Thank you Nikita and Callum

Can I begin with a quote from a seminar held at Queens University last September, on how best to design, plan and improve services for children and young people. In fact our guests, Junior Minister Anderson and Junior Minister Bell might recognise this quote!

“As Junior Ministers our role is to support and promote issues concerning children and young people. We must accept nothing less than the best provision for our children and young people.”

I wholeheartedly agree with these sentiments. To develop best provision you have to involve those in the best position to know. To develop best provision for children and young people we need to involve children and young people.

This seems a simple principle but unfortunately, it is an irregular practice.

The recently launched Queen’s University report, commissioned by myself, into ‘Barriers to Effective Government Delivery for Children in Northern Ireland’ clearly identifies an issue around the meaningful participation of children in developing and implementing strategies and policies.

Only 2 days ago, I, along with my Commissioner colleagues from England, Scotland and Wales, marked International Day of the Child by publishing a mid-term report on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to the UK Government and the devolved administrations. A whole section of this report is dedicated to the participation of children and young people in the decision making process.

It’s my duty, under the legislation that set my office up, to encourage our government departments and other public bodies to involve children and young people in their decision making process and I must say, there has been some success.

Our Participation Policy Statement of Intent, which outlines a commitment to involve children and young people in the work that they do, has been signed by 10 of our 11 Government Departments, as well as the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission. Over the next 18 months not only will we be following up with these Government Departments to find out how they put this ‘intent’ into practice, but we will also open up the Participation Policy Statement of Intent to other agencies in the public sector as well as local councils.

But the chasing, cajoling, coaxing and encouraging can wait to another day as I know I’m preaching to the converted here this evening.

By working with children and young people, you have shown your intent. Entering the Awards, with support from young people, demonstrates your intent.

I am delighted by the range, diversity and high standard of projects that we received in the entries. From the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority’s work to train peer mentors to inspect children’s homes, to DARD’s work on policy development and everything in between - thank you for 1. Engaging with children and young people and 2. stepping up to the plate, showing it can be done and setting the standards for the future.

I can say with some pleasure that because of the quality of engagement, each and every entry we received was shortlisted. That means that each and every entry tonight will be commended – and deservedly so.

While this event is aimed at highlighting participation to officials, we also recognise this would not be possible without the willingness of young people to engage and make a difference. I acknowledge the contributions of all young people involved and just to let you know that we have plans to recognise their role also.

Can I take a minute to acknowledge and thank my Awards Panel of young people for all the hard work they put into getting us here today.

Back in April, Aaron, Jill, Emma, Nikita, Alice, Julie, Callum and Stephen first got together with my staff to plan these Awards.

The panel undertook an immense amount of training to ensure they had the capacity to see this process through to the end. For example:

·      they had to understand the role of myself and my staff

·      they had to understand what participation actually is

·      they had to understand the ethics of delivering an Awards programme, especially the importance of impartiality and accountably

·      they got involved in designing, planning, launching and even promoting the Awards, by undertaking TV, radio and newspaper interviews.

This only touches on some of the work they completed - I could go on…

I believe that as an organisation we need to practice what we preach and in partnership with our Awards Panel, we delivered a real participation programme. Will you join me in acknowledging their hard work?

We thought about entering the Commissioner’s Award Programme into the actual Awards itself, but the panel told me it was unethical!!

In conclusion, can I throw out a challenge to all of you here? After a period of reflection and evaluation we’ll be deciding whether to run the Awards again - hopefully bigger but with at least the same quality of entry. To do this we really need to cement children and young people’s participation as common practice rather uncommonpractice.

So my challenge for everyone is to act as ambassadors, to act as advocates, to act as champions for children and young people’s participation. You are a fortunate minority at the moment – you have experienced the benefits of youth participation and dare I say it, maybe learnt a thing or two.

Let’s turn your minority experience into majority practice.

I would now like to invite up two of our panel members Jill and Alice to begin the presentation of the Awards.

Thank you and I hope to see you this time next year.