Giving children a voice

Children 1st local manager Anita Roweth explains how we’re giving children in Dundee a voice.

Sometimes a formal meeting is necessary to decide what’s best for a child. Given the seriousness of some concerns about children, it’s right and appropriate that these are structured and professional. But, if you’re the child whose future is being determined, how will that work for you? Will your voice carry clearly, as adults discuss weighty reports and use unfamiliar terminology? It’s unlikely.

That’s where we come in. In Dundee, Children 1st empowers children to have a say in child protection decision-making meetings about them. We help them articulate their feelings and wishes. With younger children we find drawings and paintings are great for expressing these, and child protection professionals really do take account of their artworks in decisions. For older children, it may be that they can attend part or all of a meeting. So we’ll help them prepare, and ensure someone is there to support them at it.

That person could be a Child Protection Buddy – a new role that we’ve developed with Dundee City council. Children are paired up with a buddy – generally someone they already have a positive relationship with – like a family support worker or a pupil support worker.

Their Buddy will meet with them as often as is needed in advance of a Child Protection Case Conference to help them think about what they want the adults in the meeting to know. With the child’s agreement, their Buddy will either go with them to the meeting or speak on their behalf at it.

Children 1st coordinates the scheme and supports Buddies to be effective in their role. Following a successful pilot, Dundee’s Child Protection Committee has asked Children 1st to extend the initiative to include all child protection decision-making meetings in the city.

We’re ambitious to do even more with the knowledge and skills we’ve developed. With rollout of the Getting it Right for Every Child programme and implementation of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, some families may struggle to make sense of new roles and structures such as Named Person and Team around the Child. We can help them: drawing on our experience of both child protection advocacy and using Family Group Conferences to support families to make good plans for their children.

Families are experts on their own situation, and a rich source of ideas and information. We can support them have more say where there’s a concern about one of their children, for example, in Team around the Child meetings and for development of a Child’s Plan.