Monitor has stepped in to prevent a foundation trust appointing children as governors.
Sheffield Children's trust had applied to the foundation trust regulator to be allowed to recruit people as young as 14 to the role. But Monitor ruled that the minimum age requirement was 16 due to the 'statutory and other responsibilities'.
Governors can appoint or remove trust chairs and non-executive directors, approve the appointment of the chief executive, set remuneration and allowances for non-executives, appoint auditors and consider the annual accounts.
The ruling from Monitor said that although it 'supported the intention behind' the request, being 'a governor required an appropriate level of maturity and experience'. The decision came despite backing from the Foundation Trust Network, which has called for an inclusive approach to boards of governors and membership councils.
Sheffield Children's trust deputy chief executive Isobel Hemmings said the decision was disappointing. 'We had a number of young people who were interested in becoming governors. As a children's trust, we felt it was important to have patients and young people as governors.'
The trust has two 16-year-old governors, but made the application in support of a 14-year-old candidate. Ms Hemmings added: 'We have voting members aged 14 and over and, even though young people cannot become governors until they are aged 16, we will work hard to find effective ways of involving our younger members.'
Foundation Trust Network director Sue Slipman said the ruling was 'a real shame' because the whole purpose of foundation trusts was to engage patients. Other sectors were actively involving children in key positions, she said. Charity commissioners had approved under-16s as trustees of the Welsh Youth Council and Youthbank, a grant-funding body for Scotland, and health could be left behind.
But South Staffordshire Healthcare foundation trust chief executive Mike Cooke agreed with the regulator. 'I can see why the decision has been made. But I think we need other ways of engaging people.' The trust has members aged 14 and allows people to stand as governors from 16.
It also sought to recruit governors from groups that have traditionally been excluded from public life: two governors have learning disabilities while 13 per cent of members define themselves as service users.
Mr Cooke said engaging service users and patients meant the trust could 'think through issues or design services in different ways'. Foundation trusts had 'a massive opportunity to really engage people from interest groups, service users and carers'.