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This assignment will explore the extent to which my placement agency involves service users in the provision of services. I shall begin by providing a brief description of the agency setting, its remit and the ‘service user status’ as this will determine the relevant service user policy documents. This assignment will show my understanding of Government policy on service user involvement particularly in relation to my service user group. I will draw on relevant research and evaluation material both locally and nationally. I will also consider whether any ‘pressure’ groups have expressed views about service user involvement in service provision. This will lead me on to discuss how my agency responded to national and local guidance on service user involvement, making reference to agency policy/procedure documents and also to practice examples of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ practice. Finally, I shall consider if there are any gaps and suggest ways in which the agency may develop their service user involvement.
My placement agency is in the voluntary sector. It is a leading national charity driven by the belief that every child deserves a good childhood. The agency works with young people, between the ages of 9-16 years, who abscond from their home or care home. The agency also has a mentoring scheme whereby children are allocated a mentor to help resolve their issues. When a young person is missing, a referral is sent to the agency from the care home, vulnerable police officer or the social worker. A project worker then arranges to visit the young person and discuss the circumstances and events that led them to run away and what happened when they did so. The project worker also explores the dangers of running away and how the service users can protect themself if they were to run away again. The project worker will work alongside many other agencies such as social workers, police, schools, mental health agencies, sexual exploitation agencies and more.
There are a number of policy documents relating to children and young people. Among the first policies to introduce the involvement of children in the provision of services was the Children Act. Thomas (2000) (citied in SCIE guide 11, 2006, p.9) suggests that the 1989 Children Act “opened the way for principles to begin to be established that gave children an increasing influence on the outcome of decision making”. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), approved by the UK government in 1991, was the first piece of international legislation to acknowledge that “children are subjects of rights rather than merely recipients of protection” (Lansdown, 2001) (citied in SCIE guide 11, 2006, p.9). “Article 12 of the Convention states that children and young people have the right to express their views freely in all areas that they are involved in and that these views should be listened to” (SCIE guide 11, (2006), p.9). The UNCRC has encouraged services to listen to children and young people aswell as protecting them. Effective practice “requires working with children and young people rather than for them, understanding that acquiring responsibility for someone does not mean taking responsibility away from them” (Kirby et al, 2003) (citied in SCIE guide 11, 2006, p.11). Project workers from my agency would inform the children and young people of their rights, I was advised by a colleague that it can be useful to have literature regarding the ‘Rights of the Child’ in hand and to give it to service users if need be.
“Subsequent legislation in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has reiterated the UNCRC’s commitment to children and young people’s participation. The Care Standards Act 2000 identifies the importance of their participation and that information about services should be made available to children and young people in a variety of accessible formats. Also, legislation regulating social care procedures identifies the involvement of children and young people as a key priority” (SCIE guide 11 (2006), p.10). Social care procedures such as attending child protection conferences, attended looked after children reviews and conducting assessments were all part of my agency’s involvement with their service users and they all involved the service user in the provision of services. When conducting assessments, the young person might be asked what areas they would like to receive help on and at child protection conferences; the safety and welfare of the child or young person is paramount. Key professionals work together, taking into consideration the views and opinions of the child and the parents when making a decision.
There is further commitment across the UK to involve children and young people in the provision of services. “In England, the Children and Young People’s Unit produced core principles for the involvement of children and young people and each government department was encouraged to develop its own plan to involve children and young people” (SCIE guide 11 (2006), p.10). “In England, the Children’s Fund, Sure Start and Connexions initiatives all echo this sentiment, requiring services to demonstrate how they have included the views of children and young people in their development and delivery” (SCIE guide 11 (2006), p.10).
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a report in 2006 titled, ‘Making User Involvement Work: Supporting Service User Networking and Knowledge’ by Branfield. F, and Beresford, P. This report provides an in-depth examination of two key components for effective user involvement in health and social care provision. The first key component is service users being able to get together to work collectively for change and mutual support and the second component is the importance of service users making known their own experience and views. The report was undertaken using individual interviews and group discussions, 126 diverse service users took part in different parts of the country. Many young people we worked with in my agency had the opportunity to make their ideas and experiences known. One particular young person I worked with was invited as a guest speaker in a group discussion involving service users; the individual was delighted that she was given a chance to share her experiences with similar young people who had similar life experiences. Another service user whom a fellow project worker was involved with was given the opportunity to share her experiences with a news reporter and it was to be broadcasted on the local news programme. My placement agency has compiled the first UK report to focus specifically on the experiences children and young people had when forced to leave home (Rees. G and Siakeu. J, (2004), Thrown away: the experiences of children forced to leave home).
Some of the young people referred to the agency are known to have mental health problems; the agency enforces the involvement of these young people in the provision of services. ‘CAMHS’ in Birmingham provides services to those who are experiencing mental health difficulties. This service ensures that the people who use the service are at the heart of all service development and delivery. ‘CAMHS’ holds regular service user meetings and it is the service users who sit in the Governance Committees. This service also pays an hourly rate to its service users and all travel expenses are paid.
In my placement agency, there were many opportunities for children and young people to take an active part in the services they use. My agency believed that children and young people had the right to be involved in the decisions affecting them. Their participation, aswell as service user feedback was essential to improve services and to respond effectively to their needs. Involvement can refer to the opportunity of children and young people to express themselves on decisions affecting them. My placement agency involved children and young people in ‘individual’ decisions. A young person I worked with was excluded from school and I took it on board to find the young person another school – involving the young person in the decision making process. Service users were also involved in ‘public’ decision making, for instance, one specific service user was asked to share her experiences with a journalist and a camera crew, and this allowed her to feel involved in developing services.
