The strategic approach taken by Warwickshire County Council demonstrates how children and young people’s involvement in policy and decision making can be grown and embedded across a council.
Warwickshire County Council, in the West Midlands Region, is mainstreaming child and youth participation across the council through its Children and Young People’s Participation and Engagement Strategy 2019-23. This forms part of the overarching Children and Young People Strategy 2021-2030 which includes an explicit priority to increase participation and engagement by building upon the success of the councils Voice and Participation Team to engaging and co-produce integrated services with children, young people and parents. The Senior Leadership Team within the Children and Families Service leads the strategy. which is overseen by the Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
The strategy is intended to be drafted in a short and focused form, to help wider audiences easily understand what participation is and why it is relevant to the council. It aims to enable council workers to ‘ask children and young people what they think about the services [the council] provides for them’ but acknowledges that ‘we can’t always provide what children and young people want but need to give explanations when we can’t.’
The strategy is informed by Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, defining participation as ‘the involvement of children and young people in decision making on issues which affect their lives’. It emphasises that children and young people's views should be sought when decisions about council services are made which affect them, and sets out five standards for this:
- Respect - Children and young people should be given the time and space to say what they think.
- Fairness - Children and young people should have a bigger say in decisions that affect their future.
- Honesty - Children and young people should be told the truth, even if it’s bad news
- Value - Children and young people’s input should be given importance, regardless of their age, or your age.
- Working Together - Children and young people can save time and money if you provide them with what they want.
The strategy covers several areas of council operation through which young people can be involved in decision making. These include, recruitment and training of staff, public communications, and commissioning, quality assurance, planning and design of council services. The strategy also encompasses related work such as rewards, and incentives for children and young people involved, regional and national participation events and the relationships between children and young people and senior council leaders.
Whilst the original scope of the strategy was to support these activities within the council's Children and Families service, through the strategies implementation, the work of the Voice and Participation Team has evolved to support participation across the council. In addition, through involvement with Child Friendly Warwickshire the team is further working with local businesses and community groups. This scaling up has been actively sought by the Senior Leadership Team, who seek to influence children and young people's involvement across the council and its partners. Their strong culture and commitment to supporting children and young people's voices at senior level is a key part of the drive to evolve the work. The Voice and Participation Team has been expanded from two to twelve staff as a result and includes several staff with lived experience of council services.
As the commitment to participation spreads across the council, it has also become necessary to consider how and when children and young people are recruited to youth involvement initiatives. The Voice and Participation Team supports a number of core projects such as the Children and Care Council and Youth Council. Other sections of the council have historically used these as a common vehicle for recruiting young people for involvement initiatives. However, the Voice and Participation Team are increasingly encouraging other council officers to involve the young people those officers are already working with when undertaking involvement work. This ensures that the young people involved in any policy development and decision making are directly connected to the services and teams implementing it.
The strategic approach taken by Warwickshire County Council demonstrates how children and young people’s involvement in policy and decision making can be grown and embedded across a council. By building on a core of good practice with the Children and Families Service, the council has progressively expanded the extent of children and young people's involvement in decision making. For the Voice and Participation Team, this has meant considering how they can work across the council to support and influence involvement, rather than limiting their work to delivery of a single project or set of projects.
One of the challenges of the approach is managing growth. The Voice and Participation Team have become involved in a steadily increasing number of projects. To sustain this, they have needed to distinguish more clearly between the projects and programmes they deliver, and their role providing advice and support to other services and teams. Thus, the Voice and Participation Team has moved from a primarily delivery focused role one that also includes coordination and support. This has been enabled by a strong commitment and support from the Senior Leadership Team, to embedding children and young people’s participation across the council.
- Local council: Warwickshire County Council
- Type of Council: County Council
- Political control: Conservative (as of March 2022)
- Target group: All ages and groups
- Area of policy making: All council areas
- Further details: Children and Young People’s Participation and Engagement Strategy 2019-23
Contact: Shinderpaul Bhangal, Team Leader – Participation, Children and Families Service, firstname.lastname@example.org