Youth charities to shape policy

KIRSTEN DOWNER

Children's charities may have to work harder to prove that they represent the needs of young people in return for a greater opportunity to influence and shape Government policy.

Late last year, the Government announced a commitment to consult young people on all policy affecting them. The Learning to Listen initiative now runs across all central Government departments, and the Hear by Rights initiative affects all local authorities. This presents children's charities with a significant new way of influencing policy, as does the Government's Children's Strategy which will review health, education and social services from the point of view of young people.

The changes follow the low youth turnout at the last general election and lobbying on the part of the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust. Save the Children and the Children's Society have already used the changes to lobby on behalf of children around the Comprehensive Treasury Spending Review, which is reviewing services to vulnerable young people as part of its remit.

"This (Government commitment) gives charities and other groups working with children and young people a window of opportunity to press the case for increased involvement of young people in policy,

said David Cutler, director of the Carnegie Young People Initiative. "Participation of young people in public decision making has moved politically centre stage as a result of young people's obvious alienation from traditional political processes."

But in return for a greater say in local and national Government policy, children's charities may have to consult with their young stakeholders more regularly. Carnegie has given Barnardo's a grant of £10, 000 in order to help the charity do just this. A new National Participation Officer starts at the end of the summer with the task of ensuring that children's opinions are 'embedded' across all areas of the charity's work.

Christopher Hanvey, UK director of operations at Barnardo's, said: "You can't speak with any authority to Government about what children want unless you're listening to them. This grant will help Barnardo's increase the involvement of young people in our work and through lobbying ensure they have a say in the £40 billion spent on young people across the UK."

The Carnegie Trust commits a third of its annual £1 million budget to initiatives which help young people get involved in local and national policy. Fruits of the scheme include a sexual health centre part-managed by teenagers in Salford, and a Government commitment to involve children in OFSTED's inspections.#

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