When visiting a residential care home for children, I noticed that children and young people participated on their own terms and without an adult making the decisions for them. For example, in terms of decisions about what they do, where they go and when they go. However, on the other hand, this can be a form of bad practice. Many of the care homes I visited were worried that children and young people would be out all night, not knowing where they were and if they were safe. When I asked staff at the care homes why they would allow the young person to simply walk straight past them and out of the care home late at night, they replied that there is nothing they can do about it and if they did try to physically stop them, they may lose their job because “the law doesn’t allow it”. Perhaps there is a need for pressure groups to try and actively influence this piece of legislation; this might reduce the number of children absconding from care homes.
The Youth Strategy Executive Group is a pressure group that was established to provide young people with genuine opportunities to influence, rather than just be consulted. The group meets councilors around five times a year and regularly meets on its own to discuss council business. The group highlights issues with the council and carries our research. There have been changes and improvements as a result of children and young people’s involvement. The group has identified which services are problematic for young people and produced a ‘measurements of success’ development plan with the councils that sets out an action plan for services. The biggest change as a result of this pressure group is that young people now have their say, before; young people were overlooked and did not have an opportunity to have their say.
‘A National Voice’ (ANV) is another pressure group that is run for and by young people who have been in care. ANV’s goals are to ensure young people in care have a say in all decisions involving them and to inform and influence central and local government decisions about the care system in England. There are many websites that are specifically run for and by young people and children. The British Youth Council (byc.org.uk) is an example of an organisation/website run for and by children and young people to represent their views to decision makers and to promote youth participation. Article12.com is a children’s rights-based group run by and for children and young people. There is also a web based newspaper, headliners.org, which has given the opportunity for young people between the ages of 8-19 to research and write stories on issues that are important to them for publication in national and local newspapers, magazines, television and radio.
‘Every Child Matters’ (DCFS, 2003) is a green paper that was launched in 2003. This guidance “emphasised the government’s commitment to involve children and young people in planning, delivering and reviewing policies and services that affect them” (SCIE guide 11, (2006) p.10). The Government’s aim is for every child to have the support they need to make a positive contribution. This means that children and young people will have far more to say about issues that affect them as individuals and collectively. This guidance informs every local authority to work with its partners to find out what works best for child. To do this they “need to involve children and young people in this process, and when the inspectors assess how local areas are doing, they listen especially to the views of children and young people themselves” (DCSF, (2003a). The first Children’s Commissioner for England was appointed in 2005 to give children and young people a voice in government and in public life. It is the role of the Commissioner to pay particular attention to the views of vulnerable children and young people and to put them forward. ‘Working Together: Listening to the voices of children and young people’ is an updated version of the Working Together guidance which was published in 2008. “This guidance promotes the participation of children and young people in decision making in school, local authority and related settings and provides advice on the principles and practice that support such involvement” (DCSF Working Together, (2008), p.3). My placement agency responded to these guidance documents by allowing staff to read the guidance and have access to it. The team manager arranged a team meeting focusing primarily on these documents and how we as an agency in the voluntary sector should adhere to these guidelines. Since the introduction of these guides, my placement agency has produced a report entitled ‘When will we be heard?’ This report researches the failure of health and social care services in regards to disabled children and young people having the opportunity to express their own perspectives or have been ignored when they have done so. The report suggests that failure to listen to children’s views can have real implications for the lives of children and young people.
Overall, I believe that my placement agency involved children and young people in the provision of services very well. The agency followed guidelines and ensured that all project workers used a client centred approach in which children and young people were involved in any decisions that may affect them. From my placement, I learnt that it is the people who use the services who are the true experts on how services should be developed and delivered. I feel that it was the children and young people who knew exactly what they need, what worked well with them and how the agency can improve. I think my placement agency can develop service user involvement by ensuring that project workers offer the service users a feedback sheet to complete; this will allow children and young people to become involved in services that affect them. Making sure that the voices of service users are heard will ensure that they are able to have a genuine influence on the support they receive, which leads to greater effectiveness within the service itself. Another way in which the agency can develop its service user involvement is to involve children and young people in every aspect of the agency’s project and at all levels – planning, delivery and evaluation. It might even be beneficial if the children and young people help recruit and interview staff as this will mean that the staff have been approved by the service users, so it is likely that the service users will work effectively and positively with the staff. In return, the children and young people can be awarded with vouchers for their contributions.
Inviting service users into the office for group discussions can also have its advantages. Discussions with service users in group meetings can enhance the way children and young people feel involved, this will give them the opportunity to vent any frustration, praise or critic any project workers or make any other comments. Evaluation forms can also be used at the end of the group meetings to form activities for future ones. However, it can be discriminatory for staff if a service user was to make a negative comment about a project worker in the presence of other staff and it is unethical to restrict the service users’ views and comments. So perhaps it might be best if the group discussion was led by just one project worker who has worked with all the service users in the group or if the group led by the manager – having the manager as the lead can be advantageous. The advantage is that the manager can obtain first hand feedback about the performances of staff from the children and young people. This acts similarly to ‘whistle blowing’, and who better to gain information from about the quality of staff than the service users themselves.
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