What does it really mean to show a young person that their voice matters?
On the surface, “My Voice Matters” seems like such a simple statement based on common sense. In a way it is: young people’s voices need to be given the weight and influence they deserve, as is their right.
Researchers, services, and policy makers are increasingly recognising that the people who best understand what young people need are, unsurprisingly, young people.
But what does it really mean to show a young person that their voice matters? What can we do to make sure that all young people, regardless of their previous experiences or their needs, know just how much they matter? And how can professionals hear and act upon young people’s views in a way that makes a difference, not just to their services but also to young people?
Here are four things I have learned that can help young people know that their voice matters.
Don’t ignore the little things
“My voice matters” applies to everything young people say, not just the information which fits with our agenda. When someone tells you they are going on holiday, ask them about it afterwards; remember things which don’t relate to your session plan. For example, in one advisory group, the young people commented that oranges were a “weird” snack choice and that apples would be better. After this, we made sure there were always apples, and asked young people what sweet treats they would like each month. It’s a little thing, but the snacks are always met with a smile and comment – it’s a tiny but valuable way to show we listen and value all feedback, no matter how big or small.
Young people can see their voices matter when we show and tell them how they made a difference. Feedback must be regular and rapid. Going back to individual young people on their ideas helps to show that their individual voice matters, not just the whole group. And it’s okay to be honest about where you haven’t been able to make change and why.
It’s very unlikely that everyone thinks the same things. Sharing when people disagree is vital for showing that every voice matters. This can make messaging or learning feel more complex, but it also makes it more real. Not everyone will feel confident disagreeing with others publicly, so anonymous voting or feedback after a session can help people feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts.
Relationships are at the heart of everything
Young people will only know their voice matters when they know that they matter. When we trust someone, we are more likely to voice how we really feel. Relationships take time and vulnerability to build, they cannot be rushed or forced.
At CORC, we want to help you work with young people, to listen to them and make changes which matter to them.
Rachael Stemp is CORC's Participation in Research Officer, she is passionate about making sure that everyone can get involved in research, including those who are often underserved or left behind in research. Prior to working at CORC, she worked on various research projects supporting children in out-of-home care, including fostering, residential care, and internationally in domestic servitude. She is also a trained social worker.
If you would like to learn more about how we can support you to do this, including through our upcoming trainings, please do get in touch.