We are increasingly getting requests from various local councils and other organisations to help to find out what young people want from their services and in their community. Some organisations want to consult with young people in depth whilst others are looking to us to speak on behalf of young people. We strongly believe that young people should have a say in public services and want to make this happen; many youth leaders that we meet feel the same.
There are, however, several challenges with this. Like many situations in society, we need to find a way to get the voices of a variety of young people with different backgrounds not just the most articulate. We have amongst our 75 member organisations a very wide variety of young people, so working with our members, in theory we have access to a wide variety of voices. However, I keep hearing that young people don't want to be consulted, which has often puzzled me because the teenagers that I know are usually happy to express opinions. However, maybe it is because the organisations and their young people are all busy with their activities and don’t necessarily have the time or inclination to sit down and answer a survey, especially if they cannot see that anything is going to happen as a result of giving their time and opinion.
I was heartened last week, therefore, when meeting with the Police Sergeant Adam Luck, who leads the Surrey police team with responsibility for working with young people in Surrey. He has a very different opinion - he hasn't found any difficulty in getting young people to talk. He ran a successful conference at Sandown Park a couple of years ago called SHOUT (Surrey Hear our Thoughts) where young people came and did a series of workshops giving young people a chance to air their views and concerns. The difference was that the young people voiced their thoughts through a variety of means including interactive drama. The message that I took away from this meeting was to rid my brain of thoughts like “focus groups” and to start to think more creatively about active ways in which to work with our members to engage young people to give their voices. The other challenge that we have with this is, of course, finding ways to cover costs for our member organisations and ourselves to do this work.
If you have any thoughts on giving young people a voice, do let me know.