Voice of the Child

Visit the YorOK website to access lots of information and resources about hearing the voice of children and young people in York.

Introduction

It is essential that everything possible be done to improve outcomes for children. Studies have shown that children and young people are aware of their needs and are able to communicate the support they would like to receive. They often have strong opinions and are able to communicate these if professionals create the right atmosphere.

Many studies have revealed that decision making often excludes family members. Involving parents/carers is important and it has been found that, without it, relevant information was not available or was lost over time, the strengths of other family members were not exploited and that realistic plans that met the needs of the child(ren) were difficult to make and carry out.

With this in mind, professionals should consider and plan carefully to fully involve children, young people, and their families

Involving Children

Children of sufficient age and understanding often have a clear perception of what needs to be done to ensure their safety and wellbeing. Listening to children and responding to their views requires training and special skills, including the ability to win their trust and promote a sense of safety. Most children feel loyalty towards those who care for them and have difficulty saying anything against them. Many do not wish to share confidences or may not have the language or concepts to describe what has happened to them. Some may fear reprisals or their removal from home.

Children and young people need to understand the extent and nature of their involvement in decision making and planning processes. They should be helped to understand how child protection processes work, how they can be involved and that they can contribute to decisions about their future in accordance with their age and understanding. However, they should understand that ultimately decisions will be taken in the light of all the available information contributed by themselves, professionals, their parents, other family members and other significant adults.

Professionals should, therefore, take as much time as possible to listen to the child or young person. They should explain as fully and clearly as possible what is happening, or is likely to happen. They should ascertain the child’s/young person’s own views and, as far as is feasible (given the individual child’s/young person’s age and understanding) involve the child or young person in decisions about their own future.

There are times when the professionals have to overrule the child’s/young person’s wishes (for example, if a child or young person does not want a sexual abuser reported to the police, thus leaving other children or young people at risk).

Professionals cannot guarantee that what a child or young person says will remain totally confidential between themselves and the child or young person. It can be said that no one will be told who does not need to know, that the child or young person will know who has been told and that the child’s/young person’s privacy will be respected, wherever possible.

When there are barriers to communication (e.g, a child or young person with certain disabilities or a child/young person whose first language is not English) Social Care and, if appropriate, the police, will ensure that a person fluent in the child’s/young person’s own language or method of communication and independent of the enquiry is made available.

Disabled children and young people should have access to facilities that will enable them to express themselves fully, understand what is happening and the decisions that have to be made. Advice from specialist workers should be sought with regard to the interviewing of a disabled child before such a child is interviewed.
A child or young person has a right not to be subjected to repeated medical examinations or questioning following any allegation of abuse whether of a physical or sexual nature. 

The YorOK Voice and Involvement Strategy sets out the vision and principals for involving children and young people. See the voice and involvement section to download a copy of the strategy and access resources that can support you to involve children and young people.

The importance of Partnership in Child Protection

Family members have a unique role and importance in the lives of children who attach great value to their family relationships. Family members often know more about their family than anyone else, and well-founded decisions about a child should draw upon this knowledge and understanding.

Family members should normally have the right to know what is being said about them and to contribute to important decisions about their lives and those of their children.


Where there are concerns about significant harm to a child, Children's Social Care have a statutory duty to make enquiries and statutory powers to intervene to safeguard the child and promote his or her welfare if necessary. Where there is compulsory intervention in family life in this way, parents should still be helped and encouraged to play as full a part as possible in decisions about their child. Children of sufficient age and understanding should be kept fully informed or processes involving them, should be consulted sensitively and decisions about their future should take account of their views. 

