Good Practice Supporting the Voice of the Child
Children want to be respected, to have their views heard, and to have stable relationships with practitioners built on trust, with consistent support provided for their individual needs. Such an approach should guide the behaviour of practitioners who work with children, young people and their families. Anyone working with children should see and speak to the child; listen to what they say; take their views seriously and work with them collaboratively when deciding how to support their needs.
2. The Legislation
A child-centred approach is primarily reliant upon the views, wishes and feelings of the child you are working with. However, in order to make decisions and progress plans clear systems must be in place. To be effective, practitioners must not lose sight of the needs and views of children, or place adults ahead of the needs of children. Effective safeguarding systems should be developed using policies, procedures and guidelines which should be rooted in good practice and supported by legislation:
- The Isle of Man Children and Young Persons Act 2001 sets the scene for good child care. The majority of the manual concentrates on the policies and procedures that the Department of Health and Social Care (Children and Families Division) must adopt in its dealings with children and their families. The Safeguarding Act 2018 stipulates the development and consistent use of inter-agency policies and procedures by all practitioners in order to promote the wellbeing of children and ensure their very best outcomes are achieved;
- The basic assumption of the Children and Young person's Act 2001 is the belief that children are best looked after within their families, with both parents playing a full part and without resorting to legal proceedings. Fundamental to this belief is the concept of Parental Responsibility. Parents are expected to exercise Parental Responsibility throughout the child's upbringing, even when they, the parents, are separated or the child is away from home;
- The general principle of the Children and Young Person's Act 2001 is the welfare of the child. This should always be the primary consideration and referred to in all court matters and should equally prevail in all matters relating to children in need and to all issues of child protection;
- The Children and young Person's Act 2001 and the Safeguarding Together Guidance 2019 stipulates that due regard must be given to a child's views, wishes and feelings when determining what services to provide under Section 23 of the Children and Young Person's Act 2001, and before making decisions about action to be taken to protect individual children under Section 46 of the Act. The Safeguarding Together Guidance 2019 issued under the Safeguarding Act 2018 states that every assessment undertaken must be informed by the views of the child as well as the family. This does not mean the child takes responsibility for any decision, but the decision is informed by the child's views;
- The Department's general duties and powers to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within the island who are in need must also take into account the requirement to seek the wishes and feelings of children who are, or may be, looked after under Section 25 of the Children and Young Person's Act 2001. Including those children who are taken into Police Protection under Section 45.
3. Children and Young People's Rights
The Equality Act 2017 came into full operation on the Isle of Man in January 2020 and places the responsibility on those working with children and young people of the need to eliminate discrimination and promote equality of opportunity. This applies to the process of identification of need and risk faced by the individual child and the process of assessment. No child or children must be treated any less favourably than others in being able to access effective services which meet their particular needs.
- At all times an individual child's religion, racial origin, culture and language must be at the forefront of all planning for that child. It must be the right of every child to be afforded the opportunity to experience security, stability, a sense of permanence and a sense of their own identity and positive self- worth;
- Wherever possible a child's needs must appropriately be met by a child living with his/her own family and community, within their own culture, race and religion and experience continuity of their social networks;
- The Department must not intervene in the lives of children and their families unless it is necessary to support children with complex needs or where it is necessary to protect children who are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is an international agreement that protects the rights of children and provides a child-centred framework for the development of services to children. It has become the most ratified human rights treaty in history and has helped transform children's lives around the world by giving them a voice.
The Rights for you service on the Isle of Man embraces the UNRC. It works for children and young people up to the age of 18 years to ensure their voices are heard by listening and offering support and advice to understand rights and to use them in the correct way. For further information please refer to: gov.im.
The Corporate Parenting Group consists of senior representatives from principal government departments and Crossroads, a charity organisation who provide an established voice and advocacy service for young carers. It is chaired by the Children's Champion and meets bi monthly. Alongside the Voices in Participation Council (VIP) the Corporate Parenting Group have developed their strategy and have fully committed to delivering it to support children and young people in care on the Isle of Man. The strategy sets out actions to achieve the promise made to children and young people in care by highlighting the importance of their voices being heard to enable their needs to be fully addressed.
4. Children and Young People's ViewsChildren have said that they need:
- Vigilance: to have adults notice when things are troubling them;
- Understanding and action: to understand what is happening; to be heard and understood; and to have that understanding acted upon;
- Stability: to be able to develop an on-going stable relationship of trust with those helping them;
- Respect: to be treated with the expectation that they are competent rather than not;
- Information and engagement: to be informed about and involved in procedures, decisions, concerns and plans;
- Explanation: to be informed of the outcome of assessments and decisions and reasons when their views have not met with a positive response;
- Support: to be provided with support in their own right as well as a member of their family;
- Advocacy: to be provided with advocacy to assist them in putting forward their views.
