As part of a radical reform of educational and health support for young people (YP) with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, the Code of Practice (DfE & DH, 2015) now advocates the use of person-centred approaches. While there is a growing body of evidence for the use of person-centred approaches with adults there is far less research which explores how they can be used with YP. When implemented inadequately, person-centred planning can cease to be driven by the individual and can fail to increase independence, choice and inclusion. It is crucial then, proper consideration is given to ensuring how this approach can be used effectively with YP.
One possible way for YP to become better able to participate in planning is for them to develop self-advocacy. Self-advocacy is defined as a person’s ability to effectively articulate, communicate and negotiate their own desires, goals, interests, needs, and rights. In my doctoral research (Kelly, 2015) I sought to explore how students with dyslexia could better participate in planning for their transition to secondary school. This ultimately led to a range of ideas and resources for developing a YP’s self-advocacy and ultimately, their ability to participate in transition planning.
A core component of self-advocacy is being able to understand your own needs
Arguably, the most important element for enabling YP to participate in planning is for them to have a good understanding of their own needs. Yet, the majority of YP interviewed revealed that they found it difficult to explain what it meant to have dyslexia and how it impacted upon them. A core component of self-advocacy is being able to understand your own needs. With this in mind, a resource was co-created with the YP that sought to support students with dyslexia to first, better understand their own diagnosis and secondly, develop a script which supports them to speak about their strengths and difficulties.
A key finding was that when YP better understood their own difficulties and were more confident explaining dyslexia to others, they reported being better able to speak with adults about what support they felt would be useful. This highlights the relevance of teaching YP self-advocacy skills in order for them to become more equal partners within person-centred planning. In the research, this was attempted by co-creating a resource which aimed to support students to feel more confident about talking to adults regarding the support they wanted. As part of this resource, students complete a questionnaire and self-scaling measure for various aspects of learning which helps them to identify their strengths and areas of need.
YP were able to identify many aspects about themselves which had been supportive in helping them to make a successful transition. A key component of being a self-advocate involves being aware of the strengths which can support you. Through gaining greater knowledge of strengths, YP are more likely to set goals and outcomes to work towards, as part of a person-centred planning process. In my research, this was achieved by co-creating a resource which supported students to begin thinking about their own strengths through completing a self-rating scale for range skills and attributes. This resource facilitates YP to develop goals which are important to them and encourages them to outline the strengths they can utilise in order to achieve this aspiration successfully.
YP often had better outcomes when they sought reassurance or information from their support network. If we want YP to participate as fully as possible in person-centred planning then we need them to be in the strongest position to make their contribution. Professionals could go some way to achieving this by allowing the YP to draw upon the people who can support them. It was possible to co-create a resource which helped YP to map out a support network of people and the ways in which each individual could assist them. It was hoped this would assist in them being able to obtain support effectively from a range of sources.
In conclusion, person-centred planning cannot happen in a vacuum, instead it takes place through the investments we make in YP which inspires and empowers their contribution. Teaching YP self-advocacy skills is potentially one way to provide this.
Department for Education, & Department of Health. (2015). SEND code of practice: 0 to 25 years. DFE-00205-2013 : Author.