On Thursday 16 February, More than 100 disabled children and young people and/or those with special educational needs came together to take part in our annual Youth Voice Matters conference.
The national conference is co-developed and co-delivered by FLARE, the young SEND advisors to the Department for Education. The event, delivered as part of our Making Participation Work programme, provided attendees with the opportunity to build on their participation skills, develop their voice and feel empowered to participate in decision-making at a local, national and strategic level.
At the start of the conference attendees watched a video by the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, Claire Coutinho MP who said: “To support a culture of inclusion, we need to deliver improved mainstream provision with prompt access to targeted support where it’s needed.”
Young people had the option to take part in workshops throughout the day which covered a variety of important topics. FLARE members Carys, Louise, Pavan and Jonathan and NCB Trustee Bethan, delivered a workshop on using social media for advocacy. Participants learnt about the different social media platforms available, the impact young people can have online and how to create accessible and engaging content.
In a separate workshop, FLARE members Jacob, Rowan and Sam led sessions on how to get the right education support, where participants were taught about their rights and discussed the best ways to overcome challenges in their education.
KIDS delivered a workshop on co-production; Young Minds spoke with attendees about the importance of looking after their mental health; and Council for Disabled Children delivered an interactive session on the future of the SEND and Alternative Provision system.
In between workshops, children and young people had the opportunity to make friends, take selfies in the photo booth, look at our visual minutes and take part in news-style interviews with our young roaming reporters Jacob and Sam.
Working with children and young people directly can be life affirming. The energy, resilience and positivity they bring permeates the atmosphere. I am always appreciative of the fact that we bring young people together with a variety of needs and they are always mutually supportive of one another, seeing recognition of each other’s qualities , rather than differences. It was important for me to remind the young people of their ability to contribute and that their voices matter
Dame Christine Lenehan, Director of the council for disabled children
We received fantastic feedback directly from young people, including:
Too often disabled young people have been made to feel voiceless and powerless. Youth voice does, will and always should matter
Carys Hoggan, FLARE member
I have had the best day hearing from [children and young people] across the country on issues that affect them. I’ve loved working alongside the most amazing self-advocates and I even spoke to the Department for Education!
Bethan Hoggan, NCB Trustee
I had an amazing day sharing issues SEND people face on a daily basis so thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my voice
Participant, Youth Voice Matters conference