St. Cecilia’s College, Derry warmly welcomed the Northern Ireland Children’s Commissioner, Koulla Yiasouma, on Wednesday, September 7th. The commissioner spoke to the school body and separately to the staff about her role; which is to safeguard and promote the rights and best interests of children and young people.
The commissioner was also launching the Investors in Pupils’ Award at St. Cecilia’s which focuses on Children’s voice and rights. As an Investors in People Gold Award School St. Cecilia’s College prides itself on its ethos of Aspire, Endeavour, Achieve, which was the driving force behind the sought after Investors in Pupils’ Award. The Award strives to develop and extend pupil/student voice and participation strategies in schools and educational settings to build young people's life skills, character and resilience.
Endeavouring to make positive choices, application to study and Educational inequalities were just three of the themes which the Commissioner spoke to the school body about. She also touched on the subjects of resilience, application and careers, as well the need for children to seek happiness.
A former social worker, ‘Include Youth’ and Women’s Aid employee, the commissioner now heads a body which informs our assembly as to how they should help children access the best opportunities in their everyday lives. The Commissioner uses the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (sometimes called the UNCRC) to guide her work and the work of her staff. The UNCRC is a list of 42 basic rights which every child and young person in Northern Ireland should have.
All of the Commissioner’s work is focused on making sure children and young people have access to these rights in their day-to-day lives, so they have the best opportunity to reach their full potential. The three main areas which the Children’s Commission focus on are: reducing Child Poverty, education and mental health and wellbeing. The Commission has deemed that it is not acceptable that there are 96,000 children in Northern Ireland living in absolute poverty. Nor is it acceptable that they will be joined by approximately another 31,000 in the next five years.
With regards to education the commission states that: “NI has intolerable educational inequalities and gaps which need to be closed. It is well documented that our poorest and most vulnerable children and young people are faring the worst.”
It is also well known that children’s mental health services have, at just under 8%, a disproportionally, low spend when compared to adults. The commissioner has stated that she has considerable concerns with regards to how we serve the needs of our most unwell children and young people particularly when young people are cared for securely i.e. in juvenile justice centres, secure accommodation and secure mental health facilities.
Positive mental health is a key focus among care providers in the current climate and it is embedded in the Personal development programme in St. Cecilia’s College. Pupils are offered a variety of opportunities within the curriculum and within the lunch time programmes which actively promote positive mental health. Programmes such as Tai chi, Yoga, Women’s Rights and Peer Mentoring are all on offer. Elizabeth Healy, a year 11 student pictured above availed of the Women’s Rights programme and is now on the Northern Ireland Children’s Commission Youth Panel. Elizabeth has worked with the Northern Ireland commissioner and had advised on the issues which young people often need support with therefore providing a direct and active experience of democracy in action in schools and on a National level.