The following officers were in attendance for this item:
- David Butler - Director of Education and Youth Engagement
- Emily Collinsbeare - Youth and Play Specialist Engagement Manager
- Shelley Davies - Head of Standards Safeguarding and Youth Engagement
The Director was invited to introduce the report and set the context underpinning the strategy. He reminded members that Croydon had the largest child population in London at just over 93,000 children and young people, with very diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and economic backgrounds.
The Director added that the council's position was that they could all make a positive contribution to the borough and had a stake in its future. He announced that the Council had an aspiration to enable children and young people in Croydon to feel part of the borough, to know that they had a say in its future and its cultural regeneration and opportunities to meet their aspirations and overcome the barriers they may face.
Members were advised that the council was seeking to follow the principles of the UNICEF Rights of the Child Charter and the UNICEF "Child Friendly City" initiative, which has been adopted successfully in other areas of the UK and endorsed this ambition.
They heard that there was already significant youth engagement activity in the borough but that it needed to be strengthened further rather than completely transformed.
Members discussed the Children in Care Council. They agreed that its effectiveness had to be strengthened and that efforts had to be made to broaden its membership to reflect the profile of the Looked After Children population in the borough. Officers explained that they had three main aims for engagement with Looked After Children aged 8 to 21:
- providing an opportunity for this group to express what matters to them
- giving them an opportunity to shape corporate parenting
- enabling them to be involved in developing Looked After Children's policies
Officers drew members' attention to plans for Croydon's first Youth Congress on 13 July 2017 to start the process of gathering the views of children and young people and to use these to co-design a plan for future engagement.
They stated that a great deal of work had been carried out to achieve varied representation from the borough's youth with representation from all Croydon's secondary schools including special schools, and that the event would be activity driven to make the event attractive to its audience.
Other key elements of the youth engagement strategy will be as follows:
- A Children and Young People's Charter outlining their priorities and a strategy for co-working
- The annual election of a Youth Mayor, drawing on good practice around the UK e.g. Bristol, Leeds and Liverpool
- Three local Youth Councils in the north, east and south, evolving from the current locality youth forums in these areas
- A youth cabinet, whose members will "shadow" adult cabinet members
Members asked whether young representatives would have genuine influence and whether they would have access to a budget. Officers acknowledged that the new strategy would require a real attitudinal shift and a commitment to agreeing and embracing the views of youth representatives. They stated that they supported the idea of a budget, particularly to resource the activities of the Youth Mayor. The Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Learning confirmed her support for such a resource.
Members suggested that where a future Cabinet report relates to children and young people e.g. school estates, housing, etc., it should add to the usual financial, environmental, equalities and other considerations a paragraph outlining impacts on young people. This should indicate how they had been consulted and what their views were.
Members sought assurances of the council's continued commitment to youth engagement in the long term. Officers agreed that the credibility of the strategy was dependent on continued council commitment and support. The Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Learning also highlighted the cross-party support given for the development of the strategy.
Members felt that the strategy had a great deal to commend it but questioned whether it would really succeed in engaging young people in the borough. In particular, they asked whether it would reach out using the communication methods and channels currently favoured by young people such as blogging and social media to draw in all young people in the borough. Officers concurred that strategy documents could be dull but reiterated their commitment to making the youth engagement strategy "come alive". For instance, they planned to ask young people to devise a hash tag and to develop the use of social media in the process of implementing the strategy.
Members highlighted the need for resources such as venues for young people's activities and urged officers to explore the possible use of school buildings after the end of the school day for some of their engagement activities.
Members questioned officers on the process for electing a youth mayor. They replied that they would consult the council's electoral services and boroughs which had already introduced a youth mayor to ensure the process was equitable and not open to misuse.
Members asked how officers would ensure that the strategy would engage the hard to reach and the disaffected. They were advised that efforts had been made to involve Pupil Referral Units, the Fair Access Panel (agreeing school moves for young people at risk of exclusion) and groups involved in diversionary activities to engage young people from more troubled backgrounds. Members also asked about representation at Youth Cabinet, and were advised that it would include representation from various youth organisation as well as from a range of backgrounds including young people living in council housing. Members were given assurances that links had been established to encourage participation from middle class children, those going to out of borough schools and children living in different types of housing, including private rented housing.
Members discussed publicity for the youth engagement strategy and the youth congress. Officers replied that they were keen to engender grassroots interest and were liaising with a range of bodies including for instance the Croydon Head Teachers' Association to raise awareness of the strategy. They gave assurances that schools were genuinely willing to engage with this initiative.
Despite current budget constraints, officers expressed their commitment to identifying sources of funding to support this work and to implement the youth cabinet's manifesto. Members remarked that young people would be disappointed and disillusioned if they were invited to outline their needs but were unable to implement solutions. The Cabinet member for Children, Young People and Learning stated that the best approach was to have an honest discussion with young people about opportunities and constraints and to explore together what could realistically be achieved within available resources.
Officers warmly invited members to attend the 13 July Youth Congress and announced that the outcomes of the events would be published for all to read.
1. The Sub-Committee supports the council's ambition to base its youth engagement strategy on the principles of the UNICEF Rights of the Child Charter and the UNICEF "Child Friendly City" initiative, which has been adopted successfully in other areas of the UK.
2. The Sub-Committee concurs that the effectiveness of the Children in Care Council needs to be strengthened and that its membership needs to reflect the diverse Looked After Children population in the borough, and look forward to receiving reports from the Corporate Parenting Panel regarding progress in this regard.
3. The Sub-Committee supports the proposal to allocate a budget to young people's engagement, including the work of the future young mayor.
4. The Sub-Committee recommends that the Council should develop effective communication methods for encouraging all children and young people in the borough to engage, using current popular social media such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. and that officers should report back to the sub-committee within a year on methods used and their effectiveness in engaging all young communities in the borough.
5. The Sub-Committee recommends that Cabinet reports relating to children and young people e.g. school estates, housing, etc., should include a paragraph setting out officers' considerations on impacts on this age group and indicates how they have been consulted and their views.