Participation is about making opportunities for children and young people and their families to be involved in processes for decision making on issues that affect them. This means listening to what matters to them most and taking their views seriously.
We use the term participation not simply to mean ‘taking part’ or ‘being present’ but as having some influence over decisions and action.
Participation is not just about working with children and young people and their families on matters that are high on adults’ agendas. Children and young people and their families should have opportunities to set and decide their own agendas. They must be given opportunities and support to share their views in both personal and public decisions.
This includes action at a number of levels:
- Where individual decisions are being taken about children’s own lives. For example, the SEND Code of Practice (2014) ensures that children and young people with special educational needs are, where possible, involved in all decisions relating to their education and the Children Act 1989 says that looked after children should be involved in decisions about their care package.
- Where services for, or used by, children are being developed or provided locally. For example, many local partnerships and local authorities have discussion groups and special consultation events to influence the design and provision of play facilities, leisure, transport and guidance services.
- Where national policies and services are being developed or evaluated. For example, where departments are producing consultation documents and using social media to seek children and young people’s views on policy proposal.
A vital part of the participation process is telling children and young people and their families what the plan is, and what will happen as a result of hearing their views, and why.
The Somerset Children and Young People’s Plan 2022 – 2024 states that children, young people and their families are heard and involved at home, at school, in their communities and particularly when they need additional information, advice, support or interventions to help them.
In Somerset, children and young people’s voices are already heard through participation forums including The UnStoppables (SEND young people’s forum), Somerset in Care and Leaving Care Councils (SiCC and SLCC), Somerset Youth Parliament, the Somerset Youth Forum, various youth town councils, 2BU (LGBTQ+ young people’s group), school councils, health groups including Young Listeners and CAMHS Young people’s group, Diverse Young Somerset and others.
The Participation Workers Network is a multi-agency peer support group to ensure good quality, consistent participation work takes place across the county. You can find out more about these groups on the Somerset Young People’s Voice page.
The Somerset Parent Carer Forum makes sure parent carers’ voices and children’s needs are being heard at all levels within health, education and social care services.
There is an Engagement and Participation Strategy to support children and young people with SEND to be engaged in participation and this is part of Somerset’s overall strategy for children and young people to be part of decision making and service improvement, outlined in the Children and Young People’s Plan.
This toolkit has been designed to help services and organisations to engage with the young people and their families that they want to hear from about service improvement.