Sam Clarke, Senior Participation Officer at Centrepoint

Describe your role

My role at Centrepoint is varied and involves the direct delivery of participation projects, as well as training and advice to other Centrepoint teams about how to work in a participatory way with the homeless young people who live in our services. The Centrepoint Parliament is key to this and is an annually elected group of young people that represent the views of themselves and their peers both internally and externally. I see my role as being a resource to the young people to achieve what they want to achieve both as individuals and as a group.

What makes a good participation worker?

For me a good participation worker recognises and promotes that young people are the experts on subjects that affect them and supports them to develop the skills they need to communicate this effectively. They also know when to keep quiet and let something resolve itself and when to intervene and provide guidance. Good participation workers offer support, training, advice and encouragement but never lose sight of the fact that it the work should not be about them and their views.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?

Time, resources, fear and unrealistic expectations. I am very lucky that Centrepoint has never put a ceiling on what young people can achieve and ask for within the organisation, which has meant they have a genuine platform through the Centrepoint Parliament from which they can make change. However every organisation sometimes has tight deadlines or budgets to work to and I always highlight here that to involve young people in a meaningful way you really should be allowing twice the time you would expect it to take without them. You also have to be willing to work with them during the evenings and weekends! But it’s well worth the effort for the added value to both young people and the organisation.

What are the benefits?

Meaningful participation has more benefits than you can shake a stick at! Young people take more control over the things that affect them and apply this in many aspects of their lives. In my experience, they always rise to the challenge and produce thoughts, insight and solutions that only they could come up with, and that are far better options that we could ever have thought of! Organisation such as ours are better informed about the young people we work with, which allows us to provide services that reflect the true needs of the young people. On an individual basis, it allows young people to gain employability and social skills and shows them how systems and organisations work.

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

Train staff and young people effectively in participation as a process, demonstrate good practice and set high expectations for levels of participation both from staff and young people. Work in partnership with the young people and show them you take them seriously by investing in them. When making a decision or working on something that affects young people, always ask yourself “What do young people think about this?”  If you don’t know, stop what you are doing and find a way to find out.

What is effective participation?

A process that gives young people skills, that produces actions and improves their and other young people’s experiences both in the short and long term.

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