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Care leavers

Top tips for co-creating with young people

Close-up of a hand, holding a marker, writing on a post-it note that is stuck to a wall. Other post-it notes have been stuck on the wall nearby.

For National Care Leavers’ Week, Faye Martin, Participation Co-ordinator at Catch22, has set out her approach to successful co-creation with young people, based on her experience of getting them involved and make sure that their voices are heard as the service is co-designed.

  1. Put the time in to build a relationship with a young person – before you can talk to them about your agenda. It’s important not to go in with too many ideas about what you think they’ll want. Instead, get to know the young person first, take the time to get to know them on their terms and their level. Build trust. You’re asking them to take part in a voluntary process, and they won’t engage if you don’t have a relationship.
  2. The young person has to be in the right place to get involved. Before you start, talk to their lead worker, their social worker, their personal adviser, and tailor your approach to where the young person is. One size never fits all. Some people will love to be involved, some people are point blank not interested. Others need support to get involved. You need to listen to them, ask the right questions to find out what will work for them. Sometimes it’s group work where they feel safe among peers, held in a private place where people can talk freely. Sometimes it’s on the telephone, sometimes it’s one on one – you have to be flexible. You also have to be flexible with your agenda. It may sometimes feel as though you’re going off tangent, but that can be when the most quality conversations come out.  We’re dealing with sensitive and personal conversations, and you have to be sensitive in return. It’s a privilege that people want to share these with you and you have to return that trust by listening.
  3.  It’s important to be real – but set boundaries. You’re there in a professional capacity, you’re there to get things done – but being too formal will put them off. Don’t be afraid to share your own stories and be human, genuine and honest. I’ve been doing this since my early twenties, and it was important to set friendly boundaries from the offset so that the young people realised that I was a professional – but able to understand their needs.
  4. Incentivise people to participate and reward their expertise. The young people are providing valuable insight – they are acting as consultants – and they deserve to be rewarded for their expertise. Where possible, pay them, but talk to them about what reward could look like – we give professional references, for instance, trips out and food.
  5. However good you are, people will drop out. They will say that they’ll come, and then won’t. Sometimes they might have work, college commitments, sometimes they’ll just not appear. This is disheartening, but it’s part of the job. You can’t let it get you down. You just have to let the young people know that they are always welcome in the future.
  6. Be persistent. Keep in touch with young people who haven’t engaged but have shown up, and really try and understand their barriers to participation. Showing that you are consistent, regularly reaching out, this helps build a trusted relationship.
  7. Stay accountable to the young people. Keep them engaged by keeping them updated on the project, and the impact that their contributions have made. We use newsletters, we always recap progress in meetings, and share the outcomes so far. If they don’t see any change, they’ll disengage. Even when it’s slow – it once took me three years to show major progress on updating a building to include a young person’s space – but every meeting I would share the journey, good and bad. Admit when it’s not going well – they’ll trust and respect you more.

– Faye Martin, Participation Co-ordinator at Catch22