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December 2nd, 2011

Who asked you anyway?

Consultation of young people is a concept thrown around in youth work circles – a lot. Yesterday we had a great discussion at the Canaan Project about it and these are some of our thoughts:

  1. We need to improve our consultation and how we record the thoughts of young people in our services.
  2. Having a Youth Forum or Youth Advisory Board does not always constitute consultation of all young people. It is normally the confident and articulate young people that are on those boards and in our experience this does not guarantee that the variety of views held by the wider population of young people are heard. At worst Youth Boards/Forums can be ‘tick box’ exercise for youth workers that need to evidence consultation. Saying all that they are not always a bad place to start either.
  3. As professional youth workers we believe that listening to the voice of young people and allowing this to inform and shape our work on an ongoing basis is an essential part of our work with them (this is reflected in the Canaan Project mission: working ‘with’ young people rather than ‘on’ them). This is a much more integrated, fluid approach to consultation.
  4. I also sometimes wonder if we expect too much from consultation. We are working with young people because they are young people moving from dependance to inter-dependance and as part of that process you are learning about what you want, what you believe and what you might think about things. You have not reached adulthood and your ability to process options is different (I read about this in National Geographic – a very interesting article about the development of the adolescent brain). We should help them on this process of discovery about what they believe, think, value through the tool of consultation, but allowing them to dictate everything as some consultation does, I’m unsure about. As part of this development there is learning about responsibility, so if I say ‘I want to go giraffe hunting in the Africa’ then I am aware of some of the effort involved in making this happen, but if we say to young people ‘what do you want?’ and they respond as we have asked them to, then they have no concept of the effort required or needed. I think this impacts on the learning of the young people, does this mean I can go through life shouting about what I want and get it or at least expect it. We have seen this scenario play out. It does happen.
  5. Something we do at the Canaan Project is have a group of young volunteers that have come through the club (although i am not always very sure they are representative of the variety of young people we see, they certainly give a slice of the picture). These young volunteers take part in our briefing meetings before sessions feeding into the targets and goals for the session. They are also part of the de-brief at the end where we feedback on sessions and what was good or bad. They have an input but also share responsibility for making the sessions successful.
  6. We have plenty of work to do at the Canaan Project on consultation, it is a complicated, multi-faceted process. But we are on the journey!