This project has offered insight into how the voices of CYP are being used to influence decisions in three distinct sites. The pre and post evaluations for this project relied on the practitioners rating their own skills of involving CYP. Different thresholds may exist for the (self-evaluated) results so direct comparison between services is not necessarily reliable. After reading the 90 case examples we gained a renewed appreciation of the power of listening to the unique perspective of each CYP. When CYP are given the opportunity to voice their (often hidden) opinions of their lived experience and are allowed to come up with their own solutions, real change happens. Those practitioners who were willing to wait, before jumping in with solutions, saw first-hand how CYP could be empowered and motivated. Seeing how a child's perspective can change a course of action motivates practitioners to further embed opportunities for listening into their practice.
Some practitioners voiced their reservations about opening up conversations and actively seeking children's views, only to be surprised by the positive change this brought to their relationship. We were surprised by the number of children who commented that it was 'nice to be listened to', illustrating that finding a space where they are heard may be a rare occurrence for many CYP.
The issue of the power balance in conversations was one which the practitioners often reflected upon in feedback sessions. We noted a difference between the power balance of a conversation with a youth worker and CYP compared to a teacher and pupil or therapist and patient. The childcare services have made CYP participation a key policy area. They have been working to achieve more participation in the delivery of their service. They have already experienced the change that more involvement can bring and how satisfaction levels increase when CYP are given ownership. Handing over control was more challenging for some in health and education, perhaps reflecting a throwback to the traditional roles of an educator imparting knowledge to their students and the health practitioner's medical model of 'what is wrong and how can I fix it?'
Practitioners in all settings agreed that the project had helped them to give more weight to the views of CYP but were acutely aware of the need for a whole-systems approach to tackling issues. Concerns about the dynamics of dealing with conflicting views between parents and children or allowing the CYP too much say in a decision they didn't understand were voiced. We have numerous case examples where a positive outcome was achieved when children's views were taken seriously, such as the girl in school who identified getting to sleep and routine as a real issue. She lives at home with her dad and confided that her dad needed some support. Her teacher arranged regular follow-up meetings to support dad with establishing good routines. A traditional boundary was crossed, and the CYP felt supported.
There was an acknowledgement amongst practitioners that just listening to CYP is important. Practitioners are then made aware of the broader picture and this can significantly alter their perception of the CYP and the situation.
In each of the sites it was clear that, in order to implement Article 12, services need to be more proactive in creating opportunities to listen. Although the school and childcare settings both have an open-door policy, where they were ready to engage with a child if they initiated a discussion, the reality is that not all CYP feel able to do that:
"The 'freely' aspect is difficult when you are a teacher of 30 pupils – children freely approaching teachers doesn't happen often". (Teacher)
As a result, teachers have asked for more opportunities for 1-to-1 discussion within the school day.
The importance of using visual materials and how that altered the dynamic of the conversation was discussed. Often there is too much emphasis put on the spoken word and this can be difficult for many CYP. It is up to practitioners to keep information accessible and having a tool such as using a Talking Mat really helped to scaffold conversation.
Two of the sites chosen were in areas of high deprivation where multi-disciplinary working was challenging. At times the high level of need can overwhelm services, lack of time and resources leading to more silo working. A lack of confidence that outside agencies can help results in yet more silo working. Giving more weight to what the CYP thinks, and genuinely putting them at the centre of decision making, is required in order to bring about significant, positive change. CYP can often suggest creative solutions that adults cannot see.
Under UNCRC the same rights are given to all children whether they are 6 months or 16 years old. Although there has been considerable focus on Early Years policy, we should not neglect the needs of the 0-2 years population. This means actively supporting parents and families. We received a case example of a child aged 2 who was referred to the OT clinic. The therapist conducted a family Talking Mat where the mum, dad and other siblings all contributed and together they reflected on how well some things were going and what needed to be done next:
"It was such a positive experience for the whole family as they saw how well they were managing his care." (OT)
Finally, and one of the issues that should be considered as we incorporate UNCRC into law is, 'What kind of decisions can we expect children to make at each age and stage of development?' Article 5 of the Convention is central to our understanding and development of rights:
"Recognising children as active agents in their own lives, entitled to be listened to, respected and granted increasing autonomy in the exercise of rights, while also being entitled to protection in accordance with their relative immaturity and youth."
The overwhelming evidence from 90 case examples shows that CYP are incredibly reflective about their own lives. A stumbling block can be the adults who work with them and the judgements they make about a CYP's capacity to influence a decision. The CYP in this pilot were not confident that much would change as a result of sharing their views. If Scotland is to be brave in fully embracing the spirit of UNCRC then this must change.