The highlight of my half term week was co-chairing the annual Youth Matters Conference in Manchester with Carys, one of the FLARE members. The conference is part of our Department for Education funded Making Participation Work programme, which supports both children and young people and practitioners to be part of making decisions with local and national government.
This year was the first time since 2019 that we were able to physically bring young people together, and it was fabulous. 88 of the young people were from 23 participation groups around the country, from North Tyneside to East Sussex to Bristol. In addition to this we had 14 young people coming along to present and share their own experiences of strategic participation and co-production to support others build their skills. Many thanks to the young people from FLARE, KIDS and Young Minds who delivered excellent workshops.
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. The key issues for them this year? Mental health, a really strong recognition of the impact of the pandemic on the rising levels of anxiety experienced by young people, getting access to the right education, and within that, having an Education, Health and Care Plan system that works at supporting better outcomes, preparing for an independent and inclusive life, and that means housing and transport that works, and most of all, just being heard and valued and included.
We are really keen to continue to hear young people’s voices, not just at conferences, but throughout all that we do. It is so important that our work involves young people and is informed by their experiences and dreams. Young people want to be engaged and make connections – they asked to be put in touch with one another and to be fully involved in the opportunities for change within the system.
At CDC we have an interactive participation map, we want to capture all of the groups around the country that are supporting young people’s strategic participation and co-production – no matter the scale or activity, so that they can engage with, and learn from one another and make a difference at all levels. Have a look and take the opportunity to make connections. It might well be the best part of your week!
If you know a group that is not on the map, tell us by getting in touch with Maria, [email protected].