This page describes the process we used to help a team of 26 young people research and re-imagine welfare services for children, exploring their peers' experiences and ideas about:

  • Education
  • Housing
  • Health
  • Social security
  • Neighbourhoods (including community services, public space and local democracy)

For information on other aspects of the Inquiry, go back to the main page here


Leaders Unlocked logoOur partners

We worked with youth empowerment experts Leaders Unlocked on all aspects of our work with young people. The team at Leaders Unlocked brought vital expertise in facilitation, safeguarding, peer research and youth work - as well as a total commitment to put young people in the lead and ensure their voices were never crowded out by adults or organisational priorities. 


Our approach

Working with Leaders Unlocked, we were able to use the following youth engagement approach:

  • End-to-end youth leadership: The inquiry’s youth-led approach means it was grounded in the reality of young people’s lives. Young people decided its focus, co-lead its events, and determined its findings and recommendations. 
  • Peer-to-peer engagement: By empowering young people to reach out to their peers, the Inquiry created a safe and engaging space for participants. 
  • Close collaboration with key professionals in the children’s charity sector: By involving a Sounding Board made up of key figures throughout the Inquiry, the peer researchers built trust, enthusiasm and commitment. 


Our Young Leaders

We recruited a diverse group of 26 young people aged between 13 and 21, from many different places around England. We deliberately reached out through our networks of children's and youth services and clubs, rather than schools. We looked for young people who felt that they had a personal connection or commitment to welfare services, but did not ask that any of them represent a wider group or demographic of young people. We didn't ask for any experience of advocacy, research or other youth participation.

A snapshot of the backgrounds of the Young Leaders:

  • 42% were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities 
  • 38% identified as LGBTQ+ 
  • 31% identified as having a disability 
  • Young migrants 
  • Care-experienced young people 
  • Some had experience of school exclusion  
  • Some hidden disabilities and learning difficulties


Young Leaders design the research

The Young Leaders met as a whole group three times to plan their research and develop their research skills. At our very first meeting in October 2019, it was clear everyone had strong ideas of what the welfare state is for, and what is currently good and bad about it! Everyone's ideas were different, but there was a shared sense that every person in society deserves a safety net that is free, well-resourced and accessible, whatever their needs and abilities. 

We all worked together on sessions including:

  • Exploring the history of the welfare state since the 1940s
  • Choosing what we would 'bin' about the current systems
  • Imagining what a perfect welfare state would look like in 2050

The Young Leaders then decided their objectives for the research, which were:

  • To find out about children and young people's experiences of the welfare state, good and bad
  • To hear about what they would change in each of our five 'branches' of the welfare state
  • To explore cross-cutting themes of 'transition' between services and mental health

Looking at the available research methods to find these things out, the Young Leaders chose to use all three methods of

  • One to one interviews
  • Group workshops
  • An online survey

Leaders Unlocked facilitated training for them to enhance their skills in active listening, facilitation and presentation. They worked really hard to take on roles they'd never tried before, and to give each other constructive feedback. 


Conducting the research

The Young Leaders ran several test sessions of their interview and workshop plans with other young people in their neighbourhoods. This enabled them to gather feedback and make adjustments so their research would be as engaging and effective as possible. We made sure they had the materials they needed, such as prompt cards to use in interviews. The Young Leaders led every session, with an adult present to take notes and help if needed.


  • About 45 minutes long
  • The interviewee could choose one or two 'branches' of the welfare state to talk about
  • Questions such as "Can you tell me about a time you’ve had to make a transition? How could it have worked more effectively?"


  • About an hour long
  • Groups of young people doing interactive activities such as a 'standing debate'
  • Questions such as "In your group, discuss what matters to you about housing. What isn’t working? What would perfect housing look like?"

Online survey

  • Took 5 - 10 minutes to complete
  • Reached a wider demographic of young people who may have had less experience of welfare services
  • Questions such as "If you could change one thing about the welfare state, what would it be and why?"


Reaching participants during the pandemic

The Young Leaders had only run a few interviews and workshops when the Coronavirus crisis started and lockdown stopped us from having any more face-to-face meetings. All the young people were keen to carry on, and Leaders Unlocked helped them move all their sessions online.

