Some do’s and don’ts - tips from practice
Consultation practice in both community and secure settings offers tips that you might find useful.
Don’t underestimate the value of this activity. It might produce more than you imagine you would gain. Involvement in feedback activity can help staff own the findings, and opportunities for reflection with colleagues – away from the busy daily routine – might lead to greater awareness of children’s needs and appropriate responses. For young people, consultation might offer the first chance to be listened to and taken seriously by a service, and of getting feedback about how their ideas have been used.
Don’t re-invent the wheel. There are sources of information about the experiences and views of children and professionals in the youth justice system (YJS). You could use those as a basis for your own consultation work, doing some quick testing of whether some key findings are ‘true for you’. Or you might decide to limit your current consultation to some aspects of service provision that are not covered in those studies or reports. The sources might be local, regional or national reports and consultation exercises, commissioned in relation to youth justice or other services for vulnerable children, including work in the secure children’s homes that cater for children held on welfare grounds.
Use tools developed by others. Interview schedules and survey questions developed by others can be adapted for your work. Likewise, your thinking might inspire others, so include your questions as an annex to your report. Some tools developed by others are listed later in this section.
Take care with your questions. ‘Yes/no’ answers are quick and easy to analyse, but asking ‘why do you say that?’ will give you richer data to inform your recommendations. To guard against inadvertently excluding some young people, use language that is clear and simple.
Don’t take on too much. Start small. A common mistake is to try and get answers on everything, leaving you daunted about how to handle the mass of information collected. Instead, explore fewer issues, asking similar questions to each group that you consult. Another advantage of this approach (known as ‘triangulation’) is that getting similar responses from different sources will give confidence about the robustness of your findings.
Don’t feel hidebound by the views of stakeholders. They are pieces of your jigsaw, to be placed alongside information from other sources. In your analysis, you will be thinking about the weight to attach to each, and working out why you are including or rejecting what you have found.
Be creative. Encourage people to think of innovative ways of encouraging users to offer feedback on services, such as incorporating a consultation exercise into a group activity in a youth offending team (YOT) parenting session or a session for young people. Or consider whether there is a voluntary organisation that might help you reach out to people you generally don’t consult. For example, parents of children in custody might be willing to join other parents in a consultation meeting organised for you by, for instance, your local advocacy service or a support group such as Action for Prisoners’ Families or String of Pearls.