Speech by the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley at the Wheelworks Exhibition Launch

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. 

Thank you for inviting to me to speak at the launch of this wonderful exhibition.

It is often said that young people today face many challenges and pressures; in school, at home and in their peer groups. You here today know all too well how true that is.

But what should be done about it?

It is essential that young people have adequate support within schools, health services and their communities to help cope with these challenges and pressures.

I fully support any service or project that seeks to promote and improve the emotional health and well being of our children.

No matter what each child’s background may be, he or she has a right to grow up being accepted for who they are, and a right to access the appropriate emotional and mental health services.

Today’s exhibition illustrates some of the pressures and difficulties facing our young people. I want to congratulate the young people from the two groups who gave of their time and talent to produce such amazing photography.

The issues portrayed in this exhibition are among some of the most difficult for young people – their identity, respect, and discrimination.

You have to look at both the images and texts to see how these have impacted on the lives of those who participated in this project.

Promoting positive mental health includes the need for young people to be free to express who they are and what they have experienced; just as this project has enabled these young people to do- come together, talk, and support each other.

‘Respect’ and ‘promoting mental health’ may seem to some as two separate issues but as this project shows respect does influence emotional health and wellbeing.

Respect in relationships: in doing so we can tackle both domestic violence and homophobia, both of which are issues that these young people have to face up to.

Respect between peers; builds trust and allows young people to openly express their thoughts and feelings to their friends.

We are all aware that current mental health provision is not designed to meet the needs of our young people. Major investment is needed to provide the vision of mental health services outlined in the Bamford review. However promoting emotional health and well being must be an integral part of any new mental health service.

Last year we at NICCY undertook a major piece of research into the current state of children’s rights in Northern Ireland. We spoke to professionals, parents and over 2000 children and young people.

After that we asked people to tell us what actions we should take in a consultation on our work over the next three years.

From the research and consultation we identified emotional health and well being as a priority area of work over the next three years.

In one project my staff will be working in cooperation with the Department of Education and others to identify models of best practice for promoting emotional health and wellbeing in schools.

I hope that providing opportunities with schools for young people to access counselling and support services will have a positive impact on the emotional health and wellbeing of our children and young people.

Congratulations to everyone who participated in this project, especially the young people who shared their experiences and talents to produce this exhibition.

They say that a photograph can be a window into the soul – from what I have seen these images have opened up the hurt and trauma.

I hope that by sharing you have helped yourselves. I can assure you that by sharing you have helped people like me understand the urgency of providing help and support to those who need it.

I wish you all well in the future and I hope Wheelworks will continue their work with children and young people.

Thank you