As families' incomes went down, many in-person services closed and children and young people lost their school- and friendship-based support networks, the role of the welfare state grew more significant than ever, and existing weaknesses in it were exposed. Young Leaders commented on how important it was to keep going to develop a new vision for the welfare state, and with children and young people's needs so invisible to decision-makers during the first months of the pandemic, it felt timely that we were asking them how the state could better support them in future. 

Most child and youth groups were dealing with the immediate pressures of closure, or redirecting their support to emergency need, or re-designing their services to work remotely - or all three. We all worked hard to engage a wide range of them in the research and are very grateful to those who found time to help us arrange workshops and interviews with the children and young people they work with.

The Young Leaders met online in May to look at findings from their first phase of research. There was lots of rich evidence of how children and young people were experiencing housing, school and many other types of support but the Young Leaders also spotted groups who weren't very well represented in the findings yet. They asked us to help them reach more groups, including younger children, children who had migrated to England and children who lived in rural areas. 

Overall, their research heard from 271 children aged 9 to 21 through:

  • 41 interviews
  • 11 workshops (7 on Zoom) 
  • 165 survey responses

Those respondents had experiences including:

Mental health issues

Being a young carer

Roma community members

Rural or urban dwelling

University students

The benefit system

Single parent family life

Special educational needs



Support for our Young Leaders

As we've said above, Leaders Unlocked played the most important role in supporting our Young Leaders. They checked in with each Young Leader in between meetings and devised activities that would give everyone the chance to join in at their own pace, as well as creating a safe space where everyone felt comfortable and mutually respected. We shared videos and articles about topical issues in between and during meetings to inspire discussion and ideas about how different models of welfare could work. 

The Sounding Board

Another important source of support was the Sounding Board. This was a group of adults we brought together to provide the Young Leaders with knowledge, advice, support and encouragement as they went along. We invited people with professional and lived experience from backgrounds including health, housing, law, social work and children's rights. What we all shared was the belief that the welfare state should meet children's needs for love, safety, health, home and purpose - and that children and young people should be in the lead telling us how. 

The Sounding Board provided the Young Leaders with:

Knowledge: Offering inspiring examples of good practice in welfare systems

Networks: Making connections to potential research participants and audiences for the Inquiry’s outputs

Experience: Constructive critique of research plans based on their work with various groups

They had a vital role at the Summit - literally being a sounding board for analysis and new ideas

 Love is an energy of intention

Listen to Noori interview Sounding Board member Jerome about founding the Tope Project, help he can offer the Young Leaders, and how we can bring love into the welfare state:


The Summit - developing new visions

The Young Leaders met several times online to discuss the findings of their research. We looked at findings on the individual branches of the welfare state - housing, health, social security, education and neighbourhoods - and also at how issues overlapped between them. For example, many children and young people reported that school should prepare you for becoming independent, and that lessons should include housing rights, paying bills and getting a job - but that the education system was failing to do this, and the curriculum is too narrowly academic. The Young Leaders, with inspiration from the Sounding Board, also discussed how their findings related to the 'roots' of a healthy welfare state:

  • A sustainable economy
  • Human rights
  • A sustainable environment
  • Democracy

We then met at the Summit - a big virtual gathering split over two Saturday afternoons where the Young Leaders could develop ideas based on their new understanding of what children and young people wanted to change. Members of the Sounding Board were on hand to provide inspiration, challenge and suggestions. 

Day one agenda:

  • Young Leaders presented their key findings
  • Sounding Board offered responses and questions
  • Individual Young Leaders presented radical proposals for 'education in 2030' etc, to generate debate
  • Sounding Board offered working examples and constructive criticism

Day two agenda:

  • Recap of day one
  • Group discussion and consensus on the 'golden rules' to inform a new welfare state 
  • Four small groups each took a fictional character and discussed how the state in 2030 could meet their needs
  • Full group discussion of the main policy changes being proposed

By the end of the Summit we had several complementary visions including co-produced social housing, Universal Basic Income, community health hubs and schools where youth-led community projects are as important as academic subject requirements.

Click through to read the findings of the ChildFair State Inquiry.