11 Aug 2004

Speech from Marlene Kinghan, Head of Communications and Participation, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children & Young People’s Office.

To Launch of Parents and Paediatricians Together Project, Knockbracken Hall, Belfast.

Children, young people, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

Before I begin can I pass on a message from Nigel Williams, the Commissioner. Nigel, who unfortunately cannot be with you today due to illness, sends his apologies and his best wishes for the day.

However, I am delighted to be able to deputise for Nigel as so much of what the Parents and Paediatricians Together Project plan to do is similar to the work I do daily on behalf of the commissioner.

I am the head of the communications and participation division of the commissioner’s office. In fact the law that created the commissioner’s post makes it a duty for the commissioner to involve and interact with children and young people. Literally, the commissioner must communicate with and help children and young people participate in, the decisions that affect their lives and to seek children and young people’s views on what he is doing.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guides a lot of what the commissioner does, specifically requires us all to make sure that children and young people – and their parents – are involved in the decisions that affect their lives.

Later this year the commissioner will launch his consultation on his draft priorities. While we want to hear from representative groups such as you, our priority will be to make sure that we hear all the voices, views and concerns of children and young people in Northern Ireland.

When we launch that consultation please make sure that the views of the children and young people involved in Contact A Family and Parents and Paediatricians Together are included in your response.

Before starting work with the commissioner I was involved in managing and developing communications within Northern Ireland’s health and social services. During that time it was amazing how many people forgot that communications is a two-way process.

My personal mantra became - It’s not just about giving out information; it’s also about receiving information – that’s effective communications.

I’m sure we don’t need to be convinced that the Parents and Paediatricians Together Project will live up to the high aspirations it has set itself, with the core principle of sharing information being at the forefront.

From what I have seen to date, the foundations set by Contact a Family will certainly live up to the principle.

And it is in moments of crisis and stress that the two-way exchange of information can have the most value. Nothing will change the difficulties and stress associated with hearing ‘bad’ or unexpected news.

But a clear standard of exchanging information, of receiving thoughts and views, and of the reassurance that you are not alone, will do much to help.

And that is where, I believe, Contact A Family has used it’s experience, and the willingness of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, to create such a valuable project.

Paediatricians can now access an invaluable resource of knowledge and the experience of parents who have been through the process of receiving such news.

Parents can access information, support groups, and most of all be given the reassurance that the diagnosis is only the start of the process of support.

The shape of services for children and young people can be moulded to suit the needs of children and young people. From that process of shaping services comes greater support as well as improvements in how children, young people and their parents receive support.

Support, it has to be said, is sometimes absent in the services that are provided for children and young people. In less than a year the commissioner has received almost 200 complaints from children, young people.

Many times the complaints have arisen through lack of information.

In addition to the major research we are involved in at present to determine our priorities we have also launched reviews of Child Protection Procedures in Northern Ireland concerning vetting, and speech and language therapy services as well as convening a symposium on youth suicide.

We have, in short, been very busy!

I have no doubt that the Parents and Paediatricians Together Project can be equally busy – it is an ambitious project.

But it is a project that will add value to a service that sees so many children and young people.

I took the opportunity this week to examine some of the most recent statistics published by the Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety.

In 2002/2003 there were more than 86,000 consultant initiated out-patient attendances, with almost 25,000 written referrals from GPs, in the Programme of Care relating to maternity and child health services.

And that doesn’t include the many thousands more paediatric surgery interventions that year, and the many thousands more seen as in-patients not specifically recorded as children and young people’s cases.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the work of your project will touch almost every family in Northern Ireland to a greater or lesser extent.

The relationship between parents, paediatricians and young people is one that is increasingly central to the lives of many families in Northern Ireland.

We at the Commission for Children and Young People believe that your project deserves success, and wish you well on developing it further in years to come.