Engaging with children and young people
Engaging with children and young people

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Engaging with children and young people

1 What do we mean by ‘children’ and ‘young people’?

The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s National Strategy for the Policing of Children & Young People focuses on young people ranging from birth to the age of 24. In particular they break the population of children and young people down into three distinct groups:

  • Those aged under 10
  • Those aged between 10 and 17 years of age
  • Those aged between 18 and 24 years of age

Activity 1 Defining ‘children and young people’

Timing: Allow 10 minutes

In this clip, Arlene Kee of the Education Authority of Northern Ireland discusses what is meant by the term ‘children and young people’ and why it is important for police and others providing social and community services to engage with children and young people.

As you watch the clip, reflect on the key points made and think whether you would define the term ‘children and young people’ in the way that Arlene Kee does.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 1
Skip transcript: Video 1 Arlene Kee

Transcript: Video 1 Arlene Kee

So my name is Arlene Kee, and I work for the Education Authority for Northern Ireland. I'm an assistant director within the Children and Young People's Services Directorate, and I have specific responsibility for the management of youth services in Northern Ireland. And I work with my colleagues in particular to support vulnerable children and young people.
Just last year, Northern Ireland published its first 10-year strategy for children and young people. So very interestingly, we have an overarching policy that gives us high-level outcomes that all government departments must work towards to support our children and young people. And in this context, one of those key outcomes is safety and stability for children and young people, and that is something that the Education Authority does want to do.
We support children right through from age four to 25. That's quite strange because you leave school when you're 18. But that's also because the Youth Service supports young people right up until they're young adults at the age of 25. We do have priority age bands, and they are age nine to 13 and 14 to 16.
And the reason that we do that is because we are very, very lucky. We have a policy that says that we must deliver services based on assessed need. And that means that we can support the children and young people at the point of need and who most require it. But we do have generous provision for everyone.
The Education Authority has a very hopeful and supportive process. And they have a slogan which says "we want to ensure that all children can be the best that we can be." So in Northern Ireland, within the context of the Children and Young People's Strategy, within the Education Authority, our role is to make sure that children have the best start in life, that they have the best opportunities within education, that we address their barriers to learning, and that we provide them with the personal and social development that they require to ensure that they can succeed.
We in the service complete a needs assessment every three years. And five months ago, we engaged directly with 18,000 young people in Northern Ireland. That was a very successful engagement piece of work.
And very interestingly, when we looked and reviewed our outputs for the past three years, we noticed something very important. Children and young people here involved in Youth Service have less challenges and less engagement with anti-social behaviour and crime, and they experience less problems in life. They have much more resilience and are better able to cope with themselves.
So why is it important? It's important that, in the Youth Service-- in school, it's very hard to take control of your education. It's very hard to then put into that. Schools do have schools councils, and children and young people can have a say in what's happening to them. Very differently in the Youth Service. They Youth Service do not do things to children and young people. They do things with them.
So we listen to the voice of children and young people. We plan with them. We let the young people execute their programmes. And we evaluate it with them. And the whole point is that there's a relationship between a youth worker and a young person that lets them take the journey and take their own decisions and have faith in themselves and making progress when they want to.
So it's very important to have the voice of the child at the centre of all that you do. And it's very important for children to be involved in making their own decisions and taking control of their own destiny.
If you don't do that, we now know from engaging directly with young people and from our evaluation of all the work that we do, that you don't end up with the same outcomes, and there's a greater lack of educational attainment for children and young people in that regard.
First of all, and the children and young people of our generation have very different demands, and they have challenges that we don't understand, particularly to do with the online arena, to do with, even, bullying. Now it isn't often someone on the playground. It's done on a cyber space.
And children and young people don't have the same opportunities. There are lots of challenges economically in our climate, in our culture, and in our country. And that has a part to play with children and young people.
But very much, it's about relationships. The family unit is not the same. The community cohesion is not necessarily the same. So in terms of that mentoring role, that supportive role, we often consider children and young people within concentric circles. And we don't often think of their family as the first set of peers that we want to influence and to make sure that they're supportive with one another.
We think of children in the context of their friends, their peers, then with their siblings, then, often, with their community, even sometimes before their parents. So trying to understand the complexities that children and young people live in, the lack of supports, and understanding that, actually, with all that they have to offer in terms of new technologies and new infrastructure around them, they can still be in a negative position.
And we talk about the power of one. We have found that, actually, what young people need are relationships. They need mentors. They need people to understand them. One of the things that we do with the Police Service for Northern Ireland is help officers see, how do you communicate with children and young people? How do you understand that behaviour as a form of communication?
So what we really want to do is travel with young people and see how we can almost get back to basics and build on relationships. So it's not about all the resources that they have or all the new technologies. It's about what their experiences are.
And we often find that young people are often led by their emotions, as well. And we know that mental health and resilience is something that our children and young people lack in Northern Ireland, and that's something that we feel that we have a good platform to support them on.
End transcript: Video 1 Arlene Kee
Video 1 Arlene Kee
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


It is important to recognise that while in many ways children may seem more mature than in years gone by, for both social and legal reasons the definitions of ‘children and young people’ have not changed significantly. In addition, and as Arlene Kee outlines, children and young people have unique needs which means that it is important for policing and others providing services to ensure that they consider all children and young people.

This course focuses specifically on children and young people under the age of 17. This is for a number of reasons, not least because it aligns with general social and legal norms relating to adulthood and the age of majority. This also aligns with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), an internationally binding treaty to which 196 countries, including the United Kingdom, are party to. In particular, Article 1 of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child states that:

For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.

