Voice of the child
What do we mean by ‘the child’s voice’ and the ‘child’s lived experience’?
When we use the term ‘the child’s voice’ we not only refer to what children say directly, but rather to many ways that children communicate with us, including both verbal and nonverbal communication. It means more than seeking their views, which could just mean the child saying what they want, rather than really being involved in what happens.
Children and young people should have the opportunity to describe things from their point of view. They should be continually involved, and have information fed back to them in a way that they can understand. There should always be evidence that their voice has influenced the decisions that professionals have made.
Key points to gathering the voice of the child are:
- Seeking to understand their story
- Ensuring their views are advocated for
- Picking up on nonverbal cues
- Using our power to influence outcomes on their behalf
- Challenging the use of single stories.
The child’s lived experience means seeing and understanding their experiences from their point of view.
Why is the child's voice important? +
Child focused work means that children feel listened to, plans are more successful when they are involved and prompt decisions are made about safeguarding when necessary. When we listen carefully to children we can see their experience from their point of view. Children develop their own story about what is happening in their lives.
The right of a child or young person to be heard is included in the UN Convention of Right and the Children’s Act 2004 emphasises the importance of speaking to the child or young person as part of any assessment.
In Serious Case Reviews (now called Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews) the importance of speaking to a child or young person and gathering their views has been consistently identified as an area of practice that needs to be improved.
Reviews highlighted that:
- A child was not seen frequently enough by the professionals involved, nor was asked about their views or feelings
- Agencies did not listen to adults who tried to speak on behalf of the child and who had important information to contribute
- Parents and carers prevented practitioners from seeing and listening to the child
- Practitioners focused too much on the needs of the parents or adults, especially vulnerable adults and overlooked the implications for the child.
- The government report “Listening to children in serious case reviews” looks at the importance of listening to the voice of the child in serious case reviews and is available on the gov.uk website.
When we don’t hear the voice of the child:
- Children are less safe
- Children are less happy and their wellbeing is lower
- Children become less visible; adult needs can dominate
- Assumptions are made about children’s lives
- Knowledge about children is limited to their relationships with adults
Good Practice Principles +
The following considerations are positive qualities, principles or approaches that underpin effective communication and support practitioners to capture the voice of the child.
- Be flexible in your approach. No one method or tool will work for every child
- Think about where you meet the child – enable the child to have a choice
- Make the child or young person central to the story being told. Ensuring they feel important.
- Don’t make assumptions about their thoughts and feelings
- The child or young person should “jump off the page”.
- Use child centred thinking.
- Involve the child regardless of age.
- Understand their diversity needs
- The child or young person shouldn’t have to tell their story over and over again. Practitioners need to read what has already been written.
- Do not rush contact with the child; even if you only have limited time, focus on them. Children and young people should not know how busy you are, or how many other meetings you need to attend. Work at the child’s pace and tailor their communication style to the best way of communicating with the individual.
- Manage how you leave a child or young person after a difficult moment
How do we capture the child's voice? +
Engaging children with additional needs +
The SEND Code of Practice 2015 says:
Children have a right:
- to receive and impart information
- to express an opinion and
- to have that opinion taken into account in any matters affecting them from the early years (1.6)
Local authorities must ensure that children, young people and parents are provided with the information, advice and support necessary to enable them to participate in discussions and decisions about their support. (1.9)
Local authorities should consider whether some young people may require support in expressing their views (1.10)
If children and young people are to achieve their best, we must put their voice at the centre of any planning.
Children and young people with SEND often find it difficult to express their views and it can be helpful to think about alternatives ways they can do this.
Derby City Council have developed a set of engagement tools in collaboration with the Parent/Carers Together Forum to capture the voice of the child or young person when working with children and young people (CYP) with special educational needs and disability (SEND) There are three different tools:
- All About Me – to get to know different aspect of the child or young person
- 3 Islands – if you have any safeguarding concerns
- Improvement Ladder – to discuss improvements and change
There are different versions of the same Voice of the Child tool to meet varying needs of children and young people with SEND that includes:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Non-verbal and complex needs
- Hearing impairment
- Learning disability
- Under 5’s with SEND
- Visual impairment
Additional resources for engaging children with additional needs +
Using tools to gain the voice of the child +
Practitioners often use tools to enable them to seek the views of children or to aid participation, enabling children to draw or write their views more freely than in direct conversation.
It is important to note that tools are not intended to replace other good practice.
Practitioners need to plan ahead and adapt tools to suit individual children & young people or circumstances. There are no set ways to do this.
A wide range of tools are available to encourage us all and help with our direct work with children and young people. Please take care and exercise professional judgement as they do not fit all children or all circumstances.
There are also more formal tools used within organisations that form part of assessments or reviews such as those used with looked after children and young carers.
Voice of the Child Toolkit - January 2021 (1.12 MB)
How much do young people need to be involved? +
This is a much debated question, and unfortunately there is not a simple answer to fit all situations. The degree of a child or young person’s involvement in decision-making will depend on a multitude of factors, including:
- the age or ability of the child or young person, and how much they are able to understand and contribute;
- the amount of influence they can realistically have over decisions or plans (i.e. considering any policy or practice constraints);
- any ethical issues associated with their involvement;
- the reasons behind engaging them in discussions, and related strategic priorities.
Gillick competency and Fraser guidelines +
The terms ‘Gillick competence’ and ‘Fraser guidelines’ are frequently used interchangeably despite there being a clear distinction between them.
Gillick competence is concerned with determining a child’s capacity to consent.
Fraser guidelines are used specifically to decide if a child can consent to contraceptive or sexual health advice and treatment.
The NSPCC have published Gillick competency and Fraser guidelines information to help people who work with children to balance the need to listen to children’s wishes with the responsibility to keep them safe.
The Care Quality Commission also offer further advice on capacity and competence