Young people need “one good adult” to realise rights


“When you are doing something you are passionate about you succeed…”

This was one of Jillian Van Turnhout’s (pictured above) closing pieces of advice to the young people of the Cork Life Centre this afternoon during the final talk of what has been an important and insightful conference week.

We have had the pleasure of meeting a series of professionals this week who are extremely good at what they do. And behind our own red doors in a moderate sized classroom in Sunday’s Well, we have not so much had talks, but what might better be called conversations. This is an infinitely better thing. Because we got to delve much deeper than what our speakers jobs are and how they do them. We learned why they do them and that to them, their work is personal.

We describe our own work best by telling stories and describing journeys that exceptional young people have made against lots of odds. It was refreshing this week to hear lots of stories.


Tanya Ward’s (pictured above) story of her own schooling this morning struck a real chord with us. A story of streaming, low expectations, not being a priority and discouragement of progress. Thankfully, this hasn’t held Tanya back, in fact it is clear it has driven her. But it also clear she recognises this is not the case for all children and most are deeply affected and debilitated when not given the educational opportunities they deserve.

Emily Logan made a statement earlier this week about how we are not dreaming big enough for our young people. And what is clear from the week as a whole is that we can’t leave our young people out there to dream alone. We need collective dreams and we need at least “one good adult” behind each young person if they are to realise their rights, thrive and succeed at that one thing they were born to do.

This week has been like a masterclass and today was no exception with two professors at the helm giving lessons on what they were born to do-advance for the rights of children.

Here are some of the important lessons we learned today from Tanya Ward and Jillian Van Turnhout and throughout the week about having children’s voices heard:

 Sometimes language can get in the way  On the whole people are inclined to care but terminology like children’s rights and human rights can be a barrier. Appealing to the idea that everyone counts, that everyone’s voice should be heard, and highlighting examples of discrimination are more effective.

Nobody wants to be told that they are doing things all wrong or ‘that wont work’ No one wants to feel they are failing. What works better is commending what government and those with influence are doing right but also highlighting what is still wrong. Being successful in bringing change is about making not breaking relationships.

 Children’s rights are unique and complex  Infringement of a child’s rights or discrimination rarely operates in isolation from who their parents are or the communities they come from. Not enjoying the rights they deserve is not about being a child alone but their position in society. And in this country it is those children already at a disadvantage who are most likely to have this compounded by not having their voices heard or best interests served.

Children need champions They need good adults. On a daily basis they need adults who know them, believes in them and are available to them. In larger society the need champions with strong voices, strong principles and strong passion. Thankfully, we found these are not in short supply this week!

Finally, if we want to hear children’s voices and know how best to support them we need to be prepared to earn the privilege. Children do not always have the words to tell us what they need or how they might be struggling or suffering. They don’t want to be fixed or helped-they want to be heard. And we won’t hear them through tokenistic measures but by being with them, doing things with them not for them.

Thankfully that is the best job in the world and one we count ourselves lucky to be doing every day….

Really finally educational disadvantage and educational rights are not in vogue or fashionable, while being absolutely essential. Rights do not exist in isolation so a deprivation of educational opportunities breeds disadvantage in a host of other areas. We need some joined up thinking. Thankfully, we met lots of wonderful people this week who would like to help us join up the dots.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the real and honest dialogue we had this week behind our red doors in our home at the top of a hill. I hope we were all student and teacher and received as much as we contributed.


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