Junior Minister Martina Anderson attended the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People's Participation Awards last week. The awards given out at the event are to recognise the work in the civil service and public sector to involve children and young people in policy development and decision-making. Here Ms Anderson tells Newswire why involving the next generation in the decision making process is a win-win situation.
"I am proud to say that the Executive remains committed to involving children and young people in the decision making process. We recognise the need to involve children and young people at the earliest possible stage in developing any proposals concerning them. And we need to give children and young people the chance to express their views on subjects that affect them, and to have those views taken into account. For me this involvement is a win-win situation.
Not only do the younger generations benefit from being involved, but the organisations and services benefit from their valuable input too.
Our children and young people gain self-confidence with their participation. They also receive the assurance that they are part of a society that treats them with respect. A society that ensures their views are sought, considered and implemented. And the public bodies that take account of their views, will receive the wisdom of youth, fresh opinion and imaginative solutions. With that insight we can develop services that are relevant and meaningful to our younger generation.
We must do more than encourage that participation - we must make sure that there are structures that allow this vital communication to take place.
I was pleased to read the feedback from one of the participants of the OFMDFM nomination when they wrote “For the first time in my life I was involved in such a project like this. The government would hear my opinion and we were all so proud of it.” I can think of no greater commendation for a public decision-maker. And there is no better argument for involving our children and young people than that one.
An underpinning theme of OFMDFM’s 10-year strategy is to develop a culture that routinely seeks the views of children and young people, on matters that impact upon their lives. We must adhere to this fully, but at the same time we must not patronize our children and young people with lip service and tokenism.
We must listen, take account and implement where possible. In this way, direct and meaningful communication will be a worthwhile investment in our future.
Our society is moving forward, constantly changing and growing. We are a modern, ethnically diverse and inclusive society. Everyone has the right to question, to challenge and to be given answers.
As we continue to grow as a society we must ensure that our next generation of decision makers is heard, and that our young ambassadors learn the great skill of listening. What we celebrate today will ensure a more confident, representative and articulate tomorrow. "