Residential care worker Matt Smith has been having regular house meetings with the young people in his care for many years but only in the last year or so has he been making formal use of the Charter of Rights.
‘We have house meetings every month and after going through the minutes of the last meeting, the Charter of Rights is the first item.
‘Each meeting we take different group of rights, say the right to feel good about yourself, and we discuss it. Then I ask them to read out the rights and say if it true in their case. If it isn’t, then we try to work out why and put some actions in the minutes to try to get it put right.
‘It’s easy for some young people to get overlooked in the day-to-day running of the house, where perhaps one resident is demanding a lot of attention. In these meetings, everyone gets a turn and important issues get a chance to come up.
‘Some of what is discussed is house matters like the dinner menu, a change in bedtime or a request for more one-on-one time with a worker. But recently we had an example where a request in a meeting led to a young person being able to spend time with their mother over Christmas and the new year.
‘Every young person gets a chance to chair house meetings which gives them practice but can also get them respect in a house if they are younger or quieter than the others.
‘The meetings work well because we have a fairly stable group of young people and we have built up familiarity and trust with each other over a long period.
‘And we make sure that we follow up on all of our actions and report back at the next meeting.
‘Regularity and reliability is so important. We have meetings every month, we have the same agenda and we make sure the young people are reminded when a meeting is coming up and given a chance to add to the agenda.
‘I’ve found it’s essential to have the support of my supervisor. It makes the practical arrangements easier, the young people take it more seriously and so do the other staff when they see it has official support.
‘Using the Charter like this has been a real benefit. We find out and address some things that really matter to the young people. It’s great to see them actually thinking and talking about their rights and starting to become their own advocates.
‘And sure, some of them try the rights thing on – it’s my right to have a lolly machine in my room – but they are smiling while they say it and when it comes down to it they have a pretty good idea of what is fair and reasonable.’