Simon Machin, South Gloucestershire Council

Describe your role?
I work with children and young people in care, and who have left care. I work alongside the Social Work team who support children and young people in care, and care-leavers. This is usually through groups, like the “Children in Care Council”. I help them work together to make things better for themselves. Sometimes the changes are very obvious and immediate, and other times, the change can be quite obscure, and takes reassurance from a senior manager that something has changed.

Some young people I might see only once or twice, others may be much more long-term. Being care-experienced sometimes makes it harder for them to be involved. Often, it’s the basics about participation which children and young people find most beneficial, like being listened to, being asked, having a choice, feeling what they say and do counts.

It’s the best job I’ve ever had. There’s loads of scope for being creative, and I’m so often impressed with children and young people’s courage and commitment. I also live in a kind of twilight world, being the social worker who isn’t your Social Worker, and on the one hand linking up with staff and on the other mixing with senior decision-makers.

What makes a good participation worker?
Independence, sensitivity, flexibility, having aspirations for and believing in children and young people’s, understanding and using a children’s rights approach, to name a few.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
Well, for children and young people in care, anyone who has anything to do with them are “corporate” parents. Not a great term, but it does mean we’re all responsible. But making sure all these adults work together in a way which helps children and young people can be tricky to get right.

What are the benefits?
Children and young people understand and use their human rights. Children and young people often say that besides the actual participation task being achieved, it’s the life-skills which they most benefit from, like gaining in confidence, knowing themselves better, being able to talk with others, self-esteem.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?
Never take no for an answer from adults. Develop an instinct for knowing the difference between rhetoric and words which mean and commit to something. Be honest, clear and straight forward with children and young people. That sounds very simple, but it can be the hardest thing to do.

What is effective participation?
Children and young people influencing their own lives. And if the organisation responsible has to change, then even better.

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