Gary Buxton, Young Advisors Charity

Describe your role
I am the Chief Executive of the Young Advisors Charity, the organisation responsible for the growing number of young people aged 15-21 across the country who are being trained and paid to act as consultants to improve their neighbourhoods. If only I could describe a typical day!  In a nutshell, my job involves working with all our partners to create a strong and growing network of Young Advisors across England. In real terms this means writing bids one day, training the next, taking Young Advisors to meet ministers the third, making sure our organisation has got all the legal and financial boxes ticked, attending conferences where Young Advisors are presenting, no day is the same, but I love it that way.

What makes a good participation worker?
Enthusiasm, endless positivity and respect. I also think that some of the best participation workers I have ever met are Young Advisors. They are great because they help integrate a culture of participation in an organisation meaning it is no longer the sole responsibility of one member of staff to engage with children and young people.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
I find the most common barrier presented to us is money and time. It is all too common for an organisation to say, we need the opinions of young people, by end of play tomorrow, and we have no money to make it happen. Young Advisors are very critical of this behaviour, as it really doesn’t enable young people to make any meaningful contribution. Through our work we hope to create better cultures for ensuring young people aren’t just involved in consultations, but are actually involved in decision making right from the beginning of the process in timescales that are realistic and with adequate resourcing.

What are the benefits?
There are so many benefits to involving children and young people. We believe the unique selling point of Young Advisors is their innovative problem solving skills, their insightful community mapping, and their unlimited optimism and enthusiasm, which can drive forward a change programme for the benefit, not just of young people, but invariably the community as a whole.  Young people are often not limited by cynicism, and will therefore come up with the most amazing solutions!

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?
Feed back, feed back and feed back! Too often young people are involved in consultations or decision-making structures and they are not told of the outcome. Unless we tell young people how their contribution has informed change (or not as the case might be) their enthusiasm to contribute in the future will reduce. Bad engagement is a ‘drain train’ taking young people who were filled with passion to promote change to young people who are naturally sceptical of getting involved.

What is effective participation?
Get young people involved as early as possible, not just in the engagement or consultation activity itself, but in designing the activity.

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