Children's Consultation and Participation
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
Working Together to Safeguard Children promotes a child-centred approach to safeguarding and is clear that practitioners should keep the child in focus when making decisions about their lives and work in partnership with them and their families. Anyone working with children should see and speak to the child, listen to what they say, take their views seriously, and work with them and their families collaboratively when deciding how to support their needs. Special provision should be put in place to support dialogue with children who have communication difficulties, unaccompanied children, refugees and those children who are victims of modern slavery and/or trafficking.
It is essential therefore that children and young people are enabled by professionals to participate in matters that affect them, particularly any plans or arrangements that will affect them and/or their family, and are consulted with regard to processes designed to improve services both to them individually and more generally.
RELEVANT GUIDANCESEND Complaints: Guide for Young People aged 16 to 25 in Education – A guide for young people on how to resolve special education needs and disability (SEND) disagreements.
Participation of children and young people in decisions about their lives is an essential part of growing up, and if done well, it enhances children's safety and well-being and improves services designed to support and protect them. In the world of social care participation work often takes place in complex and emotionally charged situations. To be done well it requires a commitment at all levels of an organisation to reflect on and promote:
- Positive attitudes to children;
- Effective communication skills;
- Dedicated financial resources;
- A commitment to developing services which support children's participation, such as advocacy and participation services;
- Honesty about what can be achieved the level of willingness to change existing services and make decisions in response to children's views.
Derbyshire County Council actively seeks to ensure children and young people are consulted about decisions and processes that affect them. The Munro Review made clear that what is important to children and young people is 'reliability, honesty and continuity'. The council is committed to ensuring that children and young people are informed about what is happening to them and promotes opportunities to contribute to what is happening. The aim is to share and practice positive approaches to effective communication and learning through active listening. The local authority is committed to both speaking and listening clearly, purposefully and honestly with children and young people.
The council seeks to consider identity, diversity, culture, sexual orientation, disability, low confidence, trust and speech, language and communication needs in all its interactions with both children and adults.
Every member of our staff is committed to seeking and recording the views of every child they work with. They will also record the decisions that are made and the influence that the views of the child or young person have had on those decisions. Where decisions are made that are different from or contrary to the views of the child or young person this will be clearly recorded with the reasons for the decision clearly explained.
In addition, the council will ensure that systems are in place to support formal consultation with young people's groups and will seek to aggregate individual issues and concerns so that managers may consider the impact that current services have on young people. This information may be used to inform future developments.
Derbyshire’s participation team run the children's independent advocacy service, the children in care council and promote children's rights by giving them the opportunity to have their say.
2. Benefits of Participation
Much has been written on the benefits of and barriers to participation in matters that affect them. In brief the benefits for children and young people are:
- Having a safe space to reflect on the events that have brought them into contact with social care;
- The opportunity to give their version of what has happened to them and to say what they would like to happen in the future;
- The sense of empowerment that comes from being listened to and seeing what one has said making a difference to what happens;
- The possibility of having their concerns and issues dealt with at an early stage, which could have an immediate impact for them in terms of how they identify their 'quality of life';
- The opportunity to have explained to them what is happening in the present moment and what is likely to happen in the future and what will be done to keep them (and their siblings) safe.
For parents/carers the benefits of children's participation can be:
- The opportunity (perhaps for the first time) to hear their children's views about what has happened and what they want to change;
- A model of communicating that may improve their relationship with their child(ren).
For professionals and organisations offering services to children and young people the benefits can be:
- Reinforcement of a focus on the child's safety and wellbeing;
- Feedback on the effectiveness of services;
- The greater likelihood of effective engagement with the plan by the child / young person themselves;
- A focus for all professionals.
