If you throw a stone in a pond you get a ripple.
After last week’s ‘Children Lost in a Fractured System’ debate, 350 delegates, service leader panellists and young people, could now cause ripples of their own, starting cultural change as they take the messages from the evening back to their organisations.
Nigel Boulton and Marisa De Jager have been causing ripples throughout the system in the UK and internationally for the last 18 months, following the launch of the hashtags #voc and #childsvoice. The journey has taken them as far as Canada and to the ISPCAN conference in Calgary, allowing them to network and brainstorm with other thought leaders, challenging the status quo and putting the Voice of the Child at the forefront of service delivery.
Yet ‘Children Lost in a Fractured System’ challenged many professionals and service leaders across the UK to contemplate how their organisations think about safeguarding, asking them if they are putting children and young people at the centre of the models of care they have employed.
Nigel and Marisa were somewhat taken aback by the response: “The professionals accepted that the system was broken,” says Nigel. “The young people were vehement in their criticism of service delivery, commissioning and design, and the fact that they’re not listened to – or not listened to properly.”
The challenge is, of course, to now effect lasting change.
“We hope the people on the panel now think a bit differently about what children have to say,” says Marisa. “But we know we can’t just leave it there. We know the University of Westminster – together with our partnership, Shared Vision – will publish a paper in early 2017, based on the evidence from the evening and previous work with young people and professionals, but we can’t just rely on that. We need to ensure sustainability and lasting change. The problem is the ‘how’. I envisage this as one of the first in a series of things we want to run to ensure the conversation remains alive and at the forefront of peoples thinking”.
Nigel supports this view, adding: “People – young people, professionals in the audience, and people from all over the world who watched it online – they said there has to be change. When I was a serving police officer, I never just had ‘hot air’ conversations. They’re a waste of money. My view is that we are now need young people and professionals to drive that change.”
Real world evidence, real world experience
The questions put to the panels on the day – which included young people; Rex Howling, QC; Michelle Lee Izu, Director from Barnardo’s; Dave Hill, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services; Chief Constable Simon Bailey, Lead for National Chief’s Council on Children and Child Protection and Dr Peter Green, Chair of the National Network for Designated Health Professionals – were based on work done by the theatre company Chickenshed, partners with Shared Vision. They had developed a ‘Wall of Protest’, which shows how children feel when they don’t have a voice or they are not listened to. This formed an evidence base that underpinned the questions, giving the professionals something to ponder from real-world children and young people living with real world problems.
Understandably, such evocative evidence has already resonated with those who attended. “Some people have changed their minds already,” says Nigel. “While others have said they now realise how important it is and will be putting their backs into it.
“Since the event, we’ve heard from one police force who was following on Twitter that they are now challenging their thinking on this. But that will only last for so long. So it has created change – or has started to.
“It’s now everyone’s responsibility to move it on.”
Marisa and Nigel know something that must change if the system is to move on – partnership working.
Too many young people continue to fall through the cracks, lost in a system that fails to put their wishes – or their voice – at the centre of the process. Nigel describes partnership working – or lack of – as “Dr Dolittle’s Pushmi-pullyu – just with 6 or 7 heads, rather than 2” – and it’s clear for all the good intentions, it is still not fulfilling its potential.
“Every time a child dies in a Serious Case Review, they hold up partnership working as a failing, and every time people come out on the television or in the newspaper to say ‘we’ve learnt our lessons, we’re working closer together.’
After successive failings, the desire to make a difference burns stronger than ever.
But Marisa and Nigel won’t be resting. Inspired by the success of the meeting in Canada, the workshops held with Chickenshed and last week’s ‘Children Lost in a Fractured System Debate, they will continue to get the message out to practitioners and professionals through future events and workshops; children’s voices must be heard – but it is the system that is fractured and not the majority of the professionals in it.
They might feel like two people throwing stones into a pond, but they won’t stop until the ripples become a tidal wave. Will you help them?