Timothy Williams, Redbridge Council

Describe your role:
I work for the Children Living Away From Home Division (CLAFH) in Redbridge and my role is to watch out for the way our division communicates and engages with those it looks after.

A lot of time is identifying what is currently available in the borough and how the children and young people in care are involved (i.e. events, competitions etc).  The other part of my role is running the ideas past the young people to find out what they think about it.  I also look at, with the children and young people through consultations in groups and one to one, what they want set up to help them and how they want the service they use to change.  I have set up more forms of communication between the children and young people and the Social Work and Corporate Parenting teams by starting newsletters, a texting service, re-vamping the content related to our service on the borough’s website (redbridge.gov.uk), a website for the children and young people, working with local arts and theatre groups, looking at youth centre provision for CLAFH, libraries and cross borough resource sharing as well as working with third party organisations.

In Redbridge, the Participation Officer for CLAFH works directly with the social work and corporate parenting teams as well as the children and young people and there is a good working relationship with the Children’s Rights Officer.

My job is a contract, so I see a lot of my job as setting up easily repeatable and self-sustainable systems so if at the end of my contract it was extended, the services set up can keep going by themselves with minimal and hopefully peer-led.

What makes a good participation worker?

  • Someone who is willing to not take their lunch break so to speak and engage with young people (this is big for me as I like my food!).
  • Someone who has a judicious level of pride – i.e. who can admit they are wrong and work through it.
  • Someone who likes change (not in your wallet!).
  • Someone who has respect for all involved in their everyday job.
  • A good role model.
  • Someone who is not a vigilante – yes, a good participation worker needs to be able to step forward when the call comes for change and to stand by it (or lead it), but a good participation worker knows how to work / communicate effectively with all parties involved; not just shout loudly from the front line waving war flags and stamping their feet – doing this only riles the situation.

What are the barriers involving children and young people?
Apart from peer pressure – the main thing I face with working with children and young people (especially) is that they don’t like people to know they’re in care so will go out of their way to not be involved in anything so not to be identified.

On a regular basis I struggle with getting young people along to projects and spend a good percentage of my time harassing social workers and the young people themselves about the training, job opportunities etc as well as any upcoming projects, groups or consultations.  On this matter particularly, I really want to be able to crack (in a sensible way) the attitude of paying young people to turn up to stuff (BRIBE!).  Through my consultations with young people, a lot of them would much prefer to come if their friends were coming, if they were going to learn something or if they were going to receive an accreditation to go towards their CV.  I just need to start putting this into practice.

What are the benefits?
To be able to work alongside a young person and see their attitude towards life, their self-esteem, their understanding of their identity, their perception of their future, change for the better and then for them to be able to tell others in the same situation as them is such a buzz!

What tips do you have for effective participation with children and young people?
1. Be yourself.  Children and young people can pick up on when you’re being fake – as I read in a previous Spotlight interview, don’t try to be “Down wiv da Yoof”.
2. Be reliable – and if you can' be reliable be honest.  Let people know if you can or can’t do something.  This is a regularly over promised group (especially for children and young people in care) – so if you’re going to promise to do something, make sure you can do it.
3. Enjoy it!  If you’re having fun, people are going to be more willing to get involved in what you’re in to.

What is effective participation?
For my job, I think effective participation results in children and young people feeling confident enough to come forward with ideas for groups, projects, events etc.  It’s also when children and young people influence the system they’re part of and it changes around them naturally (i.e. not through big consultation events etc but through their contribution to it) – an example could be the culture – making a positive impact on the child or young person’s life.

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