Carla Jellema is the participation officer at Diagrama Foundation. She has held this role for two years now and, in this interview, she shares her experience of working with children, explaining what her role is about.
How did you first get involved with Diagrama?
I was already working with the team assisting with admin when this position opened up and it was something I had been very interested in doing for a while so I applied and was successful!.
Tell us more about your role and what it involves.
Participation is ultimately about the child’s right to have a say in their own life and the decisions that are made about them. So my job is making sure that Diagrama is actively listening to the views, wishes and feelings of the children and young people in our care. Sometimes this is on an individual level, like advocating for a young person in foster care, and sometimes this is on a group level, like co-ordinating and following up on young people’s meetings in the children’s home. It involves listening to young people, taking their views seriously and offering them opportunities to get involved and access our services in a way that works for them.
It also includes a lot of event planning! In May we had the awards day and we have recently set up a new peer support group for adopted children and young people in a new area.
What is the most challenging part of your role?
Finding activities to suit everyone can be challenging, especially as the age range is quite wide and I try to make the days accessible to everyone. Some activities would exclude younger children or lose the interest of older ones but at the same time, they all want to be together! Also, because the activities are chosen by the children themselves, sometimes a young person will suggest a great activity and then isn’t able to attend that day. It’s always hard finding something that is suitable but also enjoyable for everyone involved!
How do you feel your participation contributes?
I think it’s easy for children to feel like they aren’t being heard on some issues, especially when they are working with a lot of different professionals who are all trying to do something different for/with them. Many of these people are excellent at their job and very good at doing things that are in their best interest, but might not be prioritising something that is important for the young person at that moment. Having someone to ask “what is important for you, right now?” and making sure that the people around them are talking and thinking about those things can make a big difference to their life, even if the thing itself seems quite small.
What are the most rewarding aspects?
Working directly with children and young people. It’s been the highlight of my role from the start and is consistently the best part about my work. It’s never boring, and always offers me an opportunity to contextualise a lot of the ‘behind the scenes’ work I do. It means when I go away to do that work, in the back of my mind I know that I’m doing it because this is something that makes a difference to this young person/group of young people right now.