Involving young people in decision making  

Hannah Downing - 19 October 2022

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“What really helped was having people to help us navigate through conversation and opinions in a way that felt safe and neutral.”

Nicola Ennis is the programme lead for South Yorkshire Children and Young People’s Alliance. She works with the NHS on children and young people’s health and wellbeing with an overarching aim to improve outcomes and reduce health inequalities.

There’s so much happening within the NHS that it’s important to look at what working at a system level can enhance. To look at the gaps and how individuals and organisations can work together to bridge them – and that’s exactly what Nicola does.

Co-create supported Nicola and her team as they explored the benefits of creating a youth voice partnership across South Yorkshire. With the input of young people and support workers, by the end of the sessions the group had decided the best route to take for developing and implementing this.

Nicola shares with us her experience of working with Co-create, what she’s learnt and explains more about what’s next.  


“People work in the NHS because they want to make a difference. They’re always thinking about how to do things differently and better, especially when it comes to children and young people. It’s key for lots of us that we see people as people, not patients and we work hard to find out what matters to them – not the clinician.

This thinking (that lots of us have) led me to getting support from Co-create. I wanted us to work with people who have similar values and who would encourage us to really think about the work we’re doing, making sure it was what people want and need – not just something we wanted to do.

The sessions

We worked with Lucy and Andy for our sessions and what stuck with me is how engaged they both were with what we were trying to achieve. From the beginning they were right with us and felt like part of the team.

In our workshops we spent time talking with young people about their experiences so far. Starting from the ‘superhero’ stuff, we then honed it down to what matters and what’s important to them. We kept reducing it until we got to a space where the young people felt comfortable saying ‘those are the key things for us.’

A live scribe from Nifty Fox. This shows children and young people’s experiences of participation.

Before we met with the young people, we had a session with the support workers to discuss what we wanted to do and whether it would work. They helped us create how we were going to work with the young people including what the best platform for the sessions would be for them.

The two sessions with the children and young people were very different but also balanced. We came away with more of an understanding about the physical and mental health needs of young people along with the importance of having them input into research and new projects.

In the final session, we presented people with two models to choose from:

  • One, being a Board
  • The other, having a lead organisation who connects with others and brings the information back

We then created a pro and con list with the support workers and young people, before choosing the model we all felt would be best.


“This is the way we would like to be engaged with – if it happened like this all the time, we would be fine.”

A young person

The young people seemed to get a lot of the sessions and it felt like a great space for everyone.

I think one of the reasons they went for the second model was that they will get a much bigger voice. It’s going to be harder to achieve, more complicated and will take more time but we’ll have better results – and most importantly it’s what they wanted. Rather than just having a small number of voices like you would on a Board, with this model it will be a ripple effect.



In the NHS people have a lot of different opinions – we’re all invested in our areas and projects. So, of course we have our own opinions of how it should be done.

I learnt that yes, we could do this ourselves but there is so much value in having support from an independent person. Lucy and Andy felt like part of the team from the get-go and made us all feel safe with our thoughts and opinions. They gave us that neutral voice and helped to navigate conversations.

Working with Co-create helped validate what we were doing especially as it’s their bread and butter – they know this stuff. The support from Lucy and Andy helped us reach a fantastic outcome in a short space of time, one that was created from working together.

“It’s fantastic that out of these sessions, I’ve come away with something concrete.”

What’s next?

One of the key things they shared was that they wanted to know the outcomes and what we had done with their comments, so I’ll be doing just that.

Another thing that’s been great is other organisations are really interested in the work we’ve done and want to do similar things. We want to become a central place for people to come and ask questions and I think we’re on our way to becoming that.

A live scribe from Nifty Fox showing the key principles that came out of the sessions.

For organisations on a similar track to ours, think about what you are wanting. Yes, you can do some of this by yourselves but having a safe space from people who haven’t got a pre-determined opinion is helpful. Co-create come with the understanding of what you want to do and have all the energy and motivation to help you make this work.

With them, you’ll be able to grow a seed into a flower and add validity to your work.”

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