Beyond instrumentalism: An exploration of the meaning of collective participation for children and young people in care
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This dissertation reflects on the collective participation of young people in care in a rights-based initiative intended to facilitate influence on service and policy development. Collective participation is increasingly used as a tool to make policy and service responses more appropriate for the needs of service users. A strong rationale for the collective participation of young people in care is evident given the discussion within literature regarding the prevalence of poor longitudinal outcomes for care leavers, challenging experiences, and the findings of statutory reports that highlight failings within childcare systems. However international research demonstrates that meaningful influence on policy and practice is rarely achieved raising questions regarding the validity of practice in this area. It has been suggested that the under theorisation of participation, a lack of meaningful criticism of rights in practice and the under representation of young voices in terms of what makes participation meaningful hinders a consideration of the appropriate objectives and parameters of practice. This dissertation aims to deepen the understanding of participation in practice through reflection and analysis of rights-based practice in terms of Article 12 (UNCRC 1989), and subsequently through the theoretical lens of recognition. The perspectives of twenty-eight young participants were sought through five focus groups. In addition, twenty practitioners took part in semi-structured interviews. The key learnings of this study are that this model supported young people to contribute to service improvements, however these improvements could not meaningfully address the systemic generation of challenges in the childcare system. However, the participative space is meaningful for the young people in that it allows them access the emotional, social and practical support that may help some young people as they navigate their way through the care system. For this reason, it is argued that despite the limitation to influence encountered within the resource constrained environment of the childcare system, the implementation of the participative space for young people is an act of solidarity by the organisation.