James Walsh, LGBT Consortium

Describe your role
I work as the Leadership and Engagement Coordinator at the Consortium of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) Voluntary and Community Organisations. Our role as an organization is that of capacity building and supporting our member organizations in delivering better services for the community that they serve, specifically I work to build other organizations understanding of the need to engage with under 25s in their decision making processes, and enable them to so, as well as supporting London's LGBT Youth Council a pan London project to engage with the LGBT under 25year olds community in becoming more involved and engaged in their local community / LGBT Community / Or other areas of interest - including campaigning and direct service delivery.

What makes a good participation worker?
I personally don’t think there is a magic formula for any participation worker to follow that will be a perfect fit for all the young people they come into contact with, and with that in mind the key things I try to be with our varied service users in inspirational, trusted, and stereotype breaking.

Inspirational - I like to find out what motivates them and try and mould my 1-2-1 delivery around that issue or topic, empowering them on how they can affect change and supporting them in doing so.

Trusted - Many of our users have often had bad experiences. Homophobic and trans-phobic bullying is equated by many as being let down at some level by the system, and often reflected on "trusted grown-ups" who were charged with looking after their needs. Coupled in with that the fact that many parents of the young people we come into contact with, don't know about their sexuality or gender identity, or their parents are having a bad time dealing with coming to terms with it - often means that the Youth we work with feel devalued and wary of authority figures when expressing their LGBT community identity.

Stereotype breaking - a comment often heard from our Youth members when we talk to them about their engagement experience is that they often thought they didn't fit anywhere - I knew I wasn't straight - but didn't fit in/like the image of the LGBT Community that they had been bombarded with - that being "camp queens" or "butch dykes" with limited prospects in life barring the traditional stereotyped jobs and roles.

What are the benefits?
The benefits in my mind are three fold:
1. Young People who feel confident about themselves, their skills and abilities and feel valued by wider society.

2. Organizations and Groups who can not only take pride in achieving a worthwhile engagement, but often benefit more out of working with young people and consulting with them, due to their candor and innate ability to challenge preconceived ideas and practices, then the young people themselves benefit.

3. A society that is cohesive and values its Youth is one that can only stand to gain. Somewhat cynically we can view this in terms of finance – young people will have skills and abilities that can be transferred through to the working world, but more holistically skilling people at a young age enables and empowers a society to be competent in active civic life and therefore being able to capitalize on its collect strength and deliver for wider society gains.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
There are two main barriers to the involvement of young people in my mind:

1.Structurally – “finance and resources” - funders talk about wanting to create positive activities for young people - but considering their number and scope for engagement - funding levels are a pittance, and with more funders moving to only fund "under 19 yo" Youth projects - this poses a real difficulty for the LGBT Youth Community as many are still only coming to terms with their Sexuality and Gender identity at this age and many won't engage in public life activities - until they have independence from parents (often after 18) due to the  real high levels of risk of family estrangement coupled with the fact that the LGBT Community is a hidden community and not one that is often based around family learning such as ethnicity, or women’s issues that can be passed from generation to generation - LGBT Youth are often isolated and alone and trying to survive a difficult period at this age - where community engagement is not often their priority.

2.Societally - Notionally people seem to get the idea of why to involve, sadly the practice of doing it, and the skill level when done, can often fall short. The root of the project that I support is about ensuring the two side of engagement - those who do, should, or want to speak up - can equally as important working with those who should be hearing these voices and acting on it effectively.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?
"Take risks" - Young people do learn from difficulties and arduous situations, as well as failure. No one is interested in mundane and repetitive activities - pose challenges, make it hard where appropriate, give young people the opportunity to push themselves and their boundaries. Failure in activities can be constructive - it allows learning and equips young people with the ability to develop alternative strategies and how to deal with evolving situations - key skills in life we run the risk of stopping a generation from developing, in our risk averse Society. In my opinion a good participation worker will be there to support young people through the trials in their life as well as the good (and mundane) - We know as practitioners it means more work, but if we were work shy we wouldn’t have chosen the careers we have, however it is harder to justify to funders and managers, there’s are increases in the dreaded risk assessments, and even more call for us to be able to think fast on their feet as a situation unfolds and develops, but ultimately the thing I keep in mind, is that it is better for the participants - and that’s what as professional we want to achieve.

What is effective participation?
I can tell you what effective participation is not - its neither tokenistic nor piecemeal, as both these destroy a Young Persons confidence in the aims not only of the work you are trying to achieve but confidence in the entire sector. The way I think of effective participation is about building foundations to enable Young People to reach both their personal and/or societal dreams and aspirations, and this in my opinion is through giving them skills, knowledge, and confidence in themselves, alongside quality thought out opportunities to apply this.

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