Alison Stephenson, National Deaf Children’s Society

Alison StephensonDescribe your role

I am a participation officer for the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), the leading charity dedicated to creating a world without barriers for deaf children and young people. My main role is to let deaf children and young people know how they can get involved in our work.

I help with the delivery of participation training to NDCS staff and volunteers, and create leaflets and information sheets to ensure a high standard of participation work. I am responsible for organising and supporting young people to have opportunities at NDCS, managing work experience placements and getting young people involved in interview panels for people who will be working directly with deaf young people.

I am involved in the development of new projects, creating fun activities that help young people get involved and devising evaluation techniques to check that what we are delivering is good.

What makes a good participation worker?

I believe having enthusiasm about your work is vital, if you aren’t passionate then you can’t expect the young people to be either. I think you need to have really good people skills and experience of working with young people in a variety of settings.

I am deaf myself so I believe that I make a good participation worker because the deaf children and young people I work with can see me as a role model. This allows us to relate better to each other as I can empathise with them perhaps more than a hearing person would.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?

Communication is a huge barrier for deaf children and young people and that is why we are so passionate about participation in our work. NDCS is there for the deaf children and so they should be telling us what works and what doesn’t.

I think that misunderstanding participation can also be a barrier. There are so many organisations that don’t think consulting and involving children is important, when it is vital and absolutely young people’s right to have a say.

Fear of change is also a barrier because engaging with children and young people for their feedback often means change. Change is inevitable, and evolving services to better meet the needs of children and young people is change for the better.

What are the benefits?

To ensure that what we are creating for young people is targeted and effective, we make sure we involve them in its development we create something for children and young people.

Children and young people have the right to be listened to and say what they think about decisions that affect them (in line with the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child).  Listening to and consulting children and young people helps them to feel important and empowered. We have to give deaf young people the same opportunities as other children to contribute.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?

  1. Don’t underestimate children and young people’s abilities, views and ideas.
  2. Listen to them and ensure they know you are interested in what they say and that it does have an impact on what you will be doing.
  3. Make it fun and rewarding!
  4. Let them know the outcome and the effect their involvement has had.

What is effective participation?

I believe that for participation to be effective you need to be targeting the right people, listening to them and acting on what they tell you.

Here at NDCS we held a youth consultation with over 1,000 deaf children and young people.  They told us that they wanted their own website, separate from the one that parents use. Last year saw the exciting development of the Buzz website created for deaf children and young people 8 – 18 years. We worked with six different schools to ensure that deaf children and young people played an integral part in the development of the site. It is a great example of effectively using participation of deaf children and young people to get their views and following it through.

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