What is the age range?

    What is the age range? 

    Projects where young people can submit their ideas are open to young people of school age up to age 25. We recognise that for younger children and those with communication needs, they may need considerable parental support to take part.

    Online workshops will be advertised with an age range, which is usually 11 to 25, with young people placed into smaller groups by age during the session.

    The fortnightly Young Voices youth forum is currently for 14 to 25 year olds. Young people can sign up for this forum online.

    We are working on appropriate ways to engage more directly with under 14s. A group may not be the best way for these young people to get their voices heard, and we are looking at different ways to gather their views. If you are interested in us running a ‘junior’ version of the Young Voices forum, please express your interest on the form on this site.

    Do you work with over 25s?

    As our work is based in Children and Young People’s services, we do not work with anyone aged over 25. For young adults who are working with us and turning 25, we will support them to plan for moving on from us to other opportunities locally.  You can find out about activities, clubs, and support for adults here Connect to Support website

    Can any young person with SEND take part? Do you have 'eligibility criteria'?

    Young people must live and/or study in West Sussex, and have an additional need. Young people do not need to have an EHCP, be on their school/college’s SEND register or have a diagnosis to take part. If you are not sure whether our projects are something you feel is for you, then please do contact us for an informal chat with Rachel. Young people with a physical disability and/or a sensory impairment, are particularly under-represented in our current membership, and we would especially like to hear from you if you have lived experience in this area. If you are interested in your child/young person joining the forum please contact Rachel.sadler@westsussex.gov.uk or sign up online 

    I'm a parent carer; how do I know my child/young person is in safe hands?

    I’m Rachel Sadler. I lead on participation work with children and young people with SEND, and support our Young Voices forum and associated projects. It has been my privilege to work with children and young people with SEND as a teacher in special schools, a playworker and a youth worker, for many years, and now work within Children and Young People’s Commissioning at WSCC. I am also a parent carer of a child with additional needs, which I believe has brought an extra layer of understanding to my work with young people. All the work I do with young people is governed by West Sussex policies and I work closely with the Voice and Participation Team within WSCC to make sure that the work I do is safe, ethical and good quality.

    With everything being online at the moment, what about digital safety?

    To adapt our work during Covid we have moved all of our opportunities online. We have risk assessments and procedures in place to ensure that this is done safely. Any social media groups are monitored by staff, and are closed groups, which means that they are private and invitation only. Any inappropriate activity, including bullying, will not be tolerated. No personal details will be shared, and young people are always asked to take part using their first name only. Young people have told us that Zoom is their preferred and more familiar platform for group chats and calls. These meetings are all pre-scheduled and no ‘ad-hoc’ video calls are able to take place between members of the group and/or staff. Young people’s contact details to invite them to online events and calls are held securely. Young people are always asked to register ahead of these online events and meetings, and we will never admit someone until we know who they are.

    Who are the Young Voices forum?

    The Young Voices Forum was created in 2018 and is supported by, the WSCC SEND Participation Lead. Members are aged 14 to 25, and have a range of needs, skills and talents. Some young people in our group would describe themselves as living with a disability or as a disabled person, others would describe their needs differently, or prefer not to give themselves any particular ‘label’. We very much include neurodiversity and social, emotional, and mental health needs within the ‘umbrella’ of our group. All our members feel that young people having a voice is important, and are ’experts by experience’, who use services in West Sussex. We work with services on improving things for young people and their families.  We meet fortnightly on Zoom. The capacity for this group is 12 members. It is open to ages 14 to 25. We encourage young people to join us, and if we reach our full capacity for our group meetings we have many other opportunities we can offer you.

    How will you support my needs, so I can take part?


    Our meetings currently take place over Zoom. We use visual ways to record our ideas and support understanding, and Makaton signing and alternative methods of communication are very welcome at our meetings. We do ask you to let us know if you have any particular communication needs when you sign up for sessions or events, so that we can make sure you are included fully. Using video calls has pros and cons for inclusion and accessibility, and we are still getting used to this, picking up tips along the way, so please do help us to learn what works for you.

    Not all young people find group discussions accessible or enjoyable. Some prefer to communicate with us by email, text or phone calls, rather than joining group calls. This is something we are always happy to arrange, and time is set aside time to do this one to one support if needed. Our lead worker is Makaton and PECS trained, and coming from a special school background, is always happy to adapt her communication to your needs.

    There are also ways you can take part that don’t require verbal communication or literacy skills, such as our online scrap books. These ways of taking part often need support from parent carers, and this is hugely appreciated, as we know how busy family life can be! Please do contact Rachel for support to access these if needed. 

    What do children and young people get out of taking part?

    The top thing young people have said they really value about taking part in our projects is the boost it gives to their confidence. We focus on supporting young people’s life and employability skills through regular online workshops and skills videos on topics such as giving a good presentation, making a good first impression, working in a team and being assertive. There is also a social side to taking part. We hold half termly social sessions for young people taking part in our projects; a chance to meet new people, and socialise in a supported way though fun games, and quizzes. Some young people have made lasting friendships and connections with others. We recognise young people’s contributions and achievements with certificates and gift vouchers. Young people are also offered the opportunity to work towards a Youth Achievement Award, and some have even used our projects as part of their Duke of Edinburgh Award programme.  

    What do you do with my comments and outcomes from these projects ? How will taking part make a difference?

    It is important that you understand how the information you give us is used. Please see our privacy statement for details on how we process personal information. Your ideas, comments and work will be shared within West Sussex County Council, and may be shared with other relevant public bodies such as the NHS or other local authorities to improve services. We will never use your name, photos or any other personal details that could identify you, unless you give us your express consent. 

    What young people tell us is heard by the SEND Joint Commissioning Board, the Children First Board and the SEND and Inclusion Board. These are all boards that focus on improving the services that children and young people use. It really does make a difference for decision makers to hear from real young people about their lives, experiences, hopes and dreams. We are always striving to be person-centred, and to do this we need to give young people a seat at the table. In a more practical, visible way, we look for small changes that can make a big difference by asking young people what matters to them. Outcomes from our projects are published on our Participation Wiki website and often shared on West Sussex Local Offer. Sometimes these are ‘products’ such as factsheets, leaflets, videos etc. and sometimes it is more about having a say in key meetings and plans. We ask all services we work with to give us clear feedback on what they will do with the information young people have given them, and what changes we can expect to see as a result of our input.

    Will you still be offering virtual and online sessions, once Covid restrictions are lifted?

    We will continue to offer ‘virtual’ ways to take part. We know that travel and other practicalities can get in the way of young people attending face to face sessions, especially in a county as big as ours, with many people living in rural locations. For some people virtual sessions just fit a lot better into their lives, and meet their access needs better. As Government guidance changes we will keep you updated with what we are currently able to offer.

    I can only access face to face, virtual doesn’t work for me. Is it still worth signing up?

    Yes, please do get in touch. When it is safe to do so, we will deliver face to face sessions. These have previously been monthly, based in youth centres and libraries, and in the late afternoon/early evening. We will assess whether this is still the best way to offer face to face. It may be that to start off with small group outdoor meetings might be best, for example. Rachel is always happy to have a chat about your support needs and what you need to be able to take part.

    What if I don’t have access to the tech I need to take part?

    Most of our online workshops and meetings work best on a tablet, PC or laptop. We appreciate that for many families, a smart phone may be the only shared device in the household, and not everyone has internet access. If this is a barrier to you taking part, please contact us. There are organisations that may be able help, and we are happy to pass on their details to you.