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Work with young people to nip riots in bud, expert urges MLAs


Laura Lundy

Laura Lundy

Laura Lundy

Stormont’s Education Committee has been told that Northern Ireland has a great opportunity to take its place as a world leader in engagement with young people.

Laura Lundy, a Queen’s University professor of education law and children’s rights, said that the benefits of engagement can have far-reaching effects.

While she told MLAs that “pockets of good practice” have started the process of engagement, there remains an urgent need to involve young people in the decision-making process so they feel they have a voice.

“There’s a real need to engage with young people with disabilities and young people who have taken to the streets because they don’t think they have a voice and they think that’s how they’ll be heard,” she said.

“Things are changing and conversations are starting.”

Applications are open now for the Northern Ireland Youth Assembly, something Professor Lundy feels is a big step in beginning to address the lack of connection young people feel with those who make decisions on their behalf.

“Current youth engagement came about as a result of the very original work done by the first Commissioner for Children and Young People,” she explained.

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“Adults across Northern Ireland were telling us they were seeking children’s views and giving them a voice, but children were saying ‘that’s not what’s happening’.

"They told us no one was looking for their views, and if they were, they were not actually looking at them seriously or doing anything with them. They said if their views were sought, they were being dismissed.

“But in Northern Ireland, we’ve got so much going for us. There are so many brilliant organisations for young people. In the public sector, we have pockets of good practice emerging and I’m delighted to see the Education Committee engaging young people. That should be routine.”

But she said there were still challenges ahead before young people could feel included.

“People think children aren’t capable of engaging, or it’s not worth the money,” she said.

“We’ve seen in recent weeks some of our children and young people taking to the streets because they don’t think they have a voice and that’s the way that they can be heard.”

Linda O’Sullivan, from the Republic of Ireland’s Department of Children, briefed committee members about the country’s National Strategy on Children and Young People’s Participation in Decision-Making.

She told MLAs the goal of the strategy was to ensure that “children and young people will have a voice in their individual and collective lives in decisions that affect their lives”

“There were initial misunderstandings in what you th engagement actually is,” she said.

“But (involving) young p eople in decisions does make for better policies and services.”

Professor Lundy added that “decision makers are more open to listening to some issues that fit their own agendas”.

“But I genuinely think we can become a world leader,” she explained . “If ever there’s a society that had a pressing need for this, it’s ours.”

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