Speech by Mairéad McCafferty, NICCY Chief Executive, who offically opened Oasis Caring in Action's new Antrim Youth Ways centre. The centre is designed to accommodate the 'Youth Ways' project, which aims to support young people with their education. 

Thank you Pamela – delighted to be here today representing Office of the NICCY – Our principal aim is to safeguard and promote the Rights and Best Interests of C&YP – in carrying out our work we are guided by the UNCRC - presently the most widely ratified international human rights treaty – guides the work which we do.    It is the only international human rights treaty to include civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. It sets out in detail what every YP needs to have a safe, happy and fulfilled life regardless of their sex, religion, social origin, and where and to whom they were born.

The Convention gives children and young people over 40 substantive rights, including the rights to:

  • access services such as education and healthcare;
  • develop their personalities, abilities and talents to the fullest potential;
  • grow up in a nurturing, understanding environment and
  • be informed about and participate in achieving their rights in an accessible and active manner.

As Government has signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, part of our job is to make sure that the promises made by them when they signed it are kept.

Therefore what we do with this Convention is to make sure that government receives advice on legislation, policies and services for children and young people, specifically on their rights – such as those relating to education / adequate standard of living (which is about access to training and employment) and so on.

The Convention is a set of minimum standards for children’s & YP’s rights across ALL areas of their life. – we also need to bear in mind that we must not see the UN Convention for Children’s in isolation. There are other international human rights ‘instruments’ that apply to our YP  -  ALL of these protections, ALL of these rights, are fundamental to each and every YP and their successful outcomes in life. 

Much of our work this past year has focused on rights pertaining to education, health and justice e.g. SEN / Transitions / Still Vulnerable / Role of Significant Adults  as well as broader economic issues such as Welfare Reform and Child Poverty – the recommendations of which – including calls and advice to government we are currently progressing in the best interests of our C&YP. 

Pamela invited me here today not only in my capacity as CE at the Office of NICCY but also given my experience as an educationalist – having been Director/Head of  Newstart Education Centre in Belfast and also my experience running ISCYP.   Having a holistic approach to achieving the desired outcomes we all want is vital – work with our most vulnerable/marginalised / disaffected YP cannot  be carried out in isolation – it has to embrace the whole context within which they go through their daily lives.    If we are to successfully deliver services to /for our YP we need to embrace integrated working at all levels and by all sectors.

We need to embed interdepartmental co-operation e.g. DE – DEL – DETI – DoJ – DHSSPS – OFMDFM.  In the current economic context this is more vital than ever!   We need to realise greater collaborations between the community/voluntary and statutory sectors.

There are opportunities with models of good practice such as this one today which are doing just that!  It is vital that govt ‘steps up’ and not only supports those community initiatives – with proven track records – but rolls them out across NI where needed.  The success of this generation depends on this.

The Launch of Antrim Youth Ways today is very important  -  we hear that in NI there are in the region of 50k YP ‘not in education, employment or training’ – this programme and programmes such as this  are about giving young people another opportunity to engage in education – a maxim I’ve often repeated is - If Young People cannot learn the way we teach them, we must teach them the way they learn!      

This is about providing access to the relevant support services to facilitate the learning which will empower them to turn their lives around – and enable them to realise their potential and succeed!  I am aware that Youth Justice / Social Services are also involved which is to be commended.   Much research has been done into the correlation between educational disengagement and YP involved with the juvenile justice system / impacts on mental health / wellbeing / life opportunities and outcomes etc.    

Projects such as this transform the lives of our most vulnerable, marginalised, ‘at risk’ or disaffected Young People – they can transform communities and ultimately society.   

We as adults, politicians, decision makers, influencers in this society -  have an obligation to ensure that we do not let our C&YP down but keep them and their best interests to the fore in decision making.  We in the office of NICCY will continue to do our bit in achieving this as we move forward

In conclusion I wish to commend Pamela and all those involved in this programme and wish them and more particularly the YP, great success  - it will be the vision of those decision makers already mentioned, who will determine the success of creative and innovative approaches such as this in the long term and by extension the realisation of the potential of our YP. 

Thank You.