Our new Children and Young People’s Officer, Emilia Chase, reflects on a highlight of her first week.
It was my first week joining Healthwatch Dorset, but more importantly it was my third day. Healthwatch is an organisation that focuses on building equality, including breaking down the stigma on mental and physical health. We believe in making a difference and listening to the views of people and changing the way health services run and view young people.
Last Thursday, Healthwatch Dorset was invited by the Department of Health and Healthwatch England to attend a huge event at the BIC in Bournemouth. It was the National Children and Adult Services Conference 2015 (NCAS), which is one of the most important and widely recognised annual events for councillors, directors, senior officers, policy makers and senior managers! An event far more grand than anything I ever attended working for the NHS, to be fair that wouldn’t be hard to do, I came from an organisation that would have a coffee morning but without the coffee… Being faced with an event that provided free beverages and a chocolate fountain knocked the socks right off of the NHS.
When I arrived at the event I was greeted by three wonderful people – Poppy and Joely, who were speaking with us at the event, and Mohini Morris, who is a Policy Lead for Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing for the Department of Health. Poppy and Joely are from the Chatterboxes, a local youth group helping people with mental and or physical disabilities grow in confidence. Giving them place where they can be their true selves, with no judgement or pressure. The work they do is incredible, if you know anyone who could benefit go check them out!
“The Chatterboxes has changed my life, they have supported me, and given me self-confidence and courage to stand up on this stage and publicly speak. I am grateful to have been a part of a youth group that provides the opportunity for young people to be their true selves“.
Wandering into the conference hall, we were faced with rows and rows of chairs, filling the capacity of the room, a huge stage with an overhead projector lit up the hall. A single desk filled half the length of the stage, five chairs were tucked in neatly behind it, cameras were set up and rolling in the corner, Joely was testing her mic and running through her prepared words. There was an element of adrenaline, mixed with nerves and excitement in the air. Joely remained confident.
Speakers started to filter in one by one, introducing themselves to me. I met Dr Jacqueline Cornish, NHS England’s National Clinical Director of Children, Young People and Transition to Adulthood, Rhys Hart- Chair of the Youth Select Committee and Jon Rouse – Director of General, Social Care, Local Government and Care Partnerships at Department of Health. The experience was incredible.
As the audience made their way to their seats, the conference began.
I was sat there in the front row listening attentively. Slide after slide of statistics and important information on mental health and how it affects young people and the impact it has on our health system. 1.2 million young people under the age of 18 have a mental health condition! It costs £84,000 to support one child with a mild mental health problem for a life time and £250,000 for one child with severe mental health problems. Those figures were astonishing.
Eventually it was Healthwatch’s turn to speak. Up first was Louise Bate – our Engagement and Communications Lead.
“I was expecting a much smaller audience, so the scale of the event was a bit daunting! But everyone was very welcoming. The conference was a fantastic opportunity to share some of the ways Healthwatch Dorset has worked with young people to discover their experiences of health and care. We’ve worked on projects together with the Chatterboxes, SPACE youth project (listening to the views of LGBT+ young people), Toby’s Project (training young peer mentors & gathering feedback from the gypsy, roma & traveller community) and Hope, Strength and Life (two videos we supported Bournemouth University to produce, raising awareness of eating disorders).”
Joely and Poppy then took to the stand to talk about the Chatterboxes. Joely is a young individual who has Asperger’s Syndrome. She braced us with her presence on stage. Her speech talked about the work the Chatterboxes has done for her, it was inspiring, moving and heartfelt. Joely showed the audience a patchwork quilt which the Chatterboxes produced with Healthwatch Dorset. The quilt was built up of squares that individuals had designed which depicted their personal experiences of healthcare, the good and the not so good. It then dawned on me that this is what NCAS should be, it should be about young people expressing their personal experiences of care.
Listening to a person as a human and not just putting a price on their life. The stats that were shown were interesting, I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to facts and figures, but we shouldn’t get lost in the fact that people who have a mental health condition and use a service aren’t numbers, they shouldn’t be priced and looked at as a profit or loss. They should be treated like an individual and have their feelings listened to and expressed at a widely known conference. After all, the title of the event was ‘Making a difference to children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing’, in order to make a difference we should be listening to the individuals who really matter. Joely’s speech was said with ease and integrity and by far she stole the show.
That was my third day at Healthwatch, and a day I was proud to be a part of.
(See more about our time at the conference on Storify.)