As I look back over this project which began with the aim of taking a number of NHS “Child Sexual Exploitation Assessment Tools”, working with some children and young people and trying to work out what the “best” questions were from the multitude of tools that are around, and I look at where the participants in this project have got to, I simply think “WOW”!
I say WOW! not because of the number of professionals who have been involved (which is over 100), not because of the number of organisations that have joined in our discussions, not because of the sheer number of children and young people involved (over 75) but because it is quite simply the case that we absolutely could not have got where we have without that amazing group of children, young people and young adults who have, from the very start of this process, robustly told us, shown us and proven why co-design, and I mean proper co-design, is key to achieving a win-win outcome.
I have been concerned for sometime now that some professionals and some organisations believe that they are designing ‘things’, be those ‘things’ services, patient information, departments or initiatives, in true partnership and collaboration with children, young people and young adults when, in actual fact, what they are doing is very little more than a tokenistic consultation.
Co-design, and I mean proper co-design, within key parameters, with a mature approach from all participants and with a robust commitment from all parties to succeed with something that is beneficial to all of those parties, is an incredibly satisfying and rewarding way of designing something new.
We started this process to design a new Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) assessment tool – a psychosocial assessment model – and we’ve ended up with a wide-ranging learning and engagement model, with key pointers for professionals working with children, young people and young adults, about communicating about potentially sensitive topics in a way that is likely to be better received by those key stakeholders – the young people and young adults themselves – than processes we might be using at the moment.
The unique work that the children, young people and young adults have produced will be the starting point for professionals working with those groups to consider ways in which they can improve engagement with those who may be facing adversity.
The principles of co-design and co-production of services with children and young people should be an over-arching concept and all of us who work with children, young people, young adults and families have a unique opportunity to put these design principles at the very heart of the strategic values of our organisations.
The groups of children, young people and young adults who have worked collaboratively with us throughout this project have been absolutely superb.
I have enjoyed every minute of working with them and truly believe we absolutely could not have completed this project without them
We’ve heard very clearly from that there are key features of interactions with those children, young people and young adults that are essential to get to the honest heart of problems they may be suffering from. Those features include the values of mutual respect; promoting diversity and valuing people as individuals.
If we listen to children, young people and young adults our best days are likely to be still ahead of us. If we reach for those days together, in true partnership with the principle of co-design firmly rooted in all of our interactions, we can all have a much better role to play in building a stronger, fairer, more inclusive society. A society for children, young people, young adults and adults alike with healthy children and young people at the very heart of it.
We deserve it to children, young people and young adults to work our hardest to make life better for them and for their families. Throughout this project the professionals and the children, young people and young adults who have worked collaboratively together have had to discuss some very sensitive and potentially difficult topics. To do that in an open way – with each party willing to be transparent about the change that they would like to see, has shown great courage.
We need to get a firm message across to professionals, be they from the NHS or elsewhere, that children, young people and young adults need to be reassured that they won’t be judged and that their rights will be fully protected.
Of course, we won’t always get it right but we all have a responsibility to try our very best and this new engagement model – co-designed with children, young people and young adults – gives us just that opportunity.
The outputs of this project are, of course, just the start. What we now need is other organisations to take up these ideas and develop them into their routine work.
I hope that organisations and individuals alike will be enthused and encouraged to respond positively to the outcomes of this project and to move forward with the concepts that have been co-designed throughout it.
By valuing the input of children, young people and young adults and by recognising that their opinions, thoughts and dreams are important, together we can make a brighter future for us all.
Working with children, young people and young adults has never been as important as it is now, and it has to be our collaborative mission together to give every child, young person and young adult every chance of happiness, every chance of good health and every chance of protection from harm.
It is difficult to try and summarise over a year’s work in just a few words which will give justice to the amazing work that everyone involved in this project has undertaken – so I won’t try and do that. Instead I’ll leave you to carefully consider all of the materials available – be they videos, art work, media or our engagement model – and let you work out how your organisation or you as an individual can ensure that in the future, co-design of projects, services and initiatives for children and young people, with children and young people, and tackling potentially sensitive discussions, will be Not Just a Thought…
Professor Andrew Rowland