Becky Barraclough, Kent & Medway Networks

Becky Barraclough

Describe your role

I am the Youth Development worker for Kent & Medway Networks which supports the Kent Local Involvement Network (LINk). Local Involvement Networks (LINks) are independent networks made up of individuals and community groups who work to improve local health and social care services. They aim to ensure that each community has services that reflect the needs and wishes of local people.

From April 2013 LINks will be replaced by Local Healthwatch. Local Healthwatch will carry forward the functions of LINks and will have additional functions and powers such as signposting and NHS complaints advocacy.

As the Youth Development Worker, my role is to make sure children and young people's views are listened to by commissioners. A lot of my time is spent talking to young people where they are, in schools, youth clubs, even in bus stops. I’m also leading on the transition to Healthwatch, so where possible I try to combine the two aspects of my role.

What makes a good participation worker?

The most important thing is passion. Every participation worker I have ever met holds the same passion for making sure Children and Young People are actually listened to – Most could probably recite Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in their sleep.

I think part of being a good participation worker, is leaving all preconceptions of what young people want at the door and giving young people the right tools and supporting them to come to their own conclusions.

You also need to be able to balance the needs of the young people and the adults in your organisation. They’ll have completely different expectations, and as a participation worker it’s likely that you’ll be the buffer in the middle.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?

Nationally there has been confusion around LINks involvement with young people, whether they could be involved and what exclusions there were. There has been a shift over the last couple of years and some LINks are doing a fantastic job at involving children and young people. One of the most exciting things about Healthwatch is that children and young people have been involved from the beginning and hopefully that will be demonstrated when the new organisations start.

Some of the ideas and concepts behind the LINk can be confusing and not that exciting for young people. In Kent we specifically tailored some of our information to young people. We’ve also had to think of quite creative ways to get young people involved and to get the right messages across. Having to explain the Health and Social Care reforms to a room of 120 young people can be quite daunting, but I think we’ve finally cracked a way to keep them informed, involved and engaged.

What are the benefits?

There are so many benefits to participation, it would be impossible to list them all. For the young people they get services they need, in the way they want. For professionals we get the experience of the young people. Children and young people provide a whole new viewpoint – they come up with new questions, new answers, things you might not even have thought about. Sometimes people try to second guess what children and young people want or think, but the great thing is that they can really surprise you!

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

Be flexible. As an adult it’s easy to plan activities and sessions by the book, but actually sometimes things don’t go quite the way you expect and you could come out with something better if you just go with the flow. One of the best sessions I’ve had with a group of young people happened because the projector had gone missing, so we ended up having an impromptu drama session with the young people acting out the issues they had – it was truly a “wish you had a camera” moment and I ended up getting more out of it than my original activity would have done.

What is effective participation?

For me effective participation is listening to the young people, acting upon them and then feeding back – never forget the feedback, even if you can’t make changes the young people will appreciate being told why. It’s also about professionals understanding the value of involving children and young people, and actually making sure they continue doing so.

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