Sarah Chittenden, National Children's Bureau

Describe your role
I coordinate the DCSF Children and Youth Board, which is a group of twenty-five children and young people aged between 8 and 18. In my role, I support the Board to advise DCSF on the policy by acting as ‘the middle man.’

This involves planning and facilitating weekend-long residential meetings, in which the children and young people and the policy officials come together to discuss and influence current government policy.

I also assist the children and young people to attend ministerial meetings and other events throughout the year and support the Board members to conduct regional work, in which they go out and ask their peers in their local regions about DCSF policy.

What makes a good participation worker?
The ability to listen. Actually listening to what the children and young people are saying, without trying to influence them into fitting into any sort of agenda. There is nothing wrong with children and young people talking about how they like things to change, but it is also important for the participation worker to help them remain realistic about the amount of change they can achieve in any given amount of time. I find the best thing to do is to involve children and young people in the participation process as early as possible – so they understand about things like funding, legal constraints, timescales, background information etc.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
Participation workers need to remain creative about how they involve those that are deemed ‘hard to reach.’ Too often, participation workers focus on schools and youth clubs, but what about those children and young people that do not attend these institutions. This can be quite a barrier for many participation workers, especially when they have limited money and resources to be able to travel far and wide.

What are the benefits?
Children and young people gain so much from getting involved in participation work. 
I have seen many children and young people that I have worked with gain tremendous amounts of confidence during the course of a project.

Participation at a high level allows the children and young people involved to have a lot of control over what they do and this has a universal appeal. It attracts children and young people that may be disengaged at school or college to get involved, gain a multitude of skills and make friends along the way.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?
Allow plenty of time.  Whether you are running a participation project that lasts a matter of months or a one off consultation session, make sure you allow plenty of time, sometimes you can be surprised about how much children and young people have to say.

Make sure you provide the children and young people with a clear outline about why you are asking them to get involved. If they understand why they are being asked and how it will benefit them, they are much more likely to sign up!

Feedback. Make sure you give children and young continuous feedback on where the project is or any changes that have been made. This will keep their interest and keep them motivated.

Delegate responsibility. Make sure the children and young people take on as many responsibilities as possible – providing they want to! This way they will learn new skills and gain confidence.

What is effective participation?
When change in children’s policy, services and organisations is driven by children and young people. It should be a process in which children and young feel valued and listened to.

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