Involve people early: It’s much harder to meaningfully influence anything that is well under way. That is why our Policy Advisory Group is involved in responding to Government consultations, so we can get the voice of young people across as early as possible. At Become, when we identify problems facing care-experienced young people, we try to find solutions — and these solutions are much more effective when the solutions come from young people themselves.
Prepare to be wrong: When we begin a session speaking to young people, we may have some ideas about what they’ll say but we don’t go in with any preconceptions or presumptions. Their feedback, whatever it is, can meaningfully change our work. Engaging with young people is never, for Become, about getting them to rubber stamp our work — it is about giving them real power to shape what we’re doing.
Consider who isn’t in the room: Despite our best efforts, some young people will always be more likely to engage than others. That’s why it’s so important to us to remember the perspectives of the people that we don’t hear from as often. The term ‘hard to reach’ seems to place the blame with them rather than with us, and that’s why we prefer the term ‘seldom heard’. What more can we do to hear from them?
What’s in it for them? The young people we work with care passionately about improving the care system. As a charity, we have a duty to ensure we are not taking advantage of their good will and their time. We pay young people for their time, offer them training opportunities, help them identify the skills they’re building and how they might use them in the future. We should help them while they help others.
Be honest: Be straightforward about what you can and can’t do. We always take their ideas seriously, but we will tell them if something is truly unworkable. Young people, especially those in care and leaving care, have a lot of adults in their lives who don’t always keep their promises. We try to say yes, but if it’s a no, we tell them. They can take it.
Here at Become, we’re delighted to be one of the recipients of The Listening Fund, a new fund provided by The Blagrave Trust, Big Lottery Fund, Comic Relief, and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. The funding will help us to continue and build on our two young people’s boards: the Policy Advisory Group to shape our policy and campaigns work, and the Ideas and Influence Council to contribute to our strategy and governance.