3. Barriers to Participation
There are a number of barriers to participation. Broadly speaking these are:
- Structural - complex procedures and lack of clarity about responsibilities; too many changes of personnel;
- A lack of clarity about what participation is or confusion over how it will be addressed and a lack of clarity about what it can and cannot change and what it should deliver for the child, the family and the organisation;
- Competence - staff lacking in experience or having an inability to effectively communicate with children, or children of a particular age or from a particular culture;
- Capacity - a lack of time (e.g. staff too overwhelmed by other pressures) or other resources required to enable participation, thus 'rushing' or making it a 'box ticking' exercise;
- Inadequate plans that fail to be clear about who will be responsible for ensuring participation;
- Children's behaviour - can be misinterpreted and sometimes causes a barrier for professionals and carers. Those seeking to engage often need a variety of tools or methods and patience and space to deal with this to promote engagement;
- Children themselves can become disinterested and disengaged because of delays;
- Children are far more spontaneous and their expectations around timescales are far shorter than adults;
- Professionals need to ensure that children have a variety of times, people, places and approaches to participation available to them (i.e. seeing children on their own, allowing time after traumatic events).
4. Promoting Participation
The council has a number of formal processes for seeking the participation and consultation of children and young people. Staff, carers, managers and others who come into contact with children are encouraged and enabled to see each and every interaction as a potential opportunity to develop trust and confidence such that children and young people feel able to confide and state their views and preferences in matters that affect them.
5. Participation - the Role of the Social Worker
The most important means of encouraging and enabling participation of Children in Care in decisions that affect them and their lives remains the relationship with their social worker and other significant professionals and adults in their lives.
Enabling children and young people who have not previously had opportunities to express their views is demanding and can be challenging work that requires creativity, empathy and resilience on the part of the worker. Consultations need to be planned for, reflected on and, if necessary, returned to in order that children and young people are given every opportunity to express their views.
In order for them to express views about matters that affect them it is also vital that children and young people are in possession of information and have experiences that enable them to make informed choices.
If participation is not possible or is restricted for whatever reason, steps should be taken to ensure those affected are informed of decisions as soon as practicable after they are made, and an explanation for the decision given, together with the opportunity to make a comment and express their views.
If it is then felt that a different decision may have been appropriate, steps should be taken to reconsider the decision.
If decisions are made against people's wishes, they should be informed of the decision and the reasons for the decision should be explained. In these circumstances, the person should be informed of any rights they have to formally challenge the decision, and of the availability of the complaints procedure (see Complaints and Representations Procedure).
Sometimes children and young people express their preferences through their behaviour rather than through words i.e. by going missing or through challenging behaviour. It is important to attempt to see beyond the behaviour and to try to see what the child or young person is trying to express. (Note: that where children have returned home after being missing, the return home interviews should be conducted by an independent person who has been trained to undertake this. See Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership Runaway and Missing From Home and Care Protocol.
Finally, children and young people should be made aware of the systems and processes available to them if they wish to raise concerns or complain and what, if any, other forms of redress may be available to them if things go wrong.
6. Participation - the Role of Managers
Managers must ensure that social workers and other staff have the time and resources available to them to ensure the effective participation of children and young people.
- Use supervision to consider issues relating to the voice of the child in ongoing cases;
- Check that records show where and how the voice of the child has been sought, what was said and how the child's wishes have been responded to and, if not, why not;
- Review, on a regular basis, the various methodologies whereby children's views are sought;
- Review complaints or concerns raised by children and young people and what actions have been taken to address these;
- Review compliments to build on strengths;
- Consider how representative issues raised by children and young people are in relation to such issues as gender, culture, sexuality and disability;
- Ensure processes designed to aggregate issues raised by children and young people are in place and are routinely being used;
- Ensure processes are in place whereby it can be fed back to both individual children and the wider group what changes have been made as a result of issues raised.
7. Processes for Consulting Children and Young People
- Children and young people can be involved in the development of services through the Children in Care Council (CiCC);
- Children and young people can also be involved in:
- Looked after reviews, child protection conferences and other meetings (see Looked After Reviews Procedure).
Every review and/or meeting relating to a child's case is an opportunity for children and young people to participate in their care plan and arrangements;
- Advocacy and independent visitors (see Advocacy and Independent Visitors Procedure).
Advocates and independent visitors support and assist children and young people to participate in the services offered;
- Support to children who have communication difficulties see also Children and Young People Aged 0-25 with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Procedure.
Support and specialist services to children who have communication difficulties will always be offered. For children for whom English is not their first language a translator should be considered to enable the child to contribute. For children with communication difficulties as a result of physical or learning disabilities, people who can use whatever medium of communication is most helpful to the child will be used.