Me2 Club is an inclusion charity that helps children and young people with additional needs get involved in mainstream activities. As a children’s charity, of course it goes without saying that we want to help improve the lives of the young people we work with! The means by which we can achieve this qualitative improvement go beyond our primary role of helping them participate in mainstream leisure activities; one of the ways we make a difference is by ensuring our children and young people’s voices are heard.
We take listening to children and young people very seriously and understand that giving them a voice helps to promote self-esteem and self-worth. By making sure they feel heard through their choices, opinions, feelings and emotions, we can reinforce to children that they are important and valued.
It can be easy to assume that children are too young to give their views, but Me2 Club has found that children from 5 years and up are willing and able to get involved in what kind of volunteer they would like to support them at an activity, and can articulate their ideas about the services they receive from around 8 years old.
Just as importantly as children feeling listened to, the activities which give them a platform to share their views often involve meeting other children in similar positions, with the additional benefits of reducing isolation and giving them an opportunity to develop vital life skills like turn-taking and self-advocacy.
At Me2 Club, we’ve chosen to follow a ‘co-production’ strategy, meaning we listen to and involve children all the way from conception of an initial idea right through to implementation. We want to hear from the children we work with about what would most help them. What do they aspire to? What challenges do they face? What kind of support do they want from our charity? We started by surveying all the children and teenagers about how they would like to be involved and followed up with a “you said, we did” so they know how we are making use of their responses.
We also arranged a ‘takeover day’ on 25th January. As part of this, some of our young people took control of our social media for the day! They also met with our CEO, our Senior Activities & Volunteers Coordinator, and our board of trustees to tell them what they think works well at Me2 Club along with any changes they would like to see being made.
The takeover day really changed our perspective on some of the events we’ve been running; at the children’s suggestion, we’ll be exploring how they can be involved in the event planning, set up and fundraising. Disabled young people have so much to offer – we want to change the narrative from ‘helping’ to ‘enabling’; in doing so, we’re truly supporting them to develop life skills, contribute to society and help others.
Me2 Club has subsequently written a policy about co-production and another specifically addressing how we’ll involve our young people in staff recruitment, as well as signing the I Will ‘Power of Youth’ Charter. What could children’s ideas contribute to your organisation? If you’d like to introduce some ideas to ensure you’re giving children and young people a voice, here are some pointers:
- Offer choice in how children have their say through simple surveys, meeting senior staff or getting involved in staff recruitment.
- Give opportunities for children to talk about what is important to them, rather than just asking them what they want to know.
- Show that you value their opinions, demonstrate active listening and follow up by telling them what you have done as a result of their feedback.
- Be accessible; make sure wheelchair users have access, think about making information easy to read and provide low-noise environments. Ask them what they need to feel comfortable.
- When giving children a forum to be heard, be clear about expectations; How much time will it take? Who will they be meeting? What can they reasonably influence?
If getting children’s views is new to your organisation, start small and then build on what works for you. To find out more, we suggest The National Youth Association ‘Hear by Right’ framework, and Making Ourselves Heard from the Council for Disabled Children for help and training on listening to the views of disabled children.
We’d love you to visit the Me2Club website and follow our social channels for all our latest updates:
Visit our website: me2club.org.uk
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