Young people are recognised as citizens with rights and competence to participate in decision making. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children Act 1989 identifies their right to participate in social services decision making. Much of the published information on their participation has focused on involvement as individuals in case planning rather than as stakeholders in strategic policy making. This research examines how a particular organisation – social services – has responded to the participation rights of young people who are looked after. The thesis provides a critical review of current practice. It uncovers the extent of young people's participation in social services policy making and explores the perceptions of key stakeholder groups involved in the process. A national survey was used to elicit quantitative and qualitative information from a representative sample of social services departments. Semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders in the policy process provided data from three diverse case study sites. Overall, data confirmed that stakeholders did not recognise young people's right to participate. Social services were unclear about the basis of their relationship with young people in the policy process; this confusion undermined young people's ability to influence policy decisions. Findings also showed that the power of managers in departments constrained the ability of young people to shape policy. Consumerism, rather than rights, was the underlying principle which defined participation as service-led rather than user-led. In light of these findings, which emphasise the dissonance between the theory of participation and its practice, a number of recommendations are made at national and organisational level to improve the quality of young people's participation
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