Monday, 9 February 2015

Giving young people a they want it?

We are increasingly getting requests from various local councils and other organisations to help to find out what young people want from their services and in their community. Some organisations want to consult with young people in depth whilst others are looking to us to speak on behalf of young people. We strongly believe that young people should have a say in public services and want to make this happen;  many youth leaders that we meet feel the same.

There are, however, several challenges with this. Like many situations in society, we need to find a way to get the voices of a variety of young people with different backgrounds not just the most articulate. We have amongst our 75 member organisations a very wide variety of young people, so working with our members, in theory we have access to a wide variety of voices. However, I keep hearing that young people don't want to be consulted, which has often puzzled me because the teenagers that I know are usually happy to express opinions. However, maybe it is because the organisations and their young people are all busy with their activities and don’t necessarily have the time or inclination to sit down and answer a survey, especially if they cannot see that anything is going to happen as a result of giving their time and opinion.

I was heartened last week, therefore, when meeting with the Police Sergeant Adam Luck, who leads the Surrey police team with responsibility for working with young people in Surrey. He has a very different opinion - he hasn't found any difficulty in getting young people to talk. He ran a successful conference at Sandown Park a couple of years ago called SHOUT (Surrey Hear our Thoughts) where young people came and did a series of workshops giving young people a chance to air their views and concerns. The difference was that the young people voiced their thoughts through a variety of means including interactive drama. The message that I took away from this meeting was to rid my brain of thoughts like “focus groups” and to start to think more creatively about active ways in which to work with our members to engage young people to give their voices. The other challenge that we have with this is, of course, finding ways to cover costs for our member organisations and ourselves to do this work.

If you have any thoughts on giving young people a voice, do let me know. 

Monday, 2 February 2015

Young people with disabilities

This week the subject of young people and disabilities came up a number of times. On Tuesday I visited one of our members, the Queen Elizabeth Foundation in Leatherhead where they run an employment programme to help people with disabilities - mental health or physical - back into work. They also have a residential home for people in wheelchairs where they can have a variety of accommodation to support people on the steps to independent living if appropriate. I was particularly struck by the frustration of one young resident whose communication device had been sent off for repair and who was therefore very limited in the way that she could communicate until it comes back. Imagine suddenly losing your ability to communicate for a week or so…

One of the challenges that we as a society need to face is that as we save more very sick young children such as those born very prematurely and as more people who have very bad accidents survive with major disabilities, we need to find a way to for them to have happy, fulfilling lives, in dignity and comfort, whilst at the same time working through and coming up with solutions to the financial implications.

I had a good chat with Richard at Surrey Independent Living Council (one of our fellow tenants at Astolat). SILC is run by and for disabled people, helping them to live independently and to arrange the support and services that they require.   

On Thursday I went to visit the inspirational Dan Eley who has been in a wheelchair since an accident in 2010. Since then he has set up the Dan Ely Foundation which runs employment programmes for young people from poor backgrounds in Columbia - he is out in Columbia as I type overseeing the latest programme. Dan believes that his life is more fulfilling now than before the accident. What a role model!

On Saturday my children and I went to the Challengers special monthly swimming event at the waterslides at the Spectrum in Guildford. We went with close family friends who have a daughter with a disability. The session at the Spectrum is lovely because it gives young people with disabilities and their siblings an opportunity to be themselves and have fun in a safe space where, for example, it doesn't matter if a child blocks the way walking up or takes several minutes to decide whether they want to go down the waterslide. I feel a strong sense of community spirit with everyone looking out for each other's children.

I do believe that we have made progress in society for helping young people with disabilities to live with more dignity and fun, but I also think that there is so much more that we can do - and by "we" that means everyone - we all have a role to play in ensuring that people with disabilities are welcomed into shops, into the workforce and into all aspects of mainstream society.