Capturing the 'Voice of the Child' Through Story Telling

10th Oct 2015

The best way to reach people is to tell them stories. It’s a tried and tested method going back millennia – and it’s one we used recently in some Lewisham secondary schools.

The idea was to arrange a series of safeguarding events in collaboration with the local Safeguarding Children Board and include some well known keynote speakers.

As it turned out, the speakers were better known than we’d hoped for and included former British world boxing champion Nigel Benn, former rapper MC flux,  former gang leader and Youth Policy Advisor Gwenton Sloley and Philippa Wall, a vocal spokeswoman on the twin terrors of drugs and domestic abuse.

The primary focus of these events was to highlight the ever present dangers to young people of youth and gang violence, exploitation, teenage pregnancy, and domestic violence.  All speakers talked to the teenagers about their life experiences – often in harrowing detail – and how these experiences shaped their decisions and outcomes.

Live streaming events

As part of these events we used the new live streaming app, Periscope, which helped us to capture the voices of the young people in the audience. The focus on listening to their views was a crucial part of the event and one of the most encouraging aspects.

As a social worker, Eileen Munro’s recommendations on the “Voice of the Child” following her review into safeguarding practice, is familiar ground and has become in most areas part of daily business.  As part of her review, Munro had heard from children about their experiences and subsequently emphasised that children and young people should “have a voice and be listened to”.

This is something that I and many others in my line of work believe in passionately.

Listening to children or young people is undoubtedly a positive aspect as long as there is a clear focus on the purpose of capturing this and as long as the implications are effectively co-ordinated.

Many professionals working in children’s services are “naturals” at communicating with children and young people. Others are not. This is particularly true of the professionals working with older children, who unfortunately don’t have the attention they deserve because of society’s focus on safeguarding infants. Research from the Children’s Society has shown that many professionals assume that older children are more resilient than they are, and consequently they do not provide adequate support to them.

Voice of the child

During the events held with the young people it showed that allowing the “voice of the child” to be heard is absolutely key.  Every child, whatever their age or ability, is capable of self-expression.

Children and young people’s imaginations, ideas, opinions, feelings, needs and worries can be expressed in so many different ways – through words for those able to talk or sign, as well as physical movements and body language, non-verbal sounds, or creative expression like play, dance, music and art.

This most importantly can be linked to their overall wellbeing and research from the Children’s Society highlights evidence of this in the following document wellbeing research (pdf).

The Lewisham events were hugely successful and the young people eagerly participated.  They voiced the importance of being heard separately from their parents and being listened to. They spoke of how confusing they had found the process of help, which, in their eyes, was far from transparent.

I am making a plea on their behalf for better information, honesty, and emotional support from professionals.  I am also asking the people in charge of reforming children’s services, education and voluntary sector to embrace this clear message and wish to raise awareness around some important issues where we work with others to have the biggest impact in creating lasting change.

For us, therefore, the “Shared Vision” is for better sustainable futures and to improve the lives of vulnerable people in the UK. I would like to ensure:

  • Support of young people at key transitions in their lives (around topical issues affecting and impacting on them) and also adults and the elderly
  • Developing young leaders through good role modelling (our speakers were an excellent example)
  • Providing greater safety for all in the community, reducing violence and abuse for vulnerable people and increasing community cohesion
  • Reducing stigma and discrimination, changing attitudes and bringing greater equality
  • Enabling economic resilience in families and communities
  • Reducing violence, abuse and exploitation through awareness raising
  • Empowering people, organisations and networks to play an effective role in their communities and society, as well as nurturing talent and leadership
  • Helping people to overcome inequality and have a say in decisions that affect their lives, whoever and wherever they are.

If I think back on people, outside immediate family and friends, who have contributed and influenced me in some way to making my life more pleasant, I particularly remember those who gave me something of value.

I want to ensure that we as professionals help to give children and young people a voice in society,  to help them live a better tomorrow.