21 February 2024

In our first in a new series of blog posts, Youth@CLC member, Ruby Campbell, outlines some of the highlights from her time as a youth panel member, her determination as a change maker and her latest role as a member on UNICEF’s UK Youth Advisory Board.

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Ruby Campbell writes:

I joined Youth@CLC in December 2022 and, looking back, it has completely transformed my life.

Youth@CLC is the youth advisory group at the Children’s Law Centre and it has provided me with an incredible opportunity to become educated on my rights and how to defend the rights of those around me. From actual information sessions to group meetings and events, Youth@CLC instantly made me feel included and simultaneously powerful.

I had a voice and could use it in front of politicians and other stakeholders to enact change in how young people are perceived and treated.

From meetings with the Department of Education, All-Party Group meetings and events with other youth organisations, opportunities to express myself and be listened to have been many.

The most exciting and meaningful experience was attending the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, in May 2023, during an examination of the UK Government and NI Executive’s obligations to protect the rights of children and young people.

A few weeks earlier, the NI Secretary of State introduced the 2023/24 budget, which resulted in massive cuts to services that support the most disadvantaged children and young people, such as youth spending on mental health support and education. I was horrified at this and the wider impact it would have on mental health, as well as children living in poverty.

Schemes like the Extended Schools Programme that provided crucial childcare and food to children was to be scrapped. Children who, in the midst of our crushing cost of living crisis, were coming to school hungry, would be impacted.

Youth@CLC gave me an opportunity to take this injustice to the highest level – the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Last year a panel of young people representing the UK were permitted to speak directly to the Committee on their experience. I was one of these young people and I told the Committee about the devastating impact the budget was bound to have, and the struggle of children and young people living in acute poverty across Northern Ireland. This remains the proudest moment of my life and an example of what can happen if youth voice is allowed a space in the conversation.

Among the Committee’s concluding observations was “withdraw the budget for Northern Ireland for the period 2023-2024.” It doesn’t get any more clear than that.

But my journey with Youth@CLC didn’t stop there. There were follow up events and meetings to make young people aware of the concluding observations, to get feedback and address directly the politicians that ultimately deliver Rights Here, Right Now for young people and children across Northern Ireland.

Youth@CLC allowed me to address politicians at Stormont, to address my peers and sparked in me a determination to see change.

At the next UK examination, a young person from Northern Ireland should not have to go to the Committee and tell them their rights are not just being threatened, but actively rolled back on.

Recently, after being made aware of the opportunity through the Children’s Law Centre, I became a member of UNICEF UK’s Youth Advisory Board, the first and only member to have come from Northern Ireland.

I am so very proud that today I can be a voice on the rights of children in Northern Ireland at a national level.

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