16 Jan 2007

Chairman, ladies, gentlemen – and most importantly young people.

Thank you all for inviting me to help in the official opening of this centre at Lakewood; a right and proper investment in high quality facilities for you the young people who have spend periods of time here and it is recognition of the important work of the unit and for the many dedicated staff who work here both past and present.

I have had a chance to see round and have been very impressed! It represents very much a new and exciting beginning for you all at Lakewood.

This is, I suppose, a bit of a new and exciting beginning for me too – it’s my first ‘official’ event I’ve attended since I started work as Commissioner for Children and People last week. I can well understand what it feels like to be a little bit unfamiliar with your new surroundings!

I thought I would use this important occasion to set out some thoughts as your Commissioner for Children and Young People as we all embark on this new road ahead.

In my work I must pay special attention to the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child- the UNCRC. This is an international agreement signed by the UK government and sets out the rights that of all young people should expect and responsibilities of government.

Government have a responsibility to make adequate provision for children and young people and to meet any special needs and requirements that they have. I am glad to see this reflected in proper investment in this unit at Lakewood.

But buildings are much more than ‘bricks and mortar’ and what is important is the young people, the staff, the culture and the atmosphere. 

When I accepted the job of Commissioner one of the commitments I gave was that I would listen to what children and young people have to say. In fact it is a really important part of my job. The legislation that set up the Commissioner’s office says I have to and it is an important part of the UN Convention also. Listening to you and other children and young people who are looked after is therefore a priority for me and I hope that my office is always open to hearing things that concern you or any comments.

I hope that you will be able to contact me in a range of ways in person, through the internet, by letter or through family or adults who play a role in you life. I do want to see a culture in NI where all children and young people are listened to and consulted on about all aspects of their life. I know that is something that the staff in Lakewood see as very important and is very much part of everyday life here. I very much welcome this approach.

In the Convention there is also a section about children and young people having their say. Article 12 says that children and young people must have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. When NICCY asked children and young people in Northern Ireland about what should be my office’s priorities ‘Having Your Say’ was seen as very important. So I want all young people to really have a say in things that affect them and I was very impressed to find out that when work was about to start on this new centre that young people had a say in its design and development. I believe that the young people’s input has been reflected in the facilities I have seen so far! Perhaps there are some budding builders, architects and interior designers in the audience!

It is however an important example of the contribution that young people can make and I congratulate you on your achievements.

Children and young people who spend time in Lakewood do so for a variety of reasons and stay for a variety of times. Sometimes there are many challenges you will face. I do hope that for all your stay in these new quality facilities in Lakewood is a positive one that helps in improving things for the future for you. It should be an experience that reflects that every young person is an individual with unique experiences, needs, needs and relationships.

While in Lakewood the UN Convention requires that you have a right to be kept safe and protected. That means there should be good practices to keep and help keep you safe, that you will able to can speak to staff if you are worried and that there are other important people in your lives, your parents, social workers or other friends you can turn to for help.

There may be times when you are unhappy about things in Lakewood or how things are done. That is part of normal family life and while most things can be resolved by talking things through it is important to me that you are able to use the complaints policy and procedures. I know that encouraging children and young people to speak out should be very much part of the culture in Lakewood. In the future this office will work with other organisations such as NIACRO, and there is also the opportunity to ‘whistle blow’ if they feel there is an issue about keeping a child safe.

But sometimes a child or young person needs help and support to work through issues – and that means there should be access to other people to advocate on your behalf. This could be a range of people and may be someone perhaps independent on hand to help when an issue comes up. I welcome the openness of the Unit to promoting this culture.

Finally, to conclude, I hope that these facilities and the caring culture in Lakewood will provide a bridge for young people and importantly too their families to move onwards in their lives and to resolve problems and challenges they face. That though the facilities in the unit, in the school, sporting and leisure activities, and much of the hard work that will be done, I hope to see you benefiting and having good outcomes from time spent in Lakewood. 

As Commissioner for Children and Young People, I will look forward to hearing that this is the case.

Thank you