Investing in Children is a children’s rights organisation based in Durham in the North East of England. For over two decades they have worked towards two objectives: to create spaces in which young people can discuss the issues they face and the changes they want to see, and to persuade those who hold power to listen to young people and make those changes. Their Co-Director, Liam Cairns, says achieving the first has been much easier than realising the second.
On a recent visit to Durham, I met with Liam, two members of his team and three young women who have worked with Investing in Children to achieve important changes in relation to schools, policing, social care, and transport. Together they are using support from The Listening Fund to ensure more local young people get to influence the services which they use, and to better understand why different organisations react so differently to the prospect of listening to young people.
This dual approach has the potential to be really powerful and although The Listening Fund work is only 10 months old, it is building on the rich experience of Investing in Children and some useful lessons are already emerging:
One – adult-free space is important to get more honest, in-depth understanding of which issues young people want to address, what changes they want to see, and what ideas they have to realise those changes. At Investing in Children, young people work with staff to organise Agenda Days which are then run entirely by young people. A wide range of ages are invited to participate and the information and opinions gathered are used to shape responses to local problems.
Two – the impact of entrusting and empowering young people extends far beyond the project on which they are collaborating. All three young women who spoke with me at Investing in Children were clear that the work they had undertaken had not only enabled them to make substantive changes on issues which were important to them and their peers, but that the increased self-confidence and improved knowledge of their rights affected other aspects of their lives. Being heard had a positive impact on their ambitions, education and self-perception.
Three – despite the 22 years of experience at Investing in Children, there is still a lot to learn about how listening works, how it impacts services, and the changes it can have on organisations and individuals. This is particularly true of the long-term impact of listening to young people. As part of their Listening Fund work, Investing in Children are examining the scope for a longitudinal study which would try and determine whether empowering young people affects what type of citizens they become. Such a study has the potential to convince more organisations of the importance of listening to young people now.
We are excited to see what else will come out of the next 14 months of Investing in Children’s Listening Fund work, not least because of the way they frame the challenges they face: the trouble isn’t engaging with young people, it’s getting adults to listen.