Abi Carter

Describe your role
I am the Participation Officer for CHIVA, the Children’s HIV Association. We have some funding from Children in Need to develop a number of participatory activities. I mainly support our youth committee, 12 young people from across the UK who were all born with HIV. They represent the wider group of HIV positive children and young people in the UK and get involved in policy developments, present at conferences and have plans to run their own awareness raising campaigns. They are an amazing group of young people. My other duties include developing our secure website for HIV positive young people and supporting a group of peer mentors at our annual summer camp.

What makes a good participation worker?
Somebody who can strike the balance between guiding and supporting young people to participate, and standing back when the time is right to let them get on with it. I think it’s really important not to have your own agenda.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
Other people’s prejudices and reservations…and also the fact that children and young people lead such busy lives in terms of their education. It would be good if school timetables and the school system in general could evolve to include participatory opportunities, not only within school but in the community and nationally.

For the young people that we work with there are multiple barriers due to society’s response to HIV. They have grown up with a highly stigmatised condition and are advised to reinforce this stigma and ignorance about HIV by keeping it a secret, in order to protect themselves. It can be difficult for them to create friendships and bonds with their peers and they may have difficulty trusting people. Many also live in poverty, have insecure immigration status and have lost family members to HIV.

What are the benefits?
There are very many particularly in terms of children and young people’s confidence and self-esteem. Also services are improved and are more suited and accessible to their audience and users. One of the most powerful benefits is that successful children and young people’s participation has the power to transform people’s negative attitudes and prejudices. This can have far reaching consequences beyond what was first thought possible.
For young people living with HIV they are exercising their rights and being empowered in a way that they are unlikely to have experienced before. They will most probably have felt very disempowered from the moment they were given their diagnosis. That’s why it’s even more important to ensure they participate meaningfully and effectively.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?
Give yourself plenty of time and be prepared for sessions with young people to take longer than you think they will. Also, don’t work children and young people too hard. They deserve a break and a treat. Finally, do some ‘schmoozing’ with any adults who you come across who are hostile towards children and young people’s participation. Don’t be so quick to pick a fight, it’s much more effective to practically demonstrate the power of participation and for them to see it in action!

What is effective participation?
Children and Young People’s participation is an ethos and a way of life. It can be as simple as giving children and young people choices. But it cannot stop there. It must always evolve.

Participation Works is a partnership of…
British Youth CouncilChildren's Rights Alliance for EnglandKIDSNational Council for Voluntary Youth ServicesNational Youth AgencyNCB