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When we use the term ‘the child’s voice’ we not only refer to what children say directly, but rather to many ways that children communicate with us, including both verbal and nonverbal communication. It means more than seeking their views, which could just mean the child saying what they want, rather than really being involved in what happens.
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.
Key points to gathering the voice of the child are:
The child’s lived experience means seeing and understanding their experiences from their point of view.
Child focused work means that children feel listened to, plans are more successful when they are involved and prompt decisions are made about safeguarding when necessary. When we listen carefully to children we can see their experience from their point of view. Children develop their own story about what is happening in their lives.
The right of a child or young person to be heard is included in the UN Convention of Right and the Children’s Act 2004 emphasises the importance of speaking to the child or young person as part of any assessment.
In Serious Case Reviews (now called Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews) the importance of speaking to a child or young person and gathering their views has been consistently identified as an area of practice that needs to be improved.
Reviews highlighted that:
When we don’t hear the voice of the child:
The following considerations are positive qualities, principles or approaches that underpin effective communication and support practitioners to capture the voice of the child.
The documents set out how best to capture the child’s voice within your work and recording.
The SEND Code of Practice 2015 says:
Children have a right:
Local authorities must ensure that children, young people and parents are provided with the information, advice and support necessary to enable them to participate in discussions and decisions about their support. (1.9)
Local authorities should consider whether some young people may require support in expressing their views (1.10)
If children and young people are to achieve their best, we must put their voice at the centre of any planning.
Children and young people with SEND often find it difficult to express their views and it can be helpful to think about alternatives ways they can do this.
Derby City Council have developed a set of engagement tools in collaboration with the Parent/Carers Together Forum to capture the voice of the child or young person when working with children and young people (CYP) with special educational needs and disability (SEND) There are three different tools:
There are different versions of the same Voice of the Child tool to meet varying needs of children and young people with SEND that includes:
The Council for Disabled Children have some information about:
Practitioners often use tools to enable them to seek the views of children or to aid participation, enabling children to draw or write their views more freely than in direct conversation.
It is important to note that tools are not intended to replace other good practice.
Practitioners need to plan ahead and adapt tools to suit individual children & young people or circumstances. There are no set ways to do this.
A wide range of tools are available to encourage us all and help with our direct work with children and young people. Please take care and exercise professional judgement as they do not fit all children or all circumstances.
There are also more formal tools used within organisations that form part of assessments or reviews such as those used with looked after children and young carers.
This is a much debated question, and unfortunately there is not a simple answer to fit all situations. The degree of a child or young person’s involvement in decision-making will depend on a multitude of factors, including:
The terms ‘Gillick competence’ and ‘Fraser guidelines’ are frequently used interchangeably despite there being a clear distinction between them.
Gillick competence is concerned with determining a child’s capacity to consent.
Fraser guidelines are used specifically to decide if a child can consent to contraceptive or sexual health advice and treatment.
The NSPCC have published Gillick competency and Fraser guidelines information to help people who work with children to balance the need to listen to children’s wishes with the responsibility to keep them safe.