Lizzie Guinness - Youth Participation Manager at the The Princes Trust

Describe your roleLizzie
Youth charity The Prince’s Trust helps disadvantaged young people to get their lives on track. It supports 13 to 30 year-olds who are unemployed and those struggling at school and at risk of exclusion.  Many of the young people helped by The Trust are in or leaving care, facing issues such as homelessness or mental health problems, or they have been in trouble with the law.  The Trust will help over 55,000 young people in 2012 giving them the confidence and skills to turn their lives around.

As the national Youth Participation Manager for The Prince’s Trust I have strategic responsibility for ensuring that  youth participation is embedded throughout the work that The Trust does. I offer advice, support and guidance to colleagues who wish to include young people in their work and also take the lead on new participatory projects. I also design and deliver consultation activities with our young people. The Trust will be publishing its new Youth Participation Strategy in November 2012 which will consolidate and build on our participatory activity and I hope that this will result in more young people’s voices being heard both internally and externally.

One of the main ways in which we involve young people is through Young Ambassadors, our young leaders volunteer scheme. Each year, 250 young people who have previously participated in our programmes take part in this supported volunteering role. They get involved in a range of activities including staff recruitment and training, influencing politicians and policy-makers, supporting and inspiring other young people, promoting the work of The Trust to members of the public, the media and our corporate partners,  and supporting us to design and review programmes. The Young Ambassadors are supported by brilliant regional staff and receive a tailored training programme to give them the skills and confidence to carry out their voluntary role successfully.
What makes a good participation worker?

A good participation worker has a fundamental respect for young people’s knowledge, skills and experience.  They value what young people can bring to the table and think creatively to ensure that young people can share this in a way that makes sense to them. They are flexible and patient and will passionately advocate for young people’s involvement. They demonstrate to young people how their involvement has made a difference and are realistic with young people about the influence they may have.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
The Trust works with such a large number of young people so one of our major challenges is making sure that we get as many young people’s voices heard as possible. Our new Youth Participation Strategy is focused on expanding the participation offer we currently have.  As our young people are ‘older’ than most, we also need to be considerate of the fact that our young people have other commitments, such as running their own businesses, and be flexible in the opportunities that we offer for their involvement.

What are the benefits?
If we don’t involve young people, how do we know whether we are delivering a service appropriate to their needs? If we want to continuously innovate and improve our work, we must involve them as a key stakeholder.  Young people have a lot of insight from their lived experience and can identify barriers and solutions that professionals, politicians and policy-makers may not have considered. Young people challenge us to think differently and think ‘why not?’

Involvement in participation has many benefits for the young people that The Trust works with. Many of them have never felt that their voices have been heard before and they particularly relish any opportunity to get involved in our public affairs work. In particular, our Young Ambassadors develop confidence, leadership and employability skills which they say has a real impact on their future aspirations.

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

It is crucial to have buy-in from all levels of the organisation. This can come through having a strategy and participation champions who have the skills and belief in youth participation. It needs to be made easy for staff to embed youth participation in their work and they need to feel confident that they are doing the right thing.  At The Trust we like to pilot and experiment with different approaches to see what works best for both young people and the organisation.  Young Ambassadors started as a pilot and is now a core Trust activity which has a high profile both inside and outside the organisation as we were able to effectively demonstrate the impact it was having. Training for young people is a must-have as it gives them both employability skills and the ability to do their role effectively.

What is effective participation?

Young people are included in a meaningful way. They get involved creatively, in a way that suits them and they can see the impact of their involvement. This doesn’t necessarily mean lots of formalised structures but rather that it is embedded in the ongoing activity of an organisation. There should be a wide variety of ways in which young people can get involved that help them develop new skills and gain experience.

 

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