'It was a great turnout with over 60 children and young people'

This week's guest blogger is Amba from the FLARE children and young people's group. She talks here about her experience co-facilitating at the Making Participation Work Children and Young People's Conference on 12th February 2018.

I attended the Making Participation Work Children and Young People’s conference in Birmingham on Monday 12th February 2018. It was held especially for children and young people, like those of us in FLARE, who have a wide range of physical and learning disabilities, to learn about their right to be heard. It was a great turnout with over 60 children and young people from various different groups for disabled children who came from all around the UK.

It was a wonderful experience to meet children who had similar needs to me, who I can learn lots from and who knew mentally and emotionally how I was feeling about not getting my voice heard. The delegates at the conference know that we are the only people who know exactly what we want and need. However, some adults that support us think that they know best, but the reality is quite the opposite, which is frustrating. Meeting the delegates has made me feel more appreciative of my wonderful support system around me, which I sometimes don’t appreciate enough. I felt proud of myself in the fact that my friends may have been inspired by our workshop.

All the children and young people that attended had super ideas and thoroughly enjoyed the day. There were 5 sessions that ran at the same time. This gave the visiting children and young people the choice about what they wanted to get out and learn from the day. 2 of the sessions were run by FLARE. One of the FLARE sessions was on how children and young people can use social media to get their voice heard. The other session that FLARE members ran was a participation workshop gave the children and young people ideas as to the different ways that they could get their voice heard in their local area and the skills they could learn doing it. Although it was a participation conference, I think this one, which I helped to run, stood out the most due to the interactivity of the workshops. We got the young people involved and engaged. Everyone had the opportunity to speak. The session was fun. The young people gave us ideas such as writing blogs, writing to their local MP and talking to a trusted adult about problems the young people may have in their daily lives. 

All the children and young people who took part in all the workshops were all very enthusiastic and gave us ideas and were willing to learn and get fully involved in the sessions, which was great to see. I think that the children and the young people were inspired by the day. I saw the children and young people leave with more confidence and a smile on their face, indicating this change in them.

Amongst all of the good conversation that happened during the day, there were also a few icebreakers and informal sessions throughout the day to energise and help the young people to have more energy to keep going. Disabled children and young people don’t need to be treated differently, they might just do things in a different way with structure. If children and young people with disabilities come together as a group and as one united voice, we can hopefully change other people’s perspectives and views of disabled people for the better. As the famous saying goes, ‘nothing about us, without us.’ Disabled people are capable of much more than the majority of people think. We are more than capable of having a voice as well. The majority of people have a negative attitude towards disabled children and their expectations of our future achievements are low, which can affect our aspirations.

However, the opportunities for us disabled children and young people have changed massively within the last 20 years. Although we still have a long way to go in terms of changing people’s attitudes, we have made massive strides so far.  Despite the fact that we might need to do things differently or have more support than our non-disabled peers, but we know that we are capable of doing everything that they can do. We just need the confidence and self-belief to.

I hope that this conference will inspire more children and young people to get their voice heard and to speak up by giving them more confidence and self-belief. It is important to come together to talk about our rights so we can share ideas as we may not be aware of how this could change the future. I think that professionals, the media, parents, the government and our teachers should all hear about our conference and the important things we discussed there. This, in turn, may hopefully change society’s attitudes to children and young people with wide ranges of disabilities.