What is participatory engagement and why is it important?
Young people's participation refers to their right to express opinions and to have a say in matters affecting their social, economic, religious, cultural and political life, enshrined in article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Fundamentally, youth participatory engagement is about giving young people a say to inform the decisions made that concerns aspects of their lives or the communities in which they live – this applies both to individual young people, for decisions made about their personal lives, as well as to broader groups of young people at community level. In order to truly grasp and respond to young people’s experiences of harm, contextual approaches to safeguarding need to be informed and shaped by the realities of young people across the various contexts of their lives.
Asking young people their views about safety in their local area gave the Contextual Safeguarding team in Hackney valuable insight into what Contextual Safeguarding meant to them and, on some occasions, revealed the discrepancy between places professionals might consider safe and where young people think they are safe. Young people we spoke with generally said they don’t think adolescents are consulted or considered in matters related to development in their communities. They spoke about normalised experiences of violence and harm, such as gender-based violence, occurring across a range of contexts including schools, peer relationships and social media. They also highlighted the negative perception many adolescents have of police responses to experiences of harm and insisted on the importance for professionals to get to know young people rather than offer solely punitive or excluding responses.
Youth engagement methods used in Hackney
The Contextual Safeguarding team in Hackney has engaged with young people in a number of ways. The team set up a youth panel, named Hackney elite, which have been instrumental to helping professionals better understand issues and concerns in their local area and shaping contextual approaches. Hackney Elite informed neighbourhood assessments in Hackney, developed a training video on using Snapchat for professionals (which featured on BBC news - see more here), designed and organised a community event, spoke at a number of public events and engaged with professionals on a range of issues, sharing critical feedback, advice and idea. The team has also engaged more broadly with school students and young people in the community to inform contextual assessments and interventions.
Youth engagement methods and resources used by the Hackney team are shared on the Implementation Toolkit.