James Sykes, Save The Children

Describe your role
I work for Save the Children UK, part of the Participation Works consortium. My role is Training and Development Manager. I manage Saying Power, which forms part of the Participation Works training programme. Saying Power is a training and consultancy programme, which enables young people to lead and develop projects through the provision of an accredited learning programme. My role involves working with organisations to help them to involve and support young people aged 16-21 to lead and develop projects and to better involve children and young people in decision-making. The programme runs across England. If you would like to find out more about the programme please contact me via the Participation Works Enquiries Service on 0207 843 6803 or at  enquiries@participationworks.org.uk

What makes a good participation worker?
This is a great question. For me it’s about presenting myself as an adult professional as someone who is approachable, who doesn’t ‘know best’ and can be negotiated with. It is my job as a professional to adapt to children and young people’s ways of working, not the other way round. We need to ensure that young people’s voices change the way we work and partnership is the key. If we, as adults, don’t listen to young people that kind of assumes we have everything right and I don’t think we have, yet.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
The barriers are often adult attitudes. Cash and resources are often mentioned but a lot can be achieved with a little, commitment to involving children and young people is at the heart of good participative work and this is free. I was asked once whether I would seek the views of a 3 year old and I said of course because that 3 year old would have ideas and opinions about the world; what is good and bad, what could be improved and what should be changed. There are many misconceptions about children and young people; one of them is that they cannot make difficult decisions about complex subjects. This is untrue in my experience if information is presented in appropriate ways and support is offered in appropriate ways.

What are the benefits?
The benefits are many, children and young people learn skills in decision making and negotiation alongside an increased sense of self worth and that they have valid opinions. For professionals it often highlights a new, more exciting way of making decisions and planning for the future.  Working towards goals that children and young people have identified is a more robust and accountable way of practising. For society we improve the abilities of individuals to be involved in personal decisions, those affecting their community and wider society.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?
Listen, listen and listen. Be honest in what you can promise and see your promises through.

What is effective participation?
Effective participation is empowering for all concerned. If Whitney Houston is right and ‘children are the future’ then involving them in planning for the future will ensure services are more effective in meeting children and young people’s needs. More importantly effective participation enables children and young people to assume their rightful place as equal citizens, now.

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