Everyone wants to make sure children in care are safe and are achieving good outcomes. But equally important is making sure children are listened to.
Sure, we can provide safety and evidence positive outcomes for young people, but how do we know they feel supported? How do we know they understand that their opinion really matters? How can we make sure the services we provide are meeting their needs?
There are many ways of doing this, but one of the best is to simply ask them. Involving children and young people in decision-making should be part and parcel of good quality care. Not only does this make sure they feel listened to by the responsible agency/authority, it also provides invaluable feedback on what they think about the service and where it could be improved.
How do we do this? We organise consultations once a year for all of our young people. At Family Care, we break this down by age group and region – children aged 10 and over (both regions together) and children aged 9 and under (separated into North West and Midlands regions).
|Under 10's consultation - North West||19th February|
|Under 10's consultation - Midlands||20th February|
|Over 10's consultation - North West and Midlands together||15th April|
This month we are holding consultation events for our under 10’s, with one event in each respective region. You might think that suggestions from under 10’s wouldn’t be informative enough, but we firmly disagree. We want to hear what every young person in our care has to say about the support they receive.
Consultations don’t replace the need for us to be in regular communication with young people. We still get their feedback on a range of issues all the time, through supervisions, visits and all the children’s activities we organise during the year. But the consultation is primarily to look at ways of improving our service.
What exactly does it involve?
Consultation does not mean sitting down face-to-face and asking lots of interview-style questions or sending out a survey to complete. It involves going out for the day on activity and sandwiching this activity with some questions about Family Care. What do they like about the support we offer? What don’t they like? How can we improve our support service and what ideas do they have to make it better in the future?
Each consultation is based around a theme such as anti-bullying or mental health awareness. The questions are also tailored slightly to take age into account. For our younger ones we will ask much fewer ‘formal’ questions – usually only 2 or 3. The rest of the feedback we pick up through general conversation whilst eating or chatting.
Keeping the events age-appropriate is important. Last year we asked our younger ones more formal questions and it was a bit too much for them. So, if you’re doing this for your service in the future, take it from us that directly asking a 7-year old lots of service-related questions isn’t the best idea and could be a bit confusing.
Our 2 ‘formal’ questions for under 10’s this year are;
- What activities do you want to do with support services?
- What is your favourite thing about Family care?
In between these formal questions we’ll be picking up feedback through casual conversations. We find these more informal consultations are best for younger children and are less pressuring.
For older children and teenagers, we can be more specific and ask a few more ‘leading’ questions. How supported do they feel? How comfortable are they contacting other professionals at Family Care if they need to? What’s enjoyable about the support Family Care offer and what parts are they not so fussed on?
We hold the over 10’s event together between both regions because they asked for that - at a previous consultation event no less. It’s an opportunity to socialise with young people they don’t bump into very often, which keeps it less boring for them…another piece of feedback we received from a previous consultation.
The theme for our 2020 children’s consultations is ‘being in care’. We’ll be talking with young people about what being in care means to them. How does it feel and how do they imagine this to be different from not being in care? We’ve talked in the past about how powerful words are, especially in the context of being in care. For example, the term respite. If you google the term ‘respite’, this is the result you’ll get;
Imagine reading that definition as a young person whose foster carers have said they “need respite”. These are matters that we want children’s views on, and we’ll be approaching this topic with our young people.
Who does the consultation?
Our amazing support services team organise and administer the consultations. We have two support workers and a support services manager. Our support services team is well known to children in our care through the activities and sessional work they do throughout the year.
They engage young people during the day (no mean feat when you have 15+ children to look after!) and record consultation feedback to discuss with our fostering manager. Quite often we will see common threads, such as lots of children really enjoying one aspect of the service but not understanding the benefits of another. We can then plan to address areas of development.
Previous examples of feedback provided include;
- Requests for more joint up activities between the North West and Midlands regions
- Asking for more reading and learning resources on issues important to them
- Wanting to know how Family Care operates and to see the owners
- Asking for a tour of the office to meet the Family Care staff
- Requesting new activities for their annual summer PGL trip
We were able to address all these points. We now organise several joint up activities during the year including consultation for our over 10’s. In our Preston and Wolverhampton offices, we have created resource corners filled with a variety of reading and learning materials on issues such as bullying, child sexual exploitation, internet safety and preparing for independence.
We’ve arranged tours of the office for young people who wanted this (including interviews of staff), and we’ve mixed up the PGL activities on their request. We even had requests to extend the PGL to 7-days instead of 3-days, but we decided against that one!
And the feedback doesn’t have to be specific to support services, quite often we pick up good feedback on other aspects of the child’s experience. For example, we’ve had quite a few requests to create a part on our website solely for young people. We’re planning to launch a new website later this year and this feedback is being factored into the new build.
If we hadn’t invited this feedback directly from young people, we may never have known these were things they would like. They are the ones in care, why shouldn’t they be involved in shaping the service that supports them?
There is arguably no better way to make changes that benefit young people, than to ask them what changes they would like to make. OK, we won’t always be able to meet their requests, but at least then we know what they’re looking for. And more often than not, we will be able to do something that reflects they have been listened to and are not ‘just a number’. That is the essence of children’s consultations, and why every service supporting young people should be doing them.
Healing Pasts | Building Futures