Children and young people across Lancashire are set to have more of a say on the policy decisions which affect them.
Lancashire County Council has published a draft framework which aims to get under-18s more involved in the democratic process.
Young people already have the right, enshrined in a United Nations convention, to have their views taken into account when policies are designed which could have an impact on their lives.
County Hall’s new strategy aims to ensure that awareness of those rights is extended as far as possible amongst Lancashire 279,000 youngsters – so that they have the chance to contribute to decision-making in the public sector.
Gavin Redhead, the authority’s strategy lead for participation, told a meeting of the children’s services scrutiny committee that all young people need to be able to participate if they choose to do so – either directly or via the sub-regional and county-wide youth councils in Lancashire.
“It takes a lot of courage, determination and strength of character to be able to come to a meeting like this [and to] feel comfortable representing the voice of other young people.
“There’s a classic [image] of youth councils being made up of head boys and head girls from high-flying schools – but that’s not the case. Many youth councillors [have] a whole sphere of vulnerabilities and are involved in shaping some of the work that we’re doing,” Mr Redhead said.
Committee members heard that training programmes have been developed to help young people better influence decisions taken by local authorities and other services. The draft participation strategy includes a commitment to engaging with those “least likely to be heard”.
Thirty-five “participation champions” have also been identified, both within the county council and other agencies, to ensure that consulting with children becomes the default setting for organisations whose work could affect them.
“Those individuals [could be] a conduit to send messages out and bring messages in. We will use that as a springboard to increase the number of workers with specialist skills… to make sure that services are listening to children and young people.
“We need every service across Lancashire to be thinking about…how they are going to involve young people when they are starting to plan things – but, equally, how young people can come up with their own projects,” Mr. Redhead added.
The draft document commits to taking the views of children seriously and to provide feedback about how their comments have influenced decisions. But it warns of the risk of “consultation fatigue” and the need to ensure that decision-making bodies make their language intelligible to an audience of young people.
Members were told that the cost of stepping up the county’s commitment to engaging with young people had not yet been calculated – and that it would have to be shared across the various organisations concerned.