Training care professionals in children’s rights is key to ensuring that young people in alternative care feel empowered and can actively participate in shaping their own futures. At the international conference Children’s Rights in Alternative Care – ‘Walk the Talk!’, young care experts, care professionals, child care experts and representatives from different governments discussed the importance of drawing on young people’s experiences when talking about children's rights.
“More needs to be done to end institutionalisation. To achieve this, training is a major issue,” said Margaret Tuite, European Commission Coordinator for Rights of the Child, in her introductory statement at the international conference Children’s Rights in Alternative Care – ‘Walk the Talk!’.
A youth participant from Croatia live sketched at the conference. Photo: Jennifer Buley
The conference, organised by SOS Children’s Villages, took place in Paris on 8-9 November 2016 and was the concluding milestone of the EU-funded two-year project Training Professionals Working with Children in Care.
The project aimed at building the capacity of care professionals to embed child rights in their daily practice. Equipped appropriately, care professionals have the means to instil meaningful change for children and young people in care and to empower them to participate in processes that impact upon their lives.
More than 800 care professionals from different organisations have been trained on child rights-based approaches to working with children in alternative care. Young people with experience in alternative care have helped to develop the trainings and recommendations.
Build on children’s experiences
Ms Tuite stated that “children in alternative care need to have the same rights as other children.” Training those providing care to these young people is without doubt important to achieve this goal.
Young care experts at the conference. Photo: SOS Archives
Geneviève Avenard, Children’s Ombudsperson in France, pointed out that trainings should be based on children’s opinions. “We need to act, protect and prepare young people to become full citizens and we need to implement processes in order to listen to children on a daily basis.”
Anita, one of the young people who participated in the project, explains why participation of children and young people is so important: “If you cannot make your own decisions, you feel helpless and powerless. You cannot build good self-esteem, or become healthy and autonomous and reach your potential.”
“The quality of participation is essential,” she continued. “Do not make it a formality. It has to come naturally. Empathy is a solution against formality and bureaucracy so you do not see child as a number.”
Young people as care experts
Photo: Jennifer Buley
Fabio, another young participant, has been involved in the trainings for care professionals in Italy – as a care expert. During the training, recommendations were elaborated and exchanged with Italian institutions. They include appeals to listen to children and young people without filtering their views, not regarding young people as study objects, creating more opportunities for young people in care to meet and support each other, and a call for real participation.
SOS Children’s Villages Italy empowered and worked with more than 80 young people in 20 workshops and five focus groups. More than 100 care professionals have been trained. Advocacy and Programme Director Samantha Tedesco shared her conclusion after two years of running the project: “There should be no training without young people to make it sustainable, but let everybody participate in the way she or he wants. Take every opportunity to involve them as trainers. This should become the normal way to realise child rights. You will get much gratitude from being listened to.”
Emotions in care
SOS Children’s Villages France also worked together with young people with alternative care experience. The young people acted as trainers and together with participants identified six needs, including the right to be heard, the right to be informed, right to intimacy, and the right to be loved and receive affection. The echo was overwhelming. “Finally, I understand,” said one of the training participants. “I feel connected to the emotions that all the children have experienced.”
Care professionals know that young people in care have a great need for affection, yet it is challenging for them to find the right balance between ‘professional distance’ and ‘healthy affection’. This dichotomy was also discussed in Paris.
“Young people ask for affection,” said Richard Pichler, SOS Children’s Villages’ Special Representative for External Affairs and Resources, at the conference. “We cannot prescribe it but this is why we need to train and support workforce. Professional care and warmth of relations are a necessary frame for young people to grow and develop.”
Read more statements of young participants and other care experts
Read more about the Training Professionals Working with Children in Care