Ana Popovici is Director of Children’s Services at the London Borough of Wandsworth. She is passionate about social work and has a special interest in how services can be modernised to support today’s generation of vulnerable people. She kindly shared her thoughts on why youth participation is so important and how Participation People helped to deliver their ‘big takeover’ last year – with the overarching aim to make Wandsworth the very best place to grow up.
Why is youth participation important?
In Wandsworth, children and young people are at the heart of everything we do. Listening to and hearing their voices and experience is so important to our work and we want to empower them to share their views. We make sure they have a seat at the table to work with us and keep us informed about what they need and want to help them live their best lives. Getting young people to engage and participate in activities where they can be open, honest and transparent helps us to make sure our services are the best they can be and that we provide the support and services they need in the places and spaces that are familiar and comfortable for them.
What benefits/solutions has improving youth participation brought to your organisation?
Having young people engaged and participating in shaping services brings so many benefits to the organisation! We value the views of our children and young people and we want them to have a say in how services are delivered. This is why we invite young people to sit alongside us at interview panels and staff training to help us make sure our staff are the best people for the job. Children and young people advise us about how best to use social media and what campaigns work well in our schools and youth clubs to increase participation and support. We learn so much about our community and get feedback from our young people during their youth club sessions, our monthly Children in Care Council and youth voice sessions in our Youth Offending Service. Their feedback keeps us informed about the issues that matter most to them and the challenges they are facing to help guide our decision- making, particularly as we emerge from the pandemic.
What was your biggest learning on engaging with young people? Do you feel you would have known this without youth participation?
We learn so much from our young people all the time, through big and small interactions. We learn how they like to be heard in their different safe spaces across our community, how adults can best support them, and how to be creative with them and express ourselves through art, music and videos. We learn which role models and community leaders they value most. We learn the best ways to engage and encourage young people in projects and events and about the many skills, aspirations and talents our young people have – to write books, become CEOs and travel the world.
Our ‘big takeover’ last October 21 was our biggest and best engagement activity with young people so far. The ‘big takeover’ allowed young people to take over the big business jobs and decisions for a week. What better way to learn about what works for children than to hand over the important work and decisions of the Director and Chief Executive (amongst others) to those whose lives and lived experiences are shaped by our services. More than 60 young people took part in 8 different venues across the borough.
Allowing ourselves to be challenged and exposed to young people helped us learn so much. Our young people worked on a range of areas including how we can make Wandsworth the very best place to grow up, projects around improving their voices in key meetings about their lives, and they got creative making a video to explain the role of an IRO and a list of top tips for social workers. We got their feedback on how best to support issues such as gangs and mental health, how we can best promote and utilise our youth clubs, and how to support with education, employment and training support. They even developed an exciting project for some young people to co-deliver tours of Battersea Power Station to other young people so they can get to know the space and all the emerging opportunities there. This invaluable learning would never have been possible without the participation of our young people.
Why Participation People?
Participation people have such great expertise in engaging, developing and working with young people to ensure they feel confident in using their voices to ensure they have a platform to be heard. Participation people are able to bring together a collective and diverse range of youth voices through great projects across the country. They share best practice learning and really demonstrate the importance of getting young people involved and engaged.
We want to go big on youth participation. To help us coordinate our activity in this area we will be launching our brand new participation strategy. The strategy will outline our approach to bigger and bolder participation with young people from all walks of life, including those with special educational needs, those in care and young offenders. We want to strengthen our presence where young people spend their time and feel comfortable to give us more opportunities to interact. We also want to engage parents and carers more in our work to ensure everyone’s views are represented and considered.
Want to know more about how youth participation can transform your organisation? Get started by talking to one of our youth experts.