Recruiting young people and parents/carers to CAMHS participation activities

by Robin Tay, Devon CAMHS Participation Worker

There are a variety of approaches that I have found helpful when recruiting young people and parents/carers to participation work – the thing that determines what approach to take, for me,  is the principal that underpins all of this work…ideally it should be done in the way that best suits the young person/parent/carer themselves. When I first meet someone that has expressed an interest in being involved, I always stress that there are many ways to support this work and we have an open-door approach – no-one has to make a commitment to attend a group regularly (although they can of course), they can dip in and out, pick and choose the activities they would like to be involved in – we will always be hugely grateful for their help. My hope is that this will reduce any anxiety they might have about being involved and will reassure them that it’s ok to decline invitations to activities if they have more important commitments (or more interesting things to do on that occasion) – we will always value whatever contribution they can make.

As far as finding those people that are interested in being involved goes, I depend a great deal (although not exclusively) on the CAMHS clinicians I work with. We have participation champions in most of our clinical teams now and they keep participation on the agenda within their teams and encourage their colleagues to let young people and family members know about this work and the opportunities it presents. When I started in this post I got myself invited to as many team meetings as I could in order to make workers aware of participation. Once a clinician has let me know about a young person/parent/carer that has expressed an interest, I try and find out how they would like to connect with me in the first instance – for example, they might be happy for me to call or email them, they might prefer to take my contact details and get in touch when they feel ready or they might like me to join a session with their CAMHS worker if that feels more comfortable for a first meeting.  I often meet new participants one-to-one at first if that suits them – this could be at their home, their school/college, at a coffee shop or at a CAMHS centre …wherever they feel most at ease. This gives me a chance to talk in more detail about the kinds of work we do and gives them an opportunity to ask any questions and share any concerns or anxieties they might have. Most importantly it provides a space to begin to make a connection and build a relationship. I think that relationship building is one of the most important aspects of this work – having a positive relationship helps to make volunteers feel supported, valued and safe as part of our participation team.

Not all of our volunteers are CAMHS service users (or ex-CAMHS service users). We take the view that every young person is a potential service user and brings a unique perspective and wisdom to the projects we do. During my time at CAMHS we have worked closely with schools and colleges and invited students to take part in participation activities where it seems appropriate. We often work with students of health and social care that have a particular interest in mental health – as well as benefiting from their experience of being a young person, hopefully we can provide them with an interesting and valuable experience and an insight into this area of work – a win-win!

In summary, for me, the helpful things to keep in mind are building and maintaining good relationships with the colleagues and organisations that can be a link to young people and parents/carers that may be keen to get involved and to remember that one size (ie type of involvement) does not fit all as far as participation volunteering goes. Some people like to attend groups, be on interview panels, deliver staff training…some people prefer to simply provide their thoughts/ideas/feedback via text and email. Whatever method a person prefers, their input can be incredibly valuable, insightful and inspiring.