- Young people from the London borough shape services through a range of initiatives including the children in care council, youth opportunity fund and a youth parliament
- In 2015, 97 per cent of local young people said Young Hackney provision was "good" or "better"
Hackney Council has embedded youth participation throughout services for six- to 19-year-olds, and up to 25 if disabled, by creating multiple youth engagement structures. A team of two youth support and development workers and one young apprentice lead this work, although the authority expects all youth service staff to follow a co-production approach.
"It's everybody's business," says Pauline Adams, head of service for Young Hackney, the name of the council's youth work department.
Young Hackney formed in 2011. It combines teams including universal services, early help, substance misuse, prevention and diversion, and play. It also supports other departments to increase youth participation, such as youth justice. Adams says the youth participation approach has never changed - it is underpinned by a council youth participation charter - but over time its permeation has deepened.
One example is the authority's children in care council, Hackney Gets Heard (HGH). This year HGH split into junior (ages six to 12) and senior (ages 13 to 25) groups, which meet every other weekend. The juniors take part in activities with peers from similar backgrounds, such as cooking or physical activities. Elizabeth, aged seven, says the group has helped her feel less shy. "I have tried new things and have lots of fun," she says. "I wish I could come every week and stay longer."
The seniors' activities are more focused on decision-making. In 2015, they turned information the council provides for children coming into care into an attractive, comic-style Hackney Promise. It states 15 expectations all children can expect. They also developed an HGH quality mark, which is stamped on information provided by social workers once reviewed by the group.
Since 2016, young people have become heavily involved in how their own looked-after children reviews take place. "They have given positive feedback in terms of their ability to feel the meeting is about them," says Adams.
Children in care also feed back their experiences during corporate parenting meetings with council elected members. Meanwhile, Young Hackney annually organises a question and answer session between young people, the mayor and deputy mayor.
Young Hackney also engages young people through its Youth Opportunity Fund. A panel of 10 young people aged 11 to 19 review applications for grant funding of up to £3,500 twice a year. Young people submit proposals for youth-led and youth-focused projects. These could include sport, residential courses or, for example, in 2014 youth club members used the money to run dance workshops with a choreographer. Last year the panel awarded 36 grants.
As many applications come from young people wanting to set up a business, the panel last year created an Enterprise Fund, worth £10,000 from the opportunity fund budget. Adams says this in an example of how Young Hackney's services evolve according to young people's wishes.
Young Hackney staff also support and encourage young people to stand as candidates in local youth parliament elections. Every two years, young residents elect 25 members of the youth parliament (MYPs). They have campaigned on issues such as child sexual exploitation, and sexual and reproductive health awareness. This involved making a video about sexually transmitted diseases, since shown in school assemblies. Some MYPs gained filmmaking qualifications as a result. Adams says Young Hackney tries to offer accreditations where possible, such as the Duke of Edinburgh's Award.
Young people have also helped recruit council staff. Members of HGH have taken part in training for foster carers, and reviewed applications for posts working directly with young people.
Young Hackney has not carried out an evaluation of the effectiveness of its youth participation service, but its 2015 youth survey, completed by more than 400 young people, found 97 per cent rated Young Hackney provision as "good" or "better", and returned positive responses about staff quality.
One story of success is of a 17-year-old girl who, having joined HGH, and served on the Youth Opportunity Fund panel, grew in confidence and became an MYP. She is currently applying for a place at the University of Oxford. "She feels that's helped her develop her personal statement for university," says Adams. "She's been able to change the narrative about children in care."
Adams also points to examples of practice change initiated by young people - such as looked-after children chairing their own reviews - as evidence of impact.
She adds that young people's feedback confirms the approach is working. "They see their own soft skills developing and value when services are actively listening to their views, and they can see the service is changed around that," she says.
Adams also claims take-up of Young Hackney and commissioned services is rising. They engaged with more than 14,000 young people in 2015/16.
While implementing youth participation requires additional planning and time, Adams says the approach maximises investment benefits.
One young person has said of Young Hackney's participation projects: "Being involved has helped me to step outside of my comfort zone."