Early Action: Learning from young people


Ruth Wallace | System Change Lead Officer Renfrewshire Council

This year, the Lab, in partnership with Renfrewshire Council, Engage and Renfrewshire Health and Social Care Partnership, hosted a Learning day for the Early Action Systems Change initiative in Renfrewshire. The initiative aims to address two priority challenges: emotional wellbeing of children and young people, and coercive control in adolescent relationships. The event showcased the learning and displayed material created by young people who had taken part in exploratory workshops with the voluntary sector.

More than 100 people gathered at Johnstone Town Hall to listen to what young people had contributed to the Early Action System Change initiative in Renfrewshire. Around the room was an array of fabulous display boards, documenting the work completed by young people in the workshops by the voluntary sector.

Turning techniques into information

Each organisation involved with the workshops presented their findings differently:

·       Paisley YMCA made creative use of tech, and had iPads displaying the work they did on coercive control with young people with additional support needs at a local college

·       Create displayed poems written by the young people on emotional wellbeing

·       PACE supported young people who participated in the drama workshops to share the impact drama had on their ability to express themselves and;

·       STAR showcased the adapted ‘Game of Life’ which had been used to discuss coercive control in their workshops.

Poetry on display at the Early Action Learning Event

Poetry on display at the Early Action Learning Event

It was during the speeches however that we got more insight into how these different techniques of engaging with young people and expressive mechanisms had opened up the conversation to find out more.

Renfrewshire Youth Commission spoke about the roadshows they had to gain young people’s views on mental health and wellbeing and the Pirate Escape Puzzle Room and Laser Tag they used to engage other young people. From this they discovered more information about mental health and how they believe it affects young people in Renfrewshire which they will use to produce a toolkit for young people by the end of the year.

Fiona McBride, Children First: “Really effective services develop relationships with the people that they work with and they understand each individuals’ story, journey experience and their individual impacts, so really services need to be flexible around the needs of the people that they work with and be able to respond to what it is that they need.”

Action for Children added to this conversation by looking at how the young men they work with experienced coercive control in their relationships and how it impacts on them. This was similar to the research that had taken part at Kibble Education. Ruby Whitelaw, Operational Manager at Kibble Education had shared that many of the men in her group expressed that they were particularly vulnerable because of the groups they were with. She said: “One of the things that repeatedly came up was peer on peer abuse. There was a real gap in work being done with kids just exploring relationships, exploring vulnerabilities and exploring them not getting involved in dangerous situations.”

Cheryl Thomas, Programme Development Manager for Active Communities spoke about the workshops they did in schools across Renfrewshire discussing healthy relationships. They found that 76% of the young people they met didn’t know how to get help and who they would trust if they were experiencing violence in a relationship.

She said: “We worked with 140 young people and our findings were shocking. We don’t know the answers but we are being told that there aren’t enough services, or services that can be trusted. The conversations and workshops need to happen more so that we can offer the right support to the right people.”

Cheryl Thomas from Active Communities presented their findings from workshops with young people

Cheryl Thomas from Active Communities presented their findings from workshops with young people

Findings made fun

The STAR project led a game of ‘Coercive Control Jenga’ for participants were devised for parents and young people to discuss their relationships which would encourage open and honest dialogue that would be beneficial to both parents and young people. The experience was thought provoking and led to good discussions amongst the participants.

“It was an idea that the group came up with where each piece that is taken out represents a little bit more of your confidence being taken away,” Star Project Coordinator, Heather Kaye said. “We love that idea and we’d like to develop that further because there’s massive mileage in the concept of that.”

Game of Life and Control Jenga, both used as a way to get young people talking about mental health and wellbeing, and coercive control

Game of Life and Control Jenga, both used as a way to get young people talking about mental health and wellbeing, and coercive control

Finally, the RISE group gave a fantastic presentation set to music expressing what it feels like to be in a coercive relationship. This was very powerful and everyone in the room was clearly moved by this powerful message.  

What’s next?

As John Trainer, Head of Childcare, Criminal Justice and Chief Social Work Officer for Renfrewshire council said: “The young people gave us some phenomenal information about their lives in Renfrewshire and now they want services to be more proactive. They don’t want damage control, they don’t want young people to be able to deteriorate or to be exposed to coercive control, they want services that are preventative. So the work we’ve done running up to today’s learning event will help shape that and allow us to redirect the focus of our work from a reactive approach to a far more early intervention and preventative approach.”

Phase one’s insights can be found on the website here and we will shortly be launching Phase two to build on these findings and allow a deeper dive into service design and testing for the two priority areas.

Control Jenga Image