talk as if they care but do they really care?’ he also talked about not understanding what people had said to him and the language that was used. Aaron, and I am using pseudonyms, Aaron was 9 and he talked about going to the children’s hearing and finding out why he had a social worker, he also, both him and his dad, because his dad, he wanted his dad sat in, in the interview with him, talked about how the social worker had taken in bowling and his dad had said, because Aaron had said to me that he had been anxious, he had been really, really worried before he met his social worker, and thinking about helps children, you need to take this into account, he had been really worried because he had watched a TV programme where social workers took someone into care, so his view of what social workers did, was that’s what they did, and his dad said, now what did he say now … he said, ‘to use the word hatred would be too strong but I had a dislike of social workers, and there’s a stigma, no-one wants their child involved with social workers’, so that was what Aaron was coming to that process with, was I am worried that they are going to take me and I know my dad doesn’t … is worried about it as well. And both of them said, and his dad said ‘the social worker took him bowling, took him bowling in her own time and the fact that it was after 5 o’clock was a big deal’, because that again spoke to authenticity. ‘Someone has taken me out because they are genuinely bothered about me.’ So thinking in terms of what helps young people is that authenticity bit and that relationship … the Munro report came out last year, talked about the role of relationship, and that’s been one of the things that comes up through most of the research that I have read, but also in my own research is relationship being really significant, that’s what helps young people be involved in assessment and decision making processes, and that’s linked to Claire, and this is Claire, Claire’s quote here, she talks about how … because I had asked young people, ‘in 2 years time, what do you think you will remember about having a social worker, so what do you think will be significant to you?’ And she talked about how well,’ we are going out for a meal next week as part of our ending to mark our ending, and so I think I will remember that’, so it hadn’t happened yet but she was thinking, I think that’s what I am going to remember, because that’s significant.
And interestingly when … the way that I have organised my research is that social workers are taking me out to introduce me to children and young people, because I didn’t want to arrive at peoples door and kind of chap the door and them never having met me before, A, because that sends out the wrong message to children and young people, but also because then as a social worker I might then have to get involved in intervening in some way, shape or form. Whereas if their social worker was there then that’s kind of their job. So when I went out with the social worker and she was talking to Claire about going out for a meal, Claire was talking about her boyfriend and the social worker said, ‘oh, that’s a different name, I thought he was called John’, now that sent out a really clear message of I remember what you told me last time, so in terms of involving her, that sense of, you tell me things and I remember them because they are important’ was really significant.
In terms of Aarons comment about ‘I like going to the children’s hearing’, Helen Happer did some research about children in kinship care and it was part of the … Sweer did a number of publications, I think it was in 2006, and one of the things she found and it’s really interesting in terms of involving children, is that the children in kinship care that she spoke to didn’t have a clear idea of how long they were going to be there, and again when they kind of thought well why is that, what seemed to have happened sometimes was kinship carers thought that practitioners were going to explain and practitioners thought that the carers were going to explain, so no-one did, because everybody thought someone else was doing it. So that bit about not making assumptions about what children know and what they don’t know. Because sometimes we assume they are very clear about particular bits of information but they may well not be. So again in terms of, if you don’t know what’s going to be happening to you, how can you be involved in that decision making process?
This is taken from the McLeod book and it’s a young girl saying that she was invited to the beginning of the conference, but when they action deciding whether you were going to be on the child protection register she had to leave the room. So again that bit about young people being involved in particular bits but not other bits of decision making processes.
And I mentioned earlier the report from the Children’s Commissioner, 10 of the 26 children that they spoke to attended meetings. They found that … they were saying that most of them found it really difficult on a number of levels. 1, because of the language used, 2, because they didn’t feel that they were listened to, 3, that they felt marginalised, 4, that where there were reports, even though there’s really clear guidance that says reports need to be read with people in advance, that for a number of them that hadn’t happened and so they were trying to take in all the information that was written down, some of which wasn’t accurate, from their perception it wasn’t accurate. So how difficult that felt. And they also said that actually emotionally it was really difficult to be in a room where people talk about you.
