As Chair of the Youth Select Committee on Young People’s Mental Health, I warmly welcomed Theresa May’s pledge to overhaul mental health and to give parity of esteem for children and young people’s mental health with their physical health.
The Youth Select Committee is a British Youth Council initiative, supported by the House of Commons and the pledge gives priority to key recommendations in the Youth Select Committee’s 2015 report. The issue of mental health was a top issue in the Make Your Mark youth ballot of 2015; the biggest youth consultation in the country, which saw more than 108 000 young people aged 11-18 vote for it as a top issue of concern.
This issue is also one close to my heart too, I have campaigned locally and been a part of the mental health debate from the age of 14. Starting in my county of Shropshire I took part in council initiatives, NHS research and support projects; listened to young people engaged with CAMHS and school mental health services and campaigned for improvement as a Member of UK Youth Parliament. Knowing family members, friends and many in my community struggle deeply with mental health, it was this injustice which motivated me to want to be a part of the Youth Select Committee. It makes me proud that such a common injustice is now being giving the attention it is long overdue.
The Youth Select Committee found a large range of issues facing young people’s mental health. Such issues include an absence of support and signposting in schools, bullying online, stigma around the discussion of mental health and the growing pressures and decreasing funding, as causes of a youth mental health crises. In response the committee made a few but vital recommendations, based on awareness, education and services. These include but are not limited to: commissioners appointed to local areas, the design of a trusted mental health app, mental health first aid training and an extremely important proportionate increase and ring-fencing of young people’s mental health services budget. The recent response to the committee’s recommendation of the focus on teacher training and mental health first aid in schools is particularly welcome, as in our research we found it common for education to be the cause or trigger of mental health issues such as anxiety. It is an alarming fact that 340 000 5-10 year olds suffer from a mental disorder and this figure increases with teenagers – affecting both their social life and their education. The Committee recommends that teacher training be specific and mandatory and that it focuses on how to respond, how to spot problems and where to refer.
A young person with mental health issues cannot succeed to their full potential in the current learning environment and a holistic, whole school approach with training for all is a key step forward in improving students’ academic abilities and mental wellbeing.
However, there is still work do be done, I am keen to hear if the government will also accept and instil the committee’s recommendation to have a mental health nurse or councillor who is fully trained in schools. The achievement of parity of esteem between one’s physical health and ones mental health is of grave concern, and although teacher training in mental health and signposting is very important, a fully qualified mental health nurse/councillor is necessary to provide a wider service to meet the need. Though this is only a cog in the work, to truly deal with the growing mental health crises, the government must consider an increase and ring fence of key services budgets for mental health. The case for need is there. Additionally, the economic case provides only further evidence we are creating a backlog of individuals with mental health issues which will be harder and more expensive to deal in adulthood, yet the majority of mental health funding is in adult hood. Prevention is better than cure. But nevertheless, this is a great and brilliant pledge by Theresa May. The Government has taken a welcomed step forward for young people and mental heath and I hope there are many more steps to come down this long road.
What a year 2016 had been for everyone. We have had enough elections, referendums and political bombshells to last us a few years. But… this is only the start.
Amidst all of the political and economic uncertainty, I am proud to say that young people across the world and in the UK have been a constant source of inspiration. The thoughts and actions of so many youths have inspired millions and I am looking forward to seeing what comes next.
To reflect on the year at the British Youth Council we have had enormous amounts of inspiring young people volunteering their time to make a difference In their communities. From the Votes at 16 galvanising support to the election of our new priority campaigns. UK Youth Parliament had a record breaking year with 978,216 votes cast in the Make Your Mark campaign. Then they went on to brilliantly debate these issues in the House of Commons with Votes at 16 coming out on top and Curriculum for Life for England. The youth select committees from this year and last produced amazing reports that have continued to impact formal and informal decision making. Our EU referendum voter drive and post result consultation has been an enormous success that will take us into the new year as a key theme.
Internally we have seen a new generation of leadership flourish as we say goodbye to the previous. James Cathcart spent nearly a decade leading this organisation so brilliantly; it was an honour to be the Chair to assist him saying goodbye. The journey with our new leader and CEO has been a roller coaster of energy, dynamism and impact. I am thrilled to be in a new phase for the organisation which is being led superbly by Jo Hobbs, in which we will see amazing things happen; all in the belief of youth voice and youth social action.
Thank you to everyone who made this year so special and impactful. A personal thanks has to go to all of the tireless staff, volunteers and workers in the sector, and at the British Youth Council. They all make it all possible for so many. I’m wishing you all a happy Christmas, new year and holiday.
What will 2017 bring? I’m not sure how it will play out, but I do know that the British Youth Council will be front and centre of representing the views of young people. We will do this through our programmes, strategic review and in supporting our membership to get their voices heard. We will be spearheading the fight to make the world around us a more fair, equal and just society for all. With that in mind, I can’t wait for 2017 to start.
As a Member of Youth Parliament, I have the privilege of representing the views of young people and communicating them to visionaries and influencers. Following the Youth Parliament’s recent debates in the House of Commons, Tofumni, Oscar and myself, as Members of Youth Parliament, were invited to meet with David Lidington, Leader of the House of Commons, and Chris Skidmore, Minister for the Constitution. We sat down, exchanging greetings brief recollections from the events that took place in the House of Commons just a number of days before. We then began to discuss the issues at hand, starting with Votes at 16. Us MYPs expressed the want for us to take part in democracy and make politics more accessible. We raised the point about the confusion caused by the disparity of privileges received at 16 and 18, and we said that, because of how we are informed and how much we are aware, we are ready. We used the example of Scotland having the vote and Chris Skidmore, Minister for the Constitution, mentioned Wales’ government is considering lowering the age. However, he also mentioned how the Government is bound by their manifesto, which isn’t in support of Votes at 16. That’s not a reason to stop pushing, we concluded, as we are closer than ever before.
