12 Sep 2006

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for inviting me to help you celebrate an achievement that represents tremendous work by everyone within the Youth Service here in the North Eastern Education and Library Board!

I am very happy to have been asked to add NICCY’s recognition to your achievement. I believe, having had the opportunity to see how other countries do it, that we in Northern Ireland do not celebrate our achievements enough, that we tend to hide our talents away, that we are sometimes a wee bit backwards at coming forward to recognise what we have done well.

I know how hard Charter Marks are to win – I used to work in the health service in the Southern Board! During my time there I helped create a men’s health project that went on to win a charter mark for its friendly same day service. So I know what you have achieved here in the Youth Service does not come easily. That it takes hard work and commitment above and beyond the demands of the “Day Job”.

Now the Charter Mark, when it was first thought of in its early days was all about what some politicians then wanted to call ‘customers’.

Now, working with young people, as we at NICCY do, you know that the last thing they would want to be called are customers. Young people have told NICCY that they don’t want to be given particular labels; they just want to be treated like people, and with the same respect and courtesy that anyone else deserves. In other words they want to be treated the same as others in their community.

Gerry O’Neill of the Public Service Improvement Unit put it well when he said about Charter Marks: “It means contributing to the communities in which we exist.” 

And that is something that is pertinent to all parts of the work that the Youth Service carries out; because you work and exist in a complex community, a society where youth is treated with suspicion in some parts. We know how poor an image is created in the media of young people today. There is not a day that goes by where negative images of young people are not put before us. Yet we all know the vast majority of young people are just the opposite of this negative media image; friendly, resourceful, creative, high achieving.

The community you at the Youth Service, and we at NICCY live in work in one is one that seeks to challenge this negative image of young people and which provides them with opportunities; to shine, to develop, to be themselves. 

So what difference does it make that I am standing here on the day you receive your Charter Mark? What difference will the Charter Mark make to your service, to the young people you work with?

I believe that striving for awards such as Charter Mark, striving to meet new and exacting standards provides one of the greatest challenges any organisations can have – to beat complacency.

Too often organisations simply do what they have to do and keep on doing that without asking how they can do it better and how they can we make sure their services meet changed times, changed environments and meet the needs of communities that are continually evolving.

The fact that I am have been invited here today means that the North Eastern Youth Service is already meeting that challenge.

Of course, you’ve got to keep it now! But your experience of this process before today stands you all in good stead to keep striving for excellence

One of the best ways of doing this is something I know the Youth Service is already familiar with, it’s one of the key rights within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: contained within Article 12. It concerns the right to be heard, to be involved in decisions affect the child or the young person’s life. 

The Charter Mark you receive today shows that you are listening to the young people. In that respect you are making children and young people’s lives better. When we carried out research into how well Northern Ireland compared to the rights contained in the UN Convention the single biggest problem identified across the age range of childhood and young adulthood was not being listened to, not being taken seriously, not meeting Article 12 of the convention. 

Next time you are talking to a young person, surveying their views, listening to their complaints or complements I ask you to remember this key fact:

That is when it is important to listen

Once again, my congratulations to you on listening to young people to help you achieve the Charter Mark, and for achieving this great award! Well done!