(OHCHR, 2020)

Box 1 What is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child?

The Convention has 54 articles that cover all aspects of a child’s life and sets out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children everywhere are entitled to. It also explains how adults and governments must work together to make sure all children can enjoy all their rights.

Every child has rights, whatever their ethnicity, gender, religion, language, abilities or any other status.

The Convention must be seen as a whole: all the rights are linked and no right is more important that another. The right to relax and play (Article 31) and the right to freedom of expression (Article 13) have equal importance as the right to be safe from violence (Article 19) and the right to education (Article 28).

The UNCRC is also the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world – it’s even been accepted by non-state entities, such as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), a rebel movement in South Sudan. All UN member states except for the United States have ratified the Convention. The Convention came into force in the UK in 1992.

Summary of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989
Described image
Figure 1 the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: in Child Friendly Language

Activity 2 Challenges engaging with children and young people

Timing: Allow 10 minutes

In this clip, Arlene Kee of the Education Authority of Northern Ireland continues her discussion of children and young people. In particular she focuses on some of the challenges engaging with children and young people and how police and others providing services can engage more effectively.

As you watch the clip, reflect on the key challenges engaging with children and young people highlighted by Arlene Kee.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 2
Skip transcript: Video 2 Arlene Kee 2

Transcript: Video 2 Arlene Kee 2

There are many challenges because, at one level, they have so many things that are vying for their attention, and there are so many people who want to communicate with them. Very importantly, the NCRC talks about the rights of the child and talks about how important it is that they have a say in what they do.
But engaging with children and young people, whilst we have to use all new technologies and whilst we have to understand what Snapchat is and what Twitter is and all of those other things, we have found that, actually, it is, getting back to what I previously just mentioned, talking to young people and engaging with them at a relational level. That's where we have made our impact.
We have also found that children and young people are not a homogeneous group. They all have very different views. And it's very important to get platforms to engage with children and young people where you can talk to the needs of that individual. Because they are very individualised.
Also, there are lots of children without a voice. And that's really important to think about those groups who come from ethnic minority communities, those groups who come from the wider Section 75 groups. One of the groups of young people that we work with in connection with the Police Service for Northern Ireland are young people who are under paramilitary threat or are subject to paramilitary violence. And those young people do not have a voice. They don't know how to articulate that voice.
So there's kind of three main challenges. One, how do you do it within the environment that we're in? Two, because children and young people don't often know how to explain themselves and express themselves very well, it's helping them, actually, to do the articulation. And then, thirdly, it's doing something very meaningful with that information so that they understand that you have heard them, they understand that you've listened to them, but, more importantly, that the services that we have provide will change and adapt to meet their needs.
There are many opportunities. We have found that they want to engage with us, but they want to do that in a nonjudgmental way. So going back to the IT and the many platforms that we have, in our survey this year of 18,000 young people, we used small group work, we used individual work, we used questionnaires, we contacted young people in schools, we contacted them on the street, we used Twitter, we used Facebook, we used all of those methodologies, and we found that it wasn't a one size fits all, that you have to have a broad spectrum of approach.
But there's two types of contact, as well, that you want to consider. One is the sheer volume, and then two is the depth. And to get the depth, that requires the relationship and the contact at an individual level. Through the Children and Young People's Strategy, we feel that the voice of children and young people has been greatly strengthed.
One of the key things that we also do with the Police Service for Northern Ireland is that we amplify the voice of children and young people in the context of the police. So making sure that there are structures in place, particularly for those most vulnerable and have barriers to learning, even barriers to communication, and ensuring that you go out of your way to engage with those young people and make sure that they can have their voice heard, that is the most important thing. And that's what we have been very ably doing.
I think the first thing is being nonjudgmental and actively listening. And I know that sounds trite, but, actually, they have very clearly articulated it to us. There are lots of opportunities for them to state their position, but they are not clear that, A, that they've been heard-- that they've been heard correctly-- and, very importantly, that anybody has done anything about it. So I think integrity is very clear in the process.
I think, structurally, you have to have the opportunities for that to happen. And that's not siloed. One of the biggest challenges in Northern Ireland, I think, to all government departments, as we seek to support our children and young people, and particularly under the Children and Young People's Strategy, is the connectivity. Because even the most vulnerable children and young people, they are fed up, quite frankly, and can get very angry and aggressive at another person asking them personal questions, wanting to know how they feel.
So there's something about us getting this right at an adult level in terms of connectivity, being creative about that, being authentic about that, and then, as I said, making sure that we actually do something with the information. And it's not only that, it's closing the loop and going back to say, we did hear you, this is what we're going to do.
Then, you need to come back further down the line-- six months, 12 months, 18 months-- and say, can you see the difference, do you experience the difference, has this impacted you in the way that you need it to be? and then continue that critical self-reflective practise. And that isn't about, as I mentioned earlier, doing it onto young people, but young people can be part of that process. And that is also, with Early Years, we have a number of organisations that help us engage with those young people.
So it is possible. It is time consuming, and it does need you to work directly with those young people to understand their needs. But it is very worthwhile. And we know only when we do that will we get the outcomes, they will get the outcomes, that they need.
End transcript: Video 2 Arlene Kee 2
Video 2 Arlene Kee 2
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


While there can be many challenges engaging with children and young people, as Arlene Kee highlights in these two clips, it is crucially important that police and others providing social and community services of all kinds continue to do so in an effective manor.


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