5. Effective on going Action - Keeping the Child in Focus including Values and Principles
- All children must be treated as individuals - Listening to the child's wishes and feelings about their situation now as well as plans and hopes for the future. It must be the accepted norm that children, (subject to their sufficient understanding) their parent/s, carers and other interested parties are provided with the opportunity to actively Participate in key decision making process’. Any deviations from this must be recorded and will be open to challenge;
- Providing children with honest and accurate information about the current situation, as seen by practitioners, and future possible actions and interventions;
- In all circumstances, no matter how difficult, the Department must strive to work in Partnership with the child, his/her parent/s and or those caring for him or her. Before any decision is made Consultation with the child (subject to their age and understanding, and his or her parent/s and other relevant parties must take place to inform such a decision. Providing appropriate information to the child about his or her right to protection and assistance;
- Inviting children to make recommendations about the services and assistance they need and/or are available to them;
- Ensuring children have access to independent advice and support (for example, through advocates or children's rights officers) to be able to express their views and influence decision-making;
- Considering with them, issues arising in relation to identity, diversity, culture, faith, sexual orientation language, disability, low confidence and trust.
6. Talking with Children and Young People
Even initial discussions with children should be conducted in a way that minimises any distress to them and maximises the likelihood that they will feel enabled and supported in sharing their own information with the practitioners. Children may need time and more than one opportunity in order to develop sufficient trust to communicate any concerns they may have, especially if they have a communication impairment, learning disabilities, are very young or are experiencing mental health problems.
Practitioners are encouraged to:
- Explain your own role, to listen openly and to seek the views/voice of the child without advising or judging;
- Remember to consider explaining to parents and carers in advance and seek consent where necessary;
- Consult with other practitioners working with the child to ensure that confusing messages are avoided and the child is not asked to repeat their information unnecessarily;
- Avoid professional jargon and be clear about facts and opinion;
- Allow time for the child to ask questions;
- Be clear about next steps.
There are some guides and leaflets to give to parents and young people to assist with explanations and participation. It can be helpful to provide written material to take away and consider and then offer another opportunity to talk again later.
7. Recording Information
The professional requirement to keep records should be explained and the child should be supported to make comments too. This should be embedded in practice and in records and they should be updated regularly, particularly when circumstances change for the child or there is a change of plan. All records should be clear, separating fact, opinion and professional judgement so that when a child becomes an adult and requests access to their records they should be able to understand how decisions were made about the services provided to them This should enable them to be able to see any recording of their own contributions in whatever format.
The voice of the child should be recorded within documents and exemplars in the electronic records. They can also be attached or scanned into records where the child has written their own views or tools have been used which are handwritten or completed by the child.
Accountability is closely linked to Partnership, Consultation and Participation. It is clear when working with children, parent/s, carers and other interested parties that a successful partnership can only be achieved if explanations are provided about the Department’s duties and powers, including any actions that need to be taken and why. Decisions and action agreed must be clearly recorded with any dissenting views included. If challenged the Department must be able to explain the logic of its decision making process and respond to any formal complaints should the need arise.
8. Strategic Planning
In 2015, Tynwald approved a 5- year strategy aimed at ensuring all children have the best opportunities in life. The Strategy underpinned the work of the Children’s Services Partnership comprising of representatives of Government Departments working with children and organisations providing care on their behalf ensuring that children would grow up healthy, resilient, safe from harm and abuse and would continue to be positively engaged. The strategy provided a framework for the development of Children’s Services on the Isle of Man, which has been achieved and continues to provide a consistent guide to delivering key outcomes.
The Isle of Man Safeguarding Children’s Board along with its representatives have duties and responsibilities for children by ensuring effective inter-agency working. Section 8 of the Safeguarding Act 2018 clearly sets out the functions of the Safeguarding Board:
- It reviews the effectiveness of what is done by relevant safeguarding bodies, compiling and analysing information concerning safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children;
- The Board coordinates the framework to safeguard children and challenges the effectiveness of arrangements on the island. This helps them to understand the prevalence of abuse and neglect which in turn will help shape services to reduce the vulnerabilities of children who have additional and more complex needs across the island;
- It will identify, celebrate and disseminate best practice by making arrangements for consultation along with discussion in relation to safeguarding systems. This is to ensure effective communication with children, whilst understanding their needs, and continuing to develop best practice for all practitioners through provision of training to improve service delivery across all agencies.
Ultimately, effective safeguarding of children is achieved through placing the children we work with at the centre of the system, and enabling them to have a voice whilst protecting their rights. Every practitioner and agency must play their part in the spirit of working together to achieve the very best outcomes for children who are vulnerable and in need across the Isle of Man.