Young people led the way at a major conference aimed at showcasing Youth Service provision and identifying key initiatives to support young people across Northern Ireland.
The Education Authority (EA) Youth Service ‘Young People First’ conference was held at the Hilton Hotel, Templepatrick, and was attended by 100 members of the Regional and Local Advisory Groups, including almost 50 young people who participated in workshops based on identified youth issues such as mental health, LGBT&Q issues, employability, volunteering and youth work in schools.
EA chairperson Sharon O’Connor opened the conference and paid tribute to the young people who are helping to shape future youth service delivery.
“I particularly welcome the fact that almost half of our delegates at the conference were young people who are clearly at the heart of the planning and decision making process,” said Ms O’Connor.
“EA Youth Service published the Regional Assessment of Need document last year which identified the key issues affecting young people in Northern Ireland. At the Young People First conference, Regional Advisory Group members and Local Advisory Group members, told us the initiatives they want to see established to tackle those issues.
“The pressures on the education budget have been well documented and it is therefore imperative that we channel our resources to support those young people who are most in need. The Young People First conference enables EA to prioritise where those resources should go, with input from groups that are most affected – the young people themselves.”
Keynote speakers at the conference included Rhys Beck from the EA Portrush Youth Centre, Tara Grace Connolly from the Northern Ireland Youth Forum and Eamonn Swerick from St Peter’s Immaculata Youth Centre, Belfast.
Tara Grace Connolly, a member of the conference planning group said: “The participation of young people, and in particular engagement with young people who often feel misunderstood and unwelcome, provides a platform to have a massive impact on the Youth Service.” Tara Grace went on to encourage all young people to get involved in youth services, as it can provide many personal and social development opportunities in building skills for the future