Jacob's Blog: Youth Voice Matters Conference 2024

On Tuesday 13th February, over 110 disabled children and young people and children and young people with special educational needs joined us in Birmingham for our annual Youth Voice Matters conference. Youth Voice Matters is an event co-designed by FLARE which brings children and young people together to share their views in a safe, non-judgemental space, and to establish connections with other participation and youth groups across England.

Two FLARE members during their workshop

Two FLARE members during their workshop

As a member of FLARE, I facilitated a workshop for the second year running with other members of the group. FLARE is the national youth advisory group to the Department for Education, which consists of disabled children and young people and those with special educational between the ages of 12 and 25, who meet in London six times a year to take part in meetings and share their opinions on issues that affect them. There were a range of workshops on offer which were led by more members of the FLARE advisory group, Coram Voice, RE-STAR, and KIDS.

The theme of this year’s event was ‘action’, as decided by the FLARE group in one of our planning meetings. We chose this theme because the SEND system is at a crucial turning point with a government election looming and many changes are underway to the provision for disabled children and young people, and those with special educational needs, which many of us rely upon in our daily lives. At past events we have focused a lot on what participation is and the skills we need to get involved, in line with this year’s theme this conference was about putting what we’ve learnt into practice and thinking about how we can make the changes we want to see.

During the day I had the opportunity to speak with many children and young people about the work they have been doing, and doing so was a privilege. Overall, I learned more about why disabled children and young people and children and young people with special educational needs want to make change. I mainly had the opportunity to do this during the icebreaker activity, which was about networking with other participation and youth groups. We encouraged children and young people to go around the room, speak to others about their participation work, and to try and make new friends.

On the day we also had lots of other activities that proved a hit with the young delegates. These included a photobooth, goodie bags which contained fidget toys and Youth Voice Matters stationary, and some sweets. We also had a scavenger hunt, workbooks, and games like a giant Operation set were played.

The workshop I co-facilitated invited the delegates to design a Youth Voice Manifesto, which details our priorities in different areas of our lives. We focused on education, health, social care, and how we access our community. We had an artist, Esther, assisting us with running the workshop and our manifesto will be made into a digital zine. This will be distributed to the participants after the conference and will be used by FLARE to ensure that we are raising the issues that are important to children and young people in our work with the Department for Education, and by the participation and youth groups involved to set their agendas and reflect on the changes they want to see. You can see our discussions in the workshop captured as visual minutes below.

To those of you who attended, I would like to express gratitude and it was a privilege to be able to meet you all on the day. If you are new to participation or advocating for yourself, I wrote a blog back in 2023 about starting my own advocacy group, which may be useful for you. You can access it here.