A passion for making change: the power of young people’s advisory groups
10 Feb 2022
As she prepares to finish her term with our children and young people’s advisory group, long-time member Ellie reflects on what’s she learnt and the value of putting young people’s voices front and centre in an organisation.
“Have you spoken to the librarian about joining that group yet?”
Thirteen-year-old me rolled her eyes. My mum was insistent that Children in Scotland’s newly formed children and young people’s advisory group would be perfect for me but I wasn’t so sure. I was scared that we would have to sit around a big conference table, dress formally, and have extensive knowledge about children’s rights or current affairs. In fact, the opposite was true.
Instead, I was welcomed into a colourful room with comfy beanbags and fairy lights decorating the snack table which instantly made me feel at ease. The room was filled with young people of all ages, from all parts of Scotland, and with a vast range of experiences. We were assured that there was a ‘breakout room’ that we could go to at any time if we needed a breather. It was reassuring to know that there was a space for me to relax if I felt overwhelmed, or didn’t feel comfortable discussing a certain topic.
My first day was fantastic. I made new friends and was able to express my thoughts and feelings about issues that were important to me, to adults who were invested in helping us make change. The code of conduct we had co-designed at the start of the meeting ensured that discussions were kept respectful, and that there were no barriers to participation. Our travel was reimbursed which meant that young people from all over Scotland were able to come along. One of our current members is from Orkney!
Creating campaign calls
As well as this, there was a wide selection of food, and staff always went the extra mile to ensure there were gluten-free and vegetarian options to choose from. During the session, all of our points were recorded in the form of ‘hot topics’ and were used in other areas of Children in Scotland’s work, such as its 25 calls campaign.
Children in Scotland launched its 25 calls campaign in 2018, when I had been part of the advisory group for just over a year. It aimed to set out 25 changes that need to happen in order to strengthen young people’s rights and promote equality. Much to my surprise, Changing our World, the advisory group, had been tasked with creating our own call for the campaign.
To me, this exemplified how integral our voices were to Children in Scotland. We weren’t there as a ‘tick -box’ exercise, instead our ideas were being publicised all across Scotland. We called for young people to be able to, and know how to, get support with their mental health and wellbeing, when they need it, without discrimination. Issues surrounding mental health had been one of our biggest concerns during our initial discussions, so it was fulfilling to see words being put into action.
Attending two of Children in Scotland’s in-person annual conferences was also an excellent opportunity to gain confidence in public speaking. After being part of Changing our World for more than two years, my opinions on issues relating to young people were developing and I was constantly learning how to better communicate my ideas to others.
I think the prospect of having to interview strangers at a conference would be daunting to anyone, but 14-year-old me was up for the challenge! In 2019, we hosted a workshop on the importance of advisory groups. We designed it ourselves (and even featured a song…) which made us all feel so proud to hear the nice feedback and even people’s plans to incorporate youth voice into their work.
When the pandemic hit in 2020 and we had to cope with numerous lockdowns, Changing our World provided a welcome escape from uncertainty and online school. We took part in regular Zoom calls, where there wasn’t any pressure to have your camera on and no eyebrows were raised if you were still in your pyjamas! We continued to meet with decision-makers, for example through an online meeting of the Cross-Party Group on Children and Young People and we also were still heavily involved in shaping Children in Scotland’s work.
I was thrilled to be able have an input at the 2020 (online) annual conference where I spoke about my own experience of accessing CAMHS. It is vital that young people with lived experiences are sharing their views with organisations that often only give a platform to professionals.
Into the future
It is clear that being part of such an inclusive and well-run advisory group both I, and Children in Scotland, have benefitted greatly. Not only does Children in Scotland now have young people feeding into every aspect of its work, I have become passionate about making change in a way that I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for being part of Changing our World.
I’m looking forward to taking the next step by studying social policy and politics at University, where I will actively encourage others to give young people the chance to get involved in decision-making, just like I have had.