In March 2017, this chapter was added to the manual.
‘The Voice of the Child’ is a phrase used to describe the real involvement of children and young people. It means more than seeking their views, which could just mean the child saying what they want, but rather being really involved in what happens. Lord Laming said of Victoria Climbié that no-one could describe a day in her life.
Children and young people should have the opportunity to describe things from their point of view. They should be continually involved, and have information fed back to them in a way that they can understand. There should always be evidence that their voice has influenced the decisions that professionals have made.
Ask yourself: Do I see the child as an active partner who can usefully add to what is being set up, or do I see them as a passive victim who needs to be saved? The answer may not be at either extreme, but the more you see the child as a passive victim, the less they will be able to influence events.
Key factors to consider when eliciting the Voice of the Child / Young Person:
- Prepare children for change and consider what skills / understanding they may need in order to participate effectively in decision-making;
- Use everyday interactions and natural encounters - eliciting views does not have to be a ‘special event’;
- Plan ahead – Why are you asking? What information do you need? How are you going to find out? What actions are you going to take as a result of finding out the information? How are you going to feedback to the child regarding the impact of their communications?
- Match tools / methods to the purpose and to the needs of the child. Be aware of the need to elicit views from children with a range of needs, i.e. autism, learning or other disability, where English is not the first language;
- As far as possible, present the true voice and avoid adapting language or communication for adult purposes;
- Carefully consider the best conditions for participation e.g. a familiar physical and social environment;
- Give children opportunities to share their views without their parents/carers present;
- Sensitively balance children’s and young people’s views with safeguarding their welfare.
Every opportunity to interact with a child should be taken and both their behaviour and what they say should form part of the assessment process. If a child or young person does not want to talk to you be aware that their behaviour may be affected by their life circumstances. Adolescent children in particular may not communicate but recognise that their behaviour may be a form of communication.
If you are a worker who’s responsibilities mean that your interactions are primarily with the adult carers of a child or young person, or with an adult who may represent a risk to a child or young person, it is very important, in assessing risk, that you assess how the behaviour of the adult will be perceived and experienced by a child. Professional curiosity is essential. Ask yourself what will a child in contact with that adult be experiencing, thinking and feeling? What will a typical day in the life of that child look like and feel like from their perspective? Your assessments of the risk to children must be based, so far as possible, on how that child will experience the known behaviour of the adult(s) you are working with.