We also discussed the prospects of “a curriculum to prepare us for life” and how it would look in our schools. We communicated that the quality of our PSHE lessons aren’t up to where they need to be, and the Leader of the House agreed. Since I spoke about this issue at the dispatch box, I mentioned the lack of teacher’s training in PSHE, and that if there’s going to be quality PSHE teaching, there has to be quality courses so that they can teach us effectively. We also conversed about the idea of putting life skills at the forefront of our curriculum by having questions about life skills in the exams. For example, a health unit in Biology, a CV writing unit in English, a finance unit in Maths and so on; we felt implementing life skills this way is practical and effective, and research after the meeting shows this is already in place in some schools in the country.
Finally, our meeting moved to the topic of the potential of a kinder, better democracy, where 16 year olds can vote; where there’s not as much animosity in PMQ’s and the point is addressed, not the person; where the House of Commons is in the shape of a circle, not the (at times) confrontational current setup. The Leader of the House and The Minister of the Constitution listened attentively as the vision from the younger generation was spoken.
Overall, the meeting went very well! For me, it represented the views of young people rising up further on our government’s priority and it represents a shift in the attitude towards young people. From here, my hope is that we keep building, so the views of young people are heard and acted upon.
Caitlin Ronan, member of the NHS Youth Forum has died peacefully in her sleep.
Caitlin was an extremely brave, inspiring and courageous young woman who achieved so much in her short life.
Caitlin’s application stood out when she applied to the NHS Youth Forum earlier this year, her courageous “I can do” attitude leapt off the pages as well as the profound positive difference she made to not only her own life, but to the lives of others. Caitlin successfully raised the money to fund her own Eyegaze system – a communication aid working on eye recognition technology. So successful was her fundraising, that she raised enough to fund a system for another young person, giving them hope, control and empowerment.
The NHS Youth Forum is delivered by the British Youth Council and works in partnership with NHS England to challenge and feed in ideas and solutions regarding heath care and services. The NHS Youth Forum has recently received international attention, as the only model of its kind in the world – a group of young people influencing health care services in such a way at a national level. The NHS Youth Forum was launched in March 2014 – the British Youth Council believed that we could and should do things differently to engage young people in the NHS and to amplify the voice of 15 million under 20-year-olds across England. You can find out more about our work here: http://www.byc.org.uk/uk/nhs-youth-forum or @NHSYouthForum #NHSYF
Caitlin was not able to physically attend meetings and residentials, however British Youth Council staff visited her at home and linked her in with the forum virtually. Caitlin received the weekly mail and was able to actively participate in a recent residential, through Skype. Caitlin seized the opportunity so that she could not only find out what others had been working on but so that she could actively contribute to discussions and build rapport with other members of NHS the youth forum.
Caitlin had expressed an interest in sharing her experiences to support positive developments for others and was particularly interested in transition. Work was planned for the near future to engage Caitlin in both of these areas.
Caitlin lit up the room. She will be missed, but not forgotten.
I am delighted to be joining the British Youth Council as Chief Executive. I have had such a warm welcome already from members, trustees, staff and stakeholders and have been chomping at the bit to get started. Ever since I became a Brownie at the age of 7, I have been exposed to the benefits of young people having a voice and the confidence that they can make a difference. More than ever it is crucial that we create every opportunity for young people to be at the heart of decision-making, influencing and shaping those decisions that impact on their lives, as well as taking action within their communities.
It has been great to be able to attend two major members’ events in the run up to starting, giving me a great flavour of things to come. In September I attended the Annual Council Meeting and was so impressed by the quality of motions and debates. The young people who attended, from organisations as diverse as The Scout Association and Ambitious about Autism to Wigan and Leigh Youth Cabinet and Croydon Youth Council, spoke with passion and integrity, and showed great respect for each other’s views. Two weeks ago, I felt truly honoured to have been sitting in the gallery for the UK Youth Parliament sitting in the House of Commons. This event shows the power of youth voice and gives me hope that these amazing young people can truly make a difference through their commitment and actions.
And so it is fantastic to stepping into this role in #iwill week, a moment when we are all celebrating youth social action and the difference that young people can make. The British Youth Council is proud to be a supporter of the #iwill campaign and will be joining in the celebrations this week. It is particularly special that the British Youth Council has been nominated for two Children and Young People Now Awards including the Youth Volunteering and Social Action Award, recognising the outstanding work by young people, staff and trustees on Make Your Mark, which this year gave almost a million young people a chance to have their say, and the campaigns on mental health and racism and religious discrimination. Particular thanks need to be given to our former CEO, James Cathcart, whose passion and commitment to youth voice and participation was unbounded.
I am now looking forward to working with the Board of Trustees and staff team to drive forward the vision of the British Youth Council. We will be developing a new strategy, in consultation with members, young people and stakeholders, to ensure that the British Youth Council continues to empower young people with the skills, knowledge and confidence to be heard and make a difference, locally, nationally and globally.
Over the last 10 months, the British Youth Council staff team have been working to create a new website for The British Youth Council. A new website that represents the many programmes we manage and the key issues we’re campaigning on.
Our new website has been created following an internal digital review, an away day with digital experts responsible for some of Barclays biggest new digital developments and input from our members and staff.
Find what you need on the website should now be easier than ever! At the moment you’ll notice the resource centre is temporarily closed. We’ll be moving hundreds of resources across to the new website over the next few months.
If you spot something broken while we’re in our beta phase feel free to drop an email to email@example.com with the details and we’ll sort it out as soon as we can.
We hope you enjoy the new website!
Jon Foster, Chair, British Youth Council