What are the secret ingredients to successful youth involvement: Dudley Youth Health Researchers, our journey…

What makes young people choose to get involved with health and care research?  Last spring we teamed up with Dudley Council’s Youth Service to begin a journey to find out.

Our two organisations applied for a Youth Voice grant from NHS England and we were successful in our bid to represent the Midlands and East region.

Group meeting

Over the last year, the Dudley Youth Health Researchers project has brought together 27 young people with a wide range of health and wellbeing experiences. The group has explored issues that matter most to them and has researched the views of over 1100 other young people about their own health and wellbeing.

“As local organisations it was important for us to involve and support young people from across Dudley borough in our core group.  We knew that they would have important experiences and fantastic skills to share.  We also knew that they would have plenty to say about what gets young people interested in this type of project and what keeps them involved.  Our NHS England bid also promised to share our learning across the region and we are looking forward to launching a website about our journey at Healthwatch England’s annual conference in June.”

ResidentialDudley Youth Health Researchers fist came together last year after we contacted other organisations who support local young people, to ask if they could put group members forward.

Individuals were approached and were invited to a residential to help everyone to get to know each other, boost confidence and get thinking about the issues that they would most like to concentrate on as a team.

Young people involved had a wide range of different experiences including disability, living in care or supported accommodation, being a young carer, being home educated having knowledge of life limiting illness or simply being a young person living in Dudley borough.

Most importantly, they all had a common interest of wanting to make a difference but when asked what defined them as a group, Dudley Youth Health Researchers were adamant that they are all unique individuals and should not be put into boxes.

Street surveysRight from the beginning mental health featured heavily in group discussions and following their residential the group took to the streets to find out if other young people agreed with them before deciding on the following priorities:

•       Knowledge of health services available to young people
•       Mental health – encompassing:
•       Eating disorders and self harm
•       Effects of social media on health
•       Friendships and relationships
•       Services and support after family crisis

Dudley Youth Health Researchers went on to survey the views of 1100 other young people around these issues and their findings will be compiled in a report on their new website.

Me Festival questionnairesThis phase of the Dudley Youth Health Researchers programme has now come to a close and it has been an important journey for everyone involved.  Group members have had some fantastic opportunities, from attending the Manchester NHS Expo, leading regional focus groups with British Youth Forum, leading workshops at the Dudley CCG led Me Festival and presenting at the annual Partners in Paediatrics conference.  The latter resulted in an invitation for one of the members to sit on a panel to select a new Chair.  Learning from the project was also presented at the NHS Youth Forum conference at Great Ormond Street Hospital last month.

Youth Voice DudleyDudley Youth Health Researcher Megan said: “I think that the skills and information I have developed throughout both the NHS Youth Forum and Dudley Youth Health Researchers will really help me in the future. Whether I want to go into the healthcare industry or I want to be a brain surgeon, the skills such as commitment, communication and confidence will stay with me for the rest of my life and will have a huge positive impact on my future.”

Me FestivalSo what are the secret ingredients to successful youth involvement?   Dudley Youth Health Researchers shared, “genuinely listen to us, let us make decisions, don’t make promises you can’t keep, treat us with respect, understand our busy lives, support us, find somewhere comfortable for us to meet, give us real opportunities, give us confidence, social activities are important, feed us and make it fun and we will want to get involved!”

Group with certificates