Listening to Young People through the Life Path model
Buckinghamshire Council supports young people through lots of different services, depending on the young person’s needs and experiences. Through our Youth Participation Strategy, the Council has made a commitment to listen to the voices of the children and young people that receive support from our services, to act on what they say, and to respond to them on what difference their feedback makes. This is because we know young people are experts in their own lives, and that by listening to young people, we can improve our services so that they work well for young people.
The Life Path Model is a tool we use to listen to young people. It is also called the Journey of Change.
The Life Path Model is a structured conversation with a young person who has been receiving support from a professional like a Youth Worker. It is often paired with creative ways of expressing yourself, such as drawing. In the conversation, the professional and the young person review how things have been going, the impact of the support, and the young person’s achievements. It also allows for the young person to reflect on their own experiences of the services, including what was good and not so good, which helps professionals to make improvements to their work.
It uses the analogy of travelling down a road to capture the experience of a young person.
Buckinghamshire Youth Offending Service began using the Life Path Model in 2019. The Youth Offending Service supports children and young people who have committed an offence, or who are at risk of offending, to make positive changes.
The Youth Offending Service found the Life Path model to be an effective way to help young people reflect on their learning and journey through the youth justice system. They also found that it was a useful tool to help gather young people’s feedback on how they experienced the support from all of the services they have come into contact with, and ways young people think the services could run better.
Because the Life Path Model has been so useful in the Youth Offending Service, other Council services have started to use it. These include the Family Support Service and the Missing and Exploitation Hub.
How do we Listen, Act and Respond, using the Life Path Model?
The professional that the young person has been working with schedules a meeting and tells them about the exercise. The activity is usually done towards the end of a young person’s support.
The young person is asked to draw a road with ‘stops’.
When the Youth Offending Service uses the Life Path model, the worker asks the young person to identify the key points (“stops”) in their journey, which usually includes when they committed the offence, when they were arrested, court, when they first met the YOS, and so on.
When the Family Support Service uses the model, the stops are, ‘Before we met’, ‘when we met’, ‘working together’ and ‘moving forward’.
For each stop, the worker asks the young person to answer questions, like…
- Before we met, what were the main issues that were affecting you?
- When we were working together, did you feel listened to and that your ideas were taken on board? Did you understand the reasons behind the activities that we did? What tips and techniques did you find helpful?
- How were you feeling and what were you thinking at each stage? What could have made the experience better for you?
The worker and/or the young person write and draw the answers to the questions on the road in the matching places. The worker makes sure that the young person’s answers are captured in their own words.
After they have finished the exercise, the worker takes a photo or saves a copy and the young person keeps the original copy.
The professional in the team who leads on the Life Path Model looks at the copies and finds key messages about how well the service is running and how things could be done better.
Leaving any personal information behind, they copy the key messages into a separate report. The report is used to check:
- what is working well
- what isn’t working well
- what suggestions young people have for improvements
- if multiple young people have said the same thing
The professional making the report also includes recommendations of things the teams can do to make support for young people better.
The report is shared with colleagues.
In the Family Support Service, the report is emailed to everyone in the team to read and the messages are spoken about in team meetings where changes to the service are agreeed.
In the Youth Offending Service, the report is shared with the YOS Board, which is a meeting of managers who lead on the YOS and its development.
At the end of the exercise with the young person, the worker thanks the young person for their contributions and feedback.
Staff from different services are currently working together to ensure young people who give their feedback are able to hear updates about improvements made to the services as a result.
Impact and learning
The impact we’ve seen
Since adopting the life path model…
“I find this tool gives both the young person and myself a chance to reflect on the work we have completed, the positive impact this has had and any ongoing concerns that require addressing as part of the exit strategy. I complete the Life Path in the final session of the intervention and find this is a nice way to end the intervention as it gives the young person a sense of accomplishment when they can visually see the path they have travelled with the YOS and how things have changed.” – YOS staff member
“The life path can be a really positive way of helping a young person visually see how far they have come, as well as identifying areas they found useful or areas where they felt the support had been most valuable. It has given some good insight into how court can impact on young people and how we can support young people through this as well.” – YOS staff member
“Since the introduction of the lifepath model there has been a wonderful opportunity to bring the child’s lived experience into strategic discussions in a way that previously we were unable to do. it has also supported us to probe further into certain feedback received, which has led to more detailed and analytical work. For example, it was the initial life path work from children which led to a bespoke feedback session on children’s lived experiences with the police. This work enabled us to think about how we can enhance the use of YOS police officers within the service and our work with schools police officers to improve how our young people saw and felt about police. The model supports us to use feedback to improve aspects of service delivery which may have previously been overlooked.” – YOS Board member
“Life path bit is really helpful. It’s helping me to map out what I’ve achieved while on my order and what I can continue doing once I stop working with you. I think it’s helpful giving my mum a copy so she can stick on the fridge at home. I can also see what support I can get if I ever feel low or at crisis point in future.” – Young person working with YOS
Examples of improvements made
Some young people said that they felt nervous before joining our group sessions because they did not know how many young people would be attending. As a result we have updated our information pages on BFIS to include more information about group numbers. We have also produced a leaflet for young people when they sign up for a course so that they know what to expect. Youth workers will also make sure sure that they speak to young people signed up to a course beforehand to talk to them about it and to reassure them.
Some young people said that they would like courses at a different time so that they don’t clash with meal times or homework, so we are trialling daytime sessions during the school holidays.
A number of young people completing the Life Path exercise told us that their experience of being in Police Custody could have been more positive.
This was discussed at the YOS Partnership Board where the Police are represented and, as a result, trauma-informed practice training was delivered by Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services to custody staff. Feedback from young people on their time in Police Custody has subsequently improved.
While the model is a recent addition to the Missing and Exploitation Hub’s engagement with children and young people and we are within the early stages of embedding this, initial feedback from young people and workers using this model has been positive.
The life path model has enabled a young person to reflect on their journey within the service in that they were able to recognise their experience of grooming and exploitation.
They have been able to reflect on the support of the service and consider their future aspirations by looking ahead. Comments received included “you was nice a polite” and “I felt like you listened.”
“It is vitally important that the lived experiences of children and young people using services in Buckinghamshire are heard, understood and acted upon. The life path model is just one way of seeking this feedback which enables a child or young person of any age to engage and contribute through creativity. It provides immediate feedback and guidance on how we as services can make improvements to the children and young people that we provide a service to.” – Jenni Hathaway, Contextual Safeguarding Lead
Want to know more?
If you would like to know more about the examples given in this case study, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.