Our guest blogger this week is Megan from young people’s advisory group FLARE.
My name is Megan and I’m 24. I’m registered blind and am lucky enough to be part of the recently formed FLARE group. In this post, I would like to talk about how FLARE’s message could improve the future of so many young people with disabilities.
In the summer of last year, I was searching for my first job when I found out about the Council for Disabled Children and how they create opportunities for young people to participate nationally through their National Advisory Group. I filled out an application to be part of this alongside the applications I was making for various jobs at the time. Several weeks of unsuccessful interviews went by before I was told that I had been accepted to join FLARE. I was delighted and felt that I was finally getting somewhere.
FLARE is the group name that we young people have chosen. It stands for friendship, learning, achieve, reach and empower. At our first meeting, it soon became apparent that I was working with a group of passionate and talented young people. I always feel inspired by the FLARE meetings and I come away with my creative juices flowing. We have embarked on several projects during the first six months of FLARE’s existence. Our main focus has been to support young people to be at the centre of their Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs.) This has also involved creating resources to ensure that professionals fully include young people in the writing of these plans.
I recently had the experience of attending the Making Participation Work conference in Birmingham. Approximately 130 delegates attended including representatives from various charities and officers from councils all over the UK. The FLARE group ran a workshop which encouraged professionals to think about how they could involve young people fully in the EHCP process.
FLARE’s message was clear: young people should be at the centre of their plan and that all those involved in supporting the young person have a duty to listen to what the young person has to say.
As this message was repeated throughout the day, I couldn’t help but think back over my experiences of my time in education.
When I was at school I had a Statement of Special Needs rather than an EHCP. This meant that I attended annual review meetings along with everyone who supported me. I was really unhappy at my secondary school because I was the only pupil with a disability. I had no friends and the teachers weren’t sure how best to support me. I would do anything to avoid going to school and the days felt very long. My annual review meetings would always begin with my teacher asking how I was finding school. I would describe how lonely I felt and that I was desperate to move to a school specifically for people with a visual impairment. However, almost everyone else around the table seemed to think that I was doing well academically and that I should stay at my current school until I had completed my exams.
Each year I became more and more frustrated as my opinion continued to be ignored and my voice as a young person was lost in the midst of all those people who felt they knew best for me.
I endured the worst three years of my life before I got my GCSEs and was eventually allowed to go on to do my A Levels at the school for the visually impaired. As the FLARE group continued to emphasise how important it is to listen to young people, I thought how my annual review meetings could have been different. If those around the table had considered my views, I might have been able to move schools sooner and avoid the emotional impact of my lonely time at secondary school. This is an example of why young people should be at the heart of their support.
By continuing to reinforce their message, FLARE can change the future of young people for the better.
FLARE are still going strong and we have lots of work to do. I feel privileged to work alongside young people with such strong voices. We have already achieved a great deal and in the time left to us, I feel sure we will go a long way towards improving the future for young people