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What is the Young Researchers Advisory Panel (YRAP), and how does it support research at the University of Bedfordshire’s Safer Young Lives Research Centre?

The YRAP is a collective of young people aged 18-24 who are dedicated to improving services and support for young people affected by sexual violence. We all bring different experiences which means we are experts in knowing what needs to change and develop. We help support the Safer Young Lives Research Centre by utilizing our expertise to inform research to understand and develop responses to harm. Our hope is to create a system where young people are heard, valued, and supported. We aim to better prevent these issues and improve the recovery, response and help young people receive.

Why is youth participation, and leadership, in research about harm in adolescence important? What does good participation look like?

Youth participation is so important as it gives us the opportunity to make an influence on our recovery/the recovery of young people in the future. Our experience makes us experts. It can help us feel in control and valued. Improving responses for other young people, personally, made me feel amazing, even though my previous experiences were awful and the response by professionals was inadequate, at least I now have the power to impact real change.

How did the YRAP support the Securing Safety research? What was different as a result?

The YRAP participated in two focus groups which were held online. The focus groups were facilitated by Lauren from the Contextual Safeguarding research team. We looked at a set of draft interview questions that Lauren had written. These questions were for the Securing Safety Study, which is about when local authorities place young people in placements far away from their homes when they are at risk within their communities. These interview questions were for young people who Lauren went on to interview for the study. We had 3 to 4 members of YRAP within each focus group. We read through the questions for the interview and made suggestions, inputting our opinions about how they could be clearer, more accessible, and sharing ideas about other areas that should be explored to ensure the interview questions were young person friendly.

As a team, and individuals, we inputted our views and ideas. One suggestion was to begin with an open question so that the young person was able to contribute their story to begin with. We also identified that the interview was quite long, and so we suggested that the interview be split into two parts so that young people would stay engaged and not feel overwhelmed. Another idea was to have a warmup and a cool down activity to help the young person to feel safe and connect with the interviewer and to aid them to feel comfortable and to answer honestly.

Furthermore, we helped Lauren to design an activity-based interview using a ‘road map’, ‘traffic light’ and ‘roundabout’, etc. cards on a whiteboard sheet with a road drawn on it so that the interviewees could map out their journey in a young person friendly way. We felt this could help the young person to discuss their experiences more easily and in an accessible way. Members of the YRAP also contributed other ideas for questions that we felt were missing. Another suggestion that we felt was important was changing the wording of questions to avoid them being ‘leading’ questions that might assume something was helpful when it might not have been. Lastly, we suggested that Lauren should incorporate a ‘fidget’ for the interview pack to act as self-regulation tool that helps to increase attention and focus whilst also lowering stress for the interviewees.

The Securing Safety study wanted to make sure young people’s experiences of out of area placements were central to the research findings and recommendations. Why is it important for professionals to understand young people’s views about the decisions that are made about their lives?

Without analysing young people’s lived experiences how do professionals know the true impact? Young people are experts in their own experiences and being involved in the decisions made about their lives is crucial to their understanding, their self-efficacy, and it gives them a sense of control (in a world where they sometimes feel they have none). There are many benefits not just for the young person, it helps professionals to truly gain perspective on what works for young people and what doesn't, things that are helpful or unhelpful and ways to improve support. For the young person it can be empowering and life changing to be heard. When involved in designing research and services this can make a significant positive impact for the young person. 

From my personal experience it gave me purpose, it made me feel like everything I went through wasn't for nothing. It was such an empowering feeling that I could help other people and my first-hand experience was invaluable when inputting my ideas. Services in other aspects of society ask for ways they can improve and ask for input on their services, and this is exactly what it should be like for young people’s services. Trusting young people's voices and really listening can help them feel capable, understood, heard and in control, and when young people experience things out of their control it can do the complete opposite and can leave them untrusting and scared. It’s time to listen to what they need, empower them, and support them.