Make your choice - Five Year Anniversary of The Children and Families Act

Carys from FLARE talks about the importance of using courage to speak up and particpate. 

Five years ago, The Children and Families Act was passed into law, bringing feelings and wishes to the forefront of all decision-making. It demanded that councils should consider and value wishes of the child/young person and their families, even if that meant changing the way support and services were delivered.

Section 19 of the Children and Families Act states that local authorities must consider the wishes and feelings of the young person when making decisions, and the legislation also highlights the importance of youth voice and participation. The Act, effectively, gave us a voice.

Brilliant, right?

Yet, many people don’t see how intimidating this voice is. And, when so many young people bravely share their opinions, they often feel like their views have been cast aside or not given the proper respect. But there’s a way to deal with this. Proper feedback systems will enable services to prove they have listened to young people, and show that they have done everything in their power to grant the young person’s wish. At FLARE and regional KIDS groups, young people are given a voice to speak up when they believe that something is not right. Developing the voice of a young person is so important, so they develop the confidence to tackle any problems that life may throw at them, which, in turn, will combat ableism as we see more disabled people in the spotlight, fighting for equality.

Respect is a funny thing. You can respect someone, yet disagree with their opinion. However, from a young age, you’re taught to be silent when expressing an opinion in order to “respect your elders and betters”. This “respect” seems to replace the importance of a young person’s decision, instead helping to silence them and manipulate them into choosing what services or parents may believe to be “the right path”. This power dynamic can be changed, though. Valuing a young person’s voice will make this power inequality less evident, and will enable a young person to develop trust in you and speak to you honestly.

We’re effectively told;

“Make choices, but don’t make the wrong choice.”

“You have a voice, but we are not going to listen”

“Only you know yourself, but your doctor knows what’s better for you, so, actually, now I think about it… just go with what they say.”

In order to encourage children and young people to speak up, we need to show the benefits of speaking up. You see, in order for the Act to have an even more profound impact on people’s lives, we need to abide by the legislation set out in the Act. Local authorities need to make people feel like their opinion is considered and listened to.

With this Act, however, do we really have a voice? In my opinion, yes. Or, at least, we should.

Therefore, we must call into question whether The Children and Families Act is enough. Although the SEND Reforms have been a game changer, in effect enforcing youth voice, it is also important that services are willing to listen. As young people, we don’t want false pretences.

Give us a choice if there is truly a choice to make. Lay the facts out in front of us, but don’t lie. So, so importantly, we, as individuals and as a society, must be able to recognise the courage it takes to speak up and add your voice to the conversation. To children and young people, I say: if your voice goes against what you think others want, speak anyway. There may be reasons for a decision that you don’t quite understand, or the local authorities may not have considered the arguments in your point of view. Nevertheless, by speaking up, you’re only using your human right.

And no matter your choice, speaking up is always right.