And thinking about … so essentially the message from research thus far is that, at the time children either aren’t or don’t feel as though they are involved, and that at the time, that means that in decisions that are to do with them, even though the legislation and the policy in practice says ‘in anything to do with decisions involving children, children need to be involved’, they don’t feel as though they are, so that has a significant impact at the time. But also thinking about, well what longer term impact does that then have on them, and Leeson did some research and it’s a very small study, she spoke to four young people but they said that it didn’t just have an impact at the time, it had an ongoing impact because if until the point where I stop being at the children’s hearing or I stop getting kinship care or I stop being in residential care, decisions are made for me, how do I then get to do decisions, so what happens then when I have to take out insurance or make any significant decision because I have not had practice? So again putting this in the context of children’s lives and I guess thinking about what impact it does have, but also for lots of the young people that we are involved with, their fence of the world and other people around them can impact on their capacity to make decisions. So for example if you have experienced the world as a safe place where you have been asked your opinion both at home and in school, then you’re more likely to be able to engage in decision making processes. But if you have experienced the world as not a safe place where people don’t ask your opinion, then that’s going to compromise your capacity to be involved in decision making. So when we are thinking about how to involve children and young people we need to think about, what’s been their experience to far? Now we would hope that they have been involved in appropriate decision making, so appropriate decision making aged two is, ‘sausages or fish fingers’, not, ‘where shall we go on holiday, what life insurance shall we have’. But there will be some children who have not been given the little decisions gradually who have been excluded from decision making processes, or alternatively have had to take massive responsibility for things that they are completely not yet competent to do. So again when we are thinking about how we involve children in decision making processes and even to put that in the context of, what’s their internal working model of themselves and the world around them and how they respond and how people respond to them? So thinking about what came before and what comes afterwards. So that links to the idea that well, participation and involvement is not a one off, so if you have never been asked your views before and then suddenly you get to a meeting and someone asks you your views, you will not necessarily feel that confident about giving it. So participation and involvement being a process. And I have taken this from … Arachnidan and Scriveners, so that bit about children’s ability to participate is enhanced by granting them proper opportunities to participate, and proper, so it’s not about absolving adult responsibility, it’s about thinking how can we involve young people at a level that’s appropriate to them?
There’s a couple of reports out about involving children and young people in decision making within schools called ‘Hearing the Voices of Children In Education’ and again that flags up that sometimes within education listening to children can be a one off event, so the one time the pupil council gets together, or it can be about particular decisions within schools, rather than daily decisions. So again thinking about it being a process of participation, not a one off. And thinking about the different levels of participation. So involvement in individual decisions, but also about kind of collecting involvement, so when we are thinking about how we involve children and young people, think about well, what are the different layers at which they are involved in the place that I work, do I involve children and young people individually, do we involve them in decision making about how processes operate or not. I have taken this from the SCIE publication, I think it’s called SCIE, I always pronounce it SKY but it’s probably pronounced something completely different, SKI or something, they look at how when we are thinking about involving children and participation, we need to look at different levels of participation. So we need to think about the culture and they define culture as ‘the ethos of an organisation’, so how it demonstrates its commitment. The structure of the organisation, so things that are there in terms of the staff in decision making, the planning processes, is there a participation strategy, what resources are there to enable young people to participate or not? It’s interesting in terms of the culture, I was … I have been going around different offices to meet social workers to then go out and introduce to children and I kind of thought, well if I was sitting here aged 14 with various posters of every type of possible abuse that you can experience, what messages would I receive about myself, but also what messages would I receive about what this organisation does? So I guess when we are thinking about culture, thinking about all the things that give an indication of kind of culture. They also look at practice, well what happens day to day practice, what approaches do people use, is there a one size fits all, I used to work in a team once and one young person had really benefitted from horse riding, so everybody went horse riding, even if they didn’t like horses they went horse riding, so that sense of, is there one size fits all. You talked earlier about Having Your Say Forms, well what if I don’t like Having Your Say Forms, how do you include me? So are there innovative ways of involving young people and is it a safe environment, does it feel safe for young people to be involved in or not, what’s the messages that the building gives them and the other people around give them? Are there expected systems to review practice, so to monitor and evaluate, well how are young people involved in this organisation and has it made a difference? Has it made a difference in terms of that particular individual, but also has it made a difference in terms of how the organisation operates or not?
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