The Children’s Social Care and Learning Select Committee, made up of Buckinghamshire county Councillors from across the political divide, has recommended eight measures to improve the council’s engagement with young people.
These include making sure sufficient listening tools such as books, games and toys are readily available to social workers, establishing a participation group for disabled children and creating a specific website providing a way for youngsters to give their views.
The committee’s Voice of the Child inquiry found that young people are willing to give their views and generally trust the council to keep those views confidential if required. However, information on how views can be given and how they have been taken into account in shaping services needs to be clearer, it said.
It found examples of good practice, such as the Mind of My Own app which makes it easier for young people to communicate with social workers. The committee said that officers who worked with young people understood the importance of listening to their views and found examples of where this had led to changes, such as to mental health services, care plans and the quality of accommodation.
But it said there were inconsistencies in the way views were recorded and shared and a lack of specific resources which would help engage children.
The committee recommended that listening to youngsters should become an ‘overarching priority’ within the strategies of council departments, with specific actions and performance measures. Young people should also ‘be part of the recruitment panel for appointments supporting children’, it said.
Committee chairman Dev Dhillon said: “It is vital that children and young people feel that they are being listened to. Doing so leads to services which have better outcomes, and means that any potential issues can be identified before things escalate.
“Our inquiry found that staff understood the importance of listening to young people and there’s some really good example of where this has led to improved services. However, officers sometimes lack the resources to fully engage with young people – and we’re not talking about expensive items here, rather things such as toys and books. It can also sometimes be difficult for young people who want to speak to the council to do so.
“We believe that our recommendations would really improve the way the council listens to children and young people, which will ultimately lead to better services for them.”
Lin Hazell, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “I welcome this report, which is a valuable contribution to the continuing improvement work going on in children’s services. We will now take time to consider each recommendation and I will be formally responding to the select committee when Cabinet meets on January 9.”