Craig Clark, Hull City Council

Craig ClarkDescribe your role 
I am the Children’s Rights Officer for Hull and also manage the Rights and Participation Project (RAPP).

RAPP, established in 1997, offers independent advice, support and advocacy to children and young people aged 9 -21 in need or at risk living in Hull.

What makes a good participation worker? 
Some one who genuinely enjoys working with children and young people and has a passion, enthusiasm and energy for the work. I believe that whether its about youth or social work or participation work, its always about approach and workers having almost an intuitive understanding of the skills, qualities and attitudes that are required to build positive, meaningful, working relationships with young children and young people.

Children and young people do some amazing things; we need to acknowledge more fully, this is often because of some amazing people who support them. In addition to this workers, should never underestimate the positive influences they can have on children and young people’s lives. The view at RAPP is that we feel privileged to be able to share in the lives of the children and young people we work with and learn from them.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people? 
In my experience the barriers to participation lie within other peoples negative and cynical attitudes towards children and young people generally, which can then result in a culture of further reluctance and obstacles to involve them. Many organisations today, involve young people in a number of ways through a participatory approach, the contradiction is that there still remain a number of agencies that don’t do this, and given their remit should do! The challenge is for us all to be much more vocal about the benefits of participation in order to effectively challenge the negative attitudes towards the whole process.

On a different note, I firmly believe that the politics of participation has a role to play as a potential barrier. If we are trying to establish participation as a way of being with children and young people and effectively working with them across a range of services then we need to be much more effective and intelligent in terms of how we lobby central government on the topic. I feel that there are a number of leading organisations in the UK, carrying out some fantastic participation work; however they appear to be in competition with other organisations engaged in similar work (especially when it comes to funding or jockeying for position) My question is who has really got the ear of the Government in terms of being an serious voice and influence that can change systems at this level. I feel we all could be much better organised as a ‘united participation or Children’s Rights force’ in order to achieve this more comprehensively.

What are the benefits?
Children and young people today, are often demonised and negatively stereotyped by the media, a participation approach can create the opportunity to turn these ideas around and develop a feel good factor and positivity, where children and young people are not only engaged in the process but making changes in the ways in which some organisations or agencies conduct themselves. Unfortunately these stories do not always make the headlines. We have numerous examples at RAPP where the challenge has been to try and engage with 'hard to reach' groups of young people, if the workers rise to the challenge and remain tenacious, creative and genuine in their approach then the benefits for the children and young people in terms in developing confidence and improving their outlook on life, are ten fold.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people? 
Both from my experience and RAPPs experience in this field, my tips would be that the participation and involvement of children and young people must be genuine, have a clear focus and built upon an established value base to nurture and develop positive working relationships. Workers involved in the process must be explicitly clear as to why children and young people are to be involved, in terms of their role, the support on offer and most importantly what they are going to achieve from the piece of work.

What is effective participation?
If participation is to be effective then it must include a range of the ingredients I have described above. It’s definitely not about quick wins, if we are going to challenge attitudes and cultures towards young people, then this is certainly not a process to be rushed but delivered within a patient, tenacious, and planned approach that fully acknowledges the need to learn from our mistakes along the way. It’s about having integrity with a very large helping of humility for good measure!

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