State of Child Health: One year on — Voices of young people

This article is part of a series to mark one year on from the publication of State of Child Health 2020 by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

RCPCH Insight
RCPCH Insight

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Since the launch last year, young people have continued to work together on Voice Matters, to share what will help them to stay healthy, happy, and well. On 4 March 2020, nearly 60 young people took part in sessions in parliaments across the UK.

Over 2,500 children and young people from different ages, backgrounds and locations took part in activities to share their views on the impact of poverty, living with a long term condition, the importance of having places to go and things to do.

Now, they’ve reflected on the Voice Matters priorities of Mental health, Rights and Confidentiality, Accessible and youth friendly services and The support we need and why.

Mental Health

From May — October 2020, young people from 4 different groups + RCPCH &Us volunteers looked at mental health in a national crisis to assess the type of support available during the pandemic, the gaps, and ideas for solutions. They noted that during the pandemic there were issues around signposting and communications about services, and delivering confidential services virtually. Anisah from the project shared her thoughts:

Is improving mental health services still important in 2021?

Definitely mental health service are still important in 2021, as we are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, and the pandemic obviously exacerbated those existing inequalities that were already there.

I think that what we’ve been able to see as young people is we’ve witnessed a lot of political injustices, we’ve seen our own home environments and some people have really struggled. There have been things like the relative state of poverty, the free school meal campaign in the holidays and lots of things behind closed doors that we don’t always get to see.

Even though we’ve been let out and we’re going into school, it’s not leaving that state of mind because you’ve witnessed a lot and now you’re just being plunged back into this new atmosphere again — it does take getting used to and I myself am getting exhausted and physically drained when coming back from school.

Probably when we do go back to school we do require some mental health support as it’s hard and I think it’s the same wide spread view that many young people have felt.

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope that mental health support is more accessible than ever and I think what’s really good with RCPCH is that we are already making those efforts, even having young people talk about it and improve it and feed into the process I found heartening.

Rights and Confidentiality

In 2020, Recipes for Rights booklet was launched. It explains the rights of the child to doctors and how to support rights in their work. We also took part in the submission to the United Nations Committee. Young people also campaigned for their rights to be heard during the COVID pandemic through projects including the campaign about why #YoungPeopleMatter. Gabby shared why the right to be involved and listened to during the pandemic is so important:

Why are the rights of the child still important in 2021?

The rights of children are not just still important but more important than ever in 2021. Last year from my perspective saw us disregard article 3 and 12 of the UNCRC. We put the interests of adults above those of children when we closed schools, redeployed paediatricians, and denied free school meals in a protracted public manner.

What are your hopes for the future?

My hopes are that as a country we become aware of the burden that children and young people have borne in this crisis. Hopefully in doing so, we can both show our gratitude and shift the mainstream narrative that children and young people have no respect for wider society. I hope we can recognise the expertise, passion, and determination that I see in my fellow children and young people and that leaders are willing to listen and be guided by children and young people.

Accessible and youth friendly services

Young people have shared their views on creating accessible and youth friendly services over the past year. Young people wrote their own chapter for Paedaitrics2040, commented on the standards being updated for You’re Welcome as well as contributed to Gold Standard Services in Epilepsy Care. Finn shared his experiences from being involved in a project looking at supporting worries and anxieties in long term condition clinics:

Is having accessible and youth friendly services still important in 2021?

Yes, it’s important so that young people can share thoughts and feelings about any mental health issues they might have and can talk about any problems they might be having at home.

What are your hopes for the future?

I would like to be able to see everyone from the project face to face again and hope that anyone who wants to talk about mental health issues is able to and can feel comfortable doing it.

The support we need

Young people formed the COVID Book Club last year, reading published studies of children and young people’s experiences during the pandemic, to identify key priorities for the NHS going forward being good pandemic information, more mental health support and creating the best virtual health appointments possible. Emma, a young volunteer shared her thoughts:

Is having a focus on services providing the right support in the right way for children and young people still important in 2021?

Yes. Services have changed so much over the past year that there are so many new challenges in the best way to provide care. e.g. for some having phone/video calls has been great as they can fit it around life, but for others it hasn’t worked as well so why this is the case needs to be looked into. Now that things are settling down it’s vital that patients are allowed to go back and assess what has worked and what hasn’t and make changes where needed.

What are your hopes for the future?

My hopes for the future are that volunteers are continued to be valued! Quite rightly volunteers have been given praise for what they’ve done during the pandemic (food shopping, vaccine, and medication trials etc.) and I hope this continues. I hope that if we go into another lockdown more thought will be taken into how it impacts children and young people’s health. Young people have been through so much in the last year I really hope that going forward research and work can be done into what support children want and need going forward.

The last year has been incredibly difficult in so many ways, but there is a huge amount of good, innovation and positivity that has come out of the last 12 months. More than 700 children, young people and families have done an incredible 1,000 hours of volunteering since the launch day to help improve child health.

RCPCH &Us is a network of children and young people from around the UK. You can find out more about RCPCH &Us at www.rcpch.ac.uk/and-us. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram to keep track of their projects.

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RCPCH Insight
RCPCH Insight

Insight from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.