2 Children’s experiences of services
In a review of the literature on children’s views of services for the last five years, the National Children’s Bureau found that children wanted services, particularly schools, to be more aware of their personal circumstances, and to be more supportive of challenges they face, such as illness, disability or being in care (Mainey et al., 2009).
At the same time, children were frustrated at the number of professionals involved in their lives. They wanted information to be shared on a ‘need to know’ basis and did not want to be talked about inappropriately between professionals. The review found that having strong, trusting relationships with staff was key to children being open about their needs and feeling able to accept help in accessing services.
Children wanted to be more actively involved in deciding the help they get and services to be more flexible, responsive and individualised. Across all services, children wanted more information about particular problems, where to turn for help, activities, placements, processes, staff, treatments, therapies and medication. A strong theme was children’s wish to be involved in the planning of services and how they are delivered. They wanted opportunities to make choices, to be responsible for themselves and to learn from their mistakes.
A government-commissioned review of consultations with children and young people about the children’s workforce concluded that children want a workforce that is positive, has a young outlook, is relaxed in dealing with them, open minded, unprejudiced and trustworthy (DCSF, 2008a). They want workers to do the following:
- Be fair.
- Be willing to trust and believe in them.
- Ask and listen.
- Be helpful in creating understanding among their peers.
- Not prejudge their needs or characteristics.
- Be able to keep promises.
- Be easy to contact.
They should never leave children out. They need to be fair – even young people can tell if something is not fair.
The doctors could talk to me more and listen to me rather than talking to my mum.
The review noted that the stability which children want ‘may be being disturbed by the number of initiatives to which children and young people have been subjected’ (ibid, p. 5).
Children want processes to be transparent, honest, realistic, inspected and explained, and supported with enough resources and staff. They want to be provided with real options and real choice between them, to be able to voice their opinion, not to have to repeatedly give the same information, and not to be put under pressure or made unnecessarily worried.
‘My mum’s fed up of people coming to see me, but nobody helping me.’
‘There are lots of people round the table, all of them useless.’
A study on how children’s views are taken into account by social workers found that children found it easier to talk about positive feelings than about negative or emotive issues (Children in Scotland, 2006). They were sensitive to the quality of attention their social worker gave them and to how they responded to what the children shared.
Interviewer: So how does [your social worker] know how you’re feeling about things?
Twelve year old child: ’Cause I like my social worker and when she comes up, well, I just think she’s a really nice social worker. ’Cause she’s genuine and I feel I can be relaxed with her, and genuine, as well. And she’s just – a friend, as well. Like, if I had a friend like that I would talk to them about things.
The kinds of responses from social workers that children found helpful included:
- The social worker taking action to help and support the child even when the situations arising could not be fixed easily.
- The social worker giving explanations and reassurances about things the child found confusing or worrying.
- The social worker passing on information or concerns to relevant people.
- The social worker fixes or helps with difficulties or requests, such as how to handle difficult emotions or helping to arrange more contact with relatives if the child asked for it.
Studies have also looked at children’s experiences of health services. In research by Susie Aldiss and colleagues, play and puppets were used to help young children with cancer tell researchers about their hospital care (Aldiss et al, 2009). The researchers had anticipated children would talk about treatment, medical procedures, needles and hospital personnel, because these feature significantly during a stay in hospital.
Children spoke about these things when prompted, but their own concerns focused on the importance of having toys to play with and the presence and roles of their parents. The research highlighted the importance of play specialists and play staff – ‘the children remembered their names (they did not know the names of nurses) and spoke fondly of activities they had enjoyed together’ (ibid, p. 93). The need to ensure parents are supported in their role emerged as children felt it was important they were always present when in hospital and saw them as the people who provide information about what is happening.
Activity 2 Children’s experiences of education and other services
The extract linked below considers the views of the social workers, the methods they use to encourage children to talk, and how they judge the weight to be given to their views. It also explores the relationship between children’s views and children’s ‘best interests’, which in many ways, is at the heart of how children’s views are taken into account.
Think about the points raised by children in relation to their experiences of other services. What are their views on sharing personal information? What kinds of relationships with adults do they value? How far does what we learn in relation to one sector apply to other sectors? For example, what is the relevance of children’s experiences in healthcare to what they tell us about social workers, and how could these also apply to schools, and to relationships within school? Make notes.