Young People's Zone

What young people really need from participation and how to engage them?

Whilst in care, we are often encouraged to participate in activities that are especially created for children and young people in care. Participation activities are set up to get young peoples’ voices heard and to improve the system for other children and young people. Why do some people engage with participation activities whilst others don’t? I wonder if participation is only suited for some young people?

I am a care leaver and I have always tried to get involved in participation in and outside my borough. I got involved because I wanted to broaden my horizon and learn something new, but most importantly I saw a positive distraction in dire circumstances. However, the positive distraction had to be appealing to me. Maybe the lack in participation is not because it doesn’t appeal to young people but the lack of variety in participation. It is believed that young people are different and unique, how then, can anyone expect us to enjoy the same things?

I think it’s important that young people are involved in participation; without participation a child or a young person is left isolated from the community. As young people in care/care leavers, we are a community on to ourselves; therefore getting everyone involved in our community is very important. This is because no one can understand us like each other. A positive aspect of being in care is having organisations like Voice and The Who Cares? Trust that brings us together and gives us the opportunity to be involved in things that not only benefit us but also improves our community.

In my opinion, there are three things that young people want/need from participation; firstly, a positive distraction. As a young person in care I found getting involved in drama gave me the distraction that I needed. I think that participation is so “care focused” that young people in care never truly have an escape from their situations. There should be the acknowledgement of how care plays a role in our lives but also how we can change our circumstances for the better. Participation should be more than about changing our circumstances, but a place centred on letting kids in care be kids; just kids, not kids in care.

Secondly, the majority of all young people have some form of social media, be it Facebook, Blackberry Messenger, Twitter, etc. Social media can be used within the organisation to promote participation activities which can reach young people who are not acquainted with participation. Furthermore, it can be used to raise awareness of children in care issues, increasing the level of participation, but most importantly it can be used as a tool to connect with other children in care and care leavers.

Thirdly, young people/children need a good participation worker. In a recent participation meeting young people were asked what they would like from a participation worker, they said that they wanted someone who was passionate, driven, a good listener and someone who understands and knows young people in care. But I also think that a good participation worker should know the value of engaging young people with social media and also understand that participation work should incorporate an element of fun. After all, he/she is dealing ‘young people’.

Participation can only work if its young people driven; losing the focus means losing young people.

Ruth