Basic Principles of Partnership in Child Protection

  • Treat all family members as you would wish to be treated, with dignity and respect.
  • Ensure that family members know that the child’s safety and welfare must be given first priority, but that each of them has a right to a courteous, caring and professional competent service.
  • Take care not to infringe privacy any more than is necessary to safeguard the welfare of the child.
  • Be clear with yourself and with family members about their power to intervene, and the purpose of your professional involvement at each stage.
  • Be aware of the effects on family members of the power you have as a professional, and the impact and implications of what you say and do.
  • Respect the confidentiality of family members and your observations about them, unless they give permission for information to be passed to others or it is essential to do so to protect the child.
  • Listen to the concerns of children and their families and take care to learn about their understanding, fears and wishes before arriving at your own explanations and plans.
  • Learn about and consider children within their family relationships and communities, including their cultural and religious contexts and their place within their own families.
  • Consider the strengths and potential of family members, as well as their weaknesses, problems and limitations.
  • Ensure children, families and other carers know their responsibilities and rights, including any right to services and their right to refuse services and any consequences of doing so.
  • Use plain, jargon-free language appropriate to the age and culture of each person. Explain unavoidable technical and professional terms.
  • Be open and honest about your concerns and responsibilities, plans and limitations, without being defensive.
  • Allow children and families’ time to take in and understand concerns and processes. A balance needs to be found between avoiding delay and the needs of people who may need extra time in which to communicate.
  • Take care to distinguish between personal feelings, values, prejudices and beliefs, and professional roles and responsibilities, and ensure that you have good supervision to check that you are doing so.
  • If a mistake or misinterpretation has been made, or you are unable to keep to an agreement, provide an explanation. Always acknowledge any distress experienced by adults and children and do all you can to keep it to a minimum.
  • Partnership does not mean always agreeing with parents or other adult family members, or always seeking a way forward which is acceptable to them. Some parents may feel hurt and angry and refuse to co-operate with professionals. Not all parents will be able to safeguard their children, even with help and support. Especially in child sexual abuse cases, some may be vulnerable to manipulation by a perpetrator of abuse. A small number of parents are actively dangerous to their children, other family members, or professionals, and are unwilling and/or unable to change. Always maintain a clear focus on the child’s safety and what is best for the child. 

Working Partnerships with Other Professionals

There should be a common understanding amongst the professionals on how children and their families should be involved. In general there should be a presumption of openness, joint decision making and a willingness to listen to families and capitalise on their strengths. The overarching principle should always be to act in the best interests of the child.

Some information known to professionals should be treated confidentially and should not be shared in front of some children or some adult family members. Such information might include personal health information about particular family members, unless consent has been given, or information which, if disclosed, could compromise criminal investigations or proceedings.

Agencies and professionals should be honest and explicit with children and families about professional roles, responsibilities, powers and expectations, and about what is and is not negotiable.

Working relationships with families should develop according to individual circumstances. From the outset, professionals should assess if, when, and how the involvement of different family members – both children and adults – can contribute to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of a particular child or group of children. This assessment may change over time as more information becomes available or as families feel supported by professionals. 

Communication and Explanation

Good communication both between professionals and with the family is an essential part of child protection. Problems, and tragedies, have too often stemmed from the failure to share information or give clear explanations to ensure that key people are aware of the concerns.

Good communication with the family is equally important. Parents and children/young people are entitled to explanations about:

  • What is happening and why
  • What is planned or likely to happen; and
  • Who the person talking to them is, and what their role is.

They are also entitled to be listened to and to ask questions. Giving explanations is not always easy, emotions may be running high or the situation itself may be far from clear. Professionals should try to answer all questions honestly and openly acknowledging that they may not have all the information at that point in time.

Additionally, a parent may be suspected of causing the alleged abuse. If the police are likely to question someone, care will need to be taken not to pre-empt their interview or cause a situation where a child or young person is put under pressure to retract an allegation. If it becomes clear that the police will be involved, this should be openly acknowledged.

Professionals should bear in mind that they are likely to be more familiar with the system than the family, that explanations are likely to take time and may need to be repeated. It may be helpful to offer to put explanations in writing. Silence should never be construed as understanding and professionals need to be alert to the possibility of misconceptions, arising either from ignorance or from media reports.

Scrupulous care must be taken to ensure that parents and child/young people are informed of their legal rights.