As a UK Young Ambassador representing Wales back in 2010, I was given the opportunity to represent young people in the UK at international conferences that required representation of young people. Upon reflection, and throughout the experience of two academic degrees, this has been the opportunity that provided me with the best experience of practical learning in my professional development.
With this experience in mind, the opportunity to work on the International programmes at the British Youth Council was one I could not refuse. As a beneficiary and Alumni of the organisation as a young person, I was keen to be on the other side of the table in shaping opportunities and the experiences of young people participating internationally – especially in such a crucial and uncertain political climate.
At the first residential that I assisted at, I was able to see that the opportunities for young people to develop their skills diplomatically, socially and professionally are still a key element of the exchange of support from the British Youth Council. This was a special experience for me to see how other people are still inspired by the opportunities that they have to engage in diplomatic exchanges across the world and especially for them to recognise how this will benefit their futures and has shaped their global outlook. This first opportunity reinforced that it was important for me to ensure that my support of young people that they are aware of what a brilliant process it is, that their input is important, as well as realise their own potential for development.
My responsibilities in the role included managing and shaping the new changes to the UK Young Ambassador programme. From advertising the roles to shortlisting, interviewing and planning elections, I was motivated by the massive response, passion and commitment of the young people who were applying for the roles. This was mirrored in the participation of young people at the many events I was able to plan and manage. Events included Equality 4 Us where young people came together to create a youth friendly charter to reporting hate crime, to engaging with young people and decision makers in Northern Ireland on a post-Brexit future.
A key activity I wanted to contribute towards was the UK Youth Parliament Annual Sitting. I was really excited to be asked to facilitate sessions for the South East of England. As a facilitator, it was a unique opportunity to work with young people in such a diverse age range (11-18) and provide a forum for them to work together to plan, develop and debate. This opportunity has given me the skills to facilitate sessions of my own in the future and transfer skills to my next role as a doctoral researcher, where a key part of my time will be teaching and engaging others in my research.
Moving and working in London was both exhausting and fabulous. I got to attend partner meetings with key funders, internal and external stakeholders as well as expand my PR experience through the use of social media. The biggest benefit of this move was that I got to be in the office every day with a team of people who are dedicated, supportive and brilliant at what they do. I learned something new from every person I got to work with and it would be hard to beat the team atmosphere in any other role. As a charity for young people, ran by young people, the support from the community of staff, trustees and young people we engage with made difficult tasks worthwhile and the successes were met with twice the celebration. I’m looking forward to continuing to support the work of the British Youth Council and share their many successes wherever I can.
The 12th August 2017 is International Youth Day and the theme this year is building peace. In the spirit of working together Rowan Munson, alumni member of the NHS Youth Forum and Kath Evans, Experience of Care Lead for Maternity, Children and Young People at NHS England co-author this blog.
“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding”
Rowan draws on Einstein’s wisdom; he noted how at the core of peace is a full understanding of people and their concerns. Rowan reflects that ‘throughout the NHS and Government there is an increasing force behind understanding patients, their needs as whole people, not just conditions, prescriptions and tick-box outcomes but physically, mentally and socially. Everyone can play a part in building a peace in healthcare, by working to create a mutually beneficial equilibrium between patients, providers and commissioners; by simply opening your ears, hearts and minds to the Future NHS.’
‘Anyone who has the privilege of working with young people in the NHS knows that they are ‘agents of change’ and many practitioners are surprised that a relatively small investment in youth facilitation, train tickets and pizza can result in transformational improvements to services. Perhaps what is most surprising is the impact on young people and practitioners, both flourish in confidence with these opportunities to work together’ shares Kath.
Speaking to young people enables us to hear ‘from the horse’s mouth’ (and often very directly!) how services could be improved, how their care outcomes could be enhanced or how efficiencies could be made.
Today is a good time to reflect and consider how we continue to grow the involvement of young people across the NHS, and multiply the benefits it brings.
The Power of Voice
The voice of young people, not only in their care but in the running of services continues to grow and mature. Many organisations including GP practices, local HealthWatch teams and Trusts, now have their own ‘Youth Forums’ which influence boards and work with services to drive improvements in care.
The NHS Youth Forum supported by the British Youth Council and NHS England has over the last four years influenced, supported and effectively challenged the Department of Health, Public Health England and NHS England to ensure that the voices of young people are heard, valued and actioned across the NHS. They have run a range of projects covering healthcare rights, mental health and communication between health professionals and young people. The NHS Youth Forum also blogged for National Voices recently about opportunities to better engage young people in Health and Social Care.
Every-day Changemakers, through volunteering
Many NHS organisations are now embracing ‘Youth Social Action’ and are increasing volunteering opportunities for young people so that they are part of the intergenerational fabric of NHS organisations, young people are not purely ‘receivers of care’ but contributors to the NHS too. This guide from Volunteering Matters assists organisations to open their doors to young people and the ‘iWill’ campaign which Ruth May, Director of Nursing at NHS Improvement recently wrote to NHS Trusts about, champions the importance of increasing youth social action opportunities.
Employment Embeds Skills & Innovation
Rowan suggests that the best way to “Talk to tomorrow, today” is to employ young people, and embed them within the team; this continues to grow thanks to the leadership of Health Education England with their ‘Get in, get on, go further’ and NHS Employers. There’s great practice happening across the country to enhance social mobility.
Excitingly, Kath shares that the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) is leading a programme called ‘I can, We can’ which is sharing how the NHS can get better at employing young adults with learning difficulties and physical disabilities, supported by the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi) and Preparing for Adulthood. The NHS can fulfil a societal role by role modelling employment opportunities for young people with specific needs by providing supported internships.
So on International Youth Day, can we challenge ourselves, our teams and our organisations….
- How can we hear and action the voices of young people in their care and at every level of the NHS?
- How can we open up volunteering opportunities to enable young people to become every-day change makers in the NHS?
- How can we create employment opportunities for young people, especially those with learning and physical disabilities, to ensure that we continue to create a diverse workforce that is representative of the communities we serve?
Young people can be ‘agents for change’, the architects of tomorrow’s world, they just need the tools to do it, to be empowered and that’s up to people like us, shares Kath, those who work in the system must keep being courageous and keep thinking and doing differently by engaging with young people to enhance our understanding.
The final word goes to Rowan …
“Children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.”
Rowan Munson tweets as @rowanmunson
Rowan is an alumni member of the NHS Youth Forum. He is committed to making sure young people are heard in healthcare issues, he has represented young people, locally at the district and county councils, Patient Participation Groups & his Clinical Commissioning Group, including founding Surrey’s youth representation platform. He says his interest in health issues started after he was ping-ponged through several departments, in several organisations.
Kath Evans tweets as @kathevans2
Kath is a registered general and children’s nurse and her career has included clinical, educational, managerial and service improvement roles. She is Experience of Care Lead for Maternity, Infants, Children and Young People at NHS England where she is committed to ensuring the voices of children, young people, families/carers and maternity service users are heard in their care and in the design, delivery and commissioning of services.