Getting my voice heard
- As a child/young person in Wales, your rights include the right to be involved in decisions that are made about you. The Welsh Government has also committed to putting children’s rights at the heart of everything they do.
- There are different ways of getting your voice heard in decision making in Wales. It depends whether you need to sort something out for yourself, or there’s something you want to change which affects everyone in Wales.
- Understanding what your rights are and knowing about the laws that can help you realise your rights is the start of getting your voice heard
There are lots of occasions in your life when adults will make decisions about you. You may think that you have no voice, but in fact your life is full of choices and decisions that you can make.
To start off with, the decisions you have control over might be decisions about ‘the little things’ in life. As you grow up, you can make more and more decisions yourself. These include decisions about who you live with, and where, where you go to school, medical treatment you might need.
If an adult has to make a decision about you, Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child gives you the right to have your views taken into account in the decision making process. The older you are, the more opportunity to should have to be heard and to make decisions.
Knowing your rights is one thing – putting your rights into practice and making sure you are being heard and can take action if you aren’t being treated properly is another thing. Depending on what it is that you need to take action about there are different mechanisms to help you achieve what you need to do.
It could be that you haven’t been listened to when a decision was being made about you. It could be that you’ve been treated badly by someone and want to put things right. You might want to have a say in who you live with if your parents have split up. You might have noticed something that you want to change for everyone. Regardless of what you have to say, you need to know what you can do to put your rights into practice.
Being involved in decisions that affect you is sometimes called ‘participation’. This includes when you take part in decisions that affect not only you but other young people in Wales (or beyond). The Welsh Government has created the National Children and Young People’s Participation Standards in Wales to make sure that children and young people can be involved in these ‘big’ decisions. These Participation Standards were updated in November 2017.
If you are going to be involved in decision making or asked for your opinion by an organisation, that organisation needs to make sure these 7 standards apply:
Information – information given to children and young people should good quality, clear and accessible; you should know who is going to listen to you and the difference your involvement could make
It’s Your Choice – you should have enough support and time to choose if you want to be involved;
No Discrimination – adults should challenge discrimination and provide a range of opportunities and support to meet the needs of children and young people.
Respect - your views, ideas and opinion should be listened to and taken seriously; adults should work with you on what you say is important and your contribution should be valued
You get something out of it - you should enjoy the experience of being involved, working with others in a positive way with the opportunity to make a difference
Feedback - You should know how your ideas have been listened to and what differences your views have made;
Working better for you Adults should work with children and young people and learn how to do things better; they should ensure the views of children and young people make a difference to the ways adults plan and make decisions
BEING INVOLVED IN DECISIONS ABOUT YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL
If something is happening to you – perhaps you’re having a problem getting the help you need at school, or your parents are splitting up and you feel like you’re being left out of the decisions that are being made, or perhaps you’re in trouble with the police but you’re not being treated properly, you should be able to get your voice heard. If you don’t know what to do, it can make you feel even worse about what’s going on.
Your right to be listened to and to be involved in decision making applies anywhere where there’s a public organisation involved. This could be your school, social services, the courts, the police, or people involved in treating you in hospital, to name a few.
We’ve put together a list of decisions you might want to be involved in, with an explanation of how you can get your voice heard.
When your parents are splitting up
You have the right to be cared for by your parents, and the right not to be separated from your parents unless it is for a good reason. If your parents are splitting up, they may be able to talk to you and agree between themselves where you will live and how you will stay in touch with both your parents. Even if they can’t agree, they may go through a process of discussion involving solicitors to reach an agreement. If they can’t agree, they may end up in court, where a judge will end up deciding who you should live with.
CAFCASS CYMRU are the organisation that will help you get your views heard during these decision making processes if needed. You will meet with a Family Court Adviser who will listen to you and will write a report that will be taken into account by the judge who deals with the case. The judge has to make a decision that is in your ‘best interests’. You won’t be asked to choose between your mum or dad, but you will be asked what you would like to happen. This does not mean that you will get what you want, but your views have to be taken into account by the judge.
You won’t normally be asked to go to court and speak to the judge directly, but if this is something you feel strongly about, you can ask the Family Court Adviser is you can do this. You could also write directly to the judge to explain your feelings.
If the court has made an order about where you should live, or your parents have agreed an arrangement but you want to change it, you can contact CAFCASS CYMRU and they can help. You might want to do this if the parent you are living with is moving away to a different area and you want to stay close to your friends and your other parent.
If your parents can’t look after you properly, or you are at risk of harm if you stay with your parents, the local authority may investigate and start a ‘care case’. A care case will decide if you should be looked after by someone else. CAFCASS CYMRU will be involved in this, to make sure your views are properly heard while the decisions are being made about whether you can stay living with your parents or whether you need to live with someone else.
The Local Authority where you live has an obligation to assess your needs if it thinks you might need care and support as well as the care you receive from your parents, or instead of it. You should be involved in this process.
If you are 16 or 17, you can refuse to have this assessment. You can also refuse this assessment if you are under 16 and the local authority is happy that you understand the implications of the decision.
If you are assessed as having needs, the local authority should involve you, and your parents in drawing up a care and support plan.
If you are a carer for someone else at home, may be one of your parents or one of your brothers or sisters, the Local Authority has to look at your needs too. You should be involved in the needs assessment if you are a carer.
If you are 16 or 17, you can refuse to have this assessment. You can also refuse it if you are under 16 and the local authority is happy that you understand the implications of the decision to refuse.
Decisions about where you go to school
Your parents have responsibility for you as you grow up. You have a right to be educated and your parents have to make sure that you receive an education. They will probably choose which primary school you go to, although they may also decide to educate you at home.
When it comes to secondary school, you may be more involved in the decision making process. If you disagree with your parents about which school you should go to, you will need to discuss this with your parents and see if you can persuade them to change their mind. It might be helpful to ask another adult to support you if necessary.
If your parents want to home educate you but you want to go to school you will need to discuss this with your parents and see if you can sort it out. Again, it may be worth trying to get another adult to support you.
Decisions about your education and Additional Learning Needs
If you have special educational needs and your school or your local education authority has made a decision about your education that you don’t agree with, you can appeal to the Education Tribunal for Wales (also known as the Special Educational Needs Tribunal Wales).
Your parents can also do this, but if they don’t want to, or there’s some other reason why you want to make the appeal yourself you can do this. There is more information on the Education Tribunal for Wales website. You can be supported by a ‘case friend’ when you make your appeal.
Being treated unfairly at school because of a disability
If you think you have been treated unfairly at school because you have a disability, or if you think the school has a rule which is unfair for disabled pupils (not just you), you can make a claim to the Education Tribunal for Wales. Your parents can also do this, but if they don’t want to, or there’s some other reason why you want to make the claim yourself you can do this. There is more information on the Education Tribunal for Wales website. You can be supported by a ‘case friend’ when you make your claim.
If your head teacher is considering excluding you from school, you should be given the opportunity to give your side of the story. If you are excluded by your head teacher, there will be a meeting of the school Discipline Committee to discuss your exclusion, you should be given the opportunity to go to the meeting and to have your voice heard. This should happen even if the discipline committee meets after your exclusion has finished and you are back in school (this will only happen for short exclusions). You could also put your views across in writing or in some other way if you can’t go to the meeting. You can be accompanied at this meeting by a friend or even a legal representative. If you go along without your parent/carer, the Local Authority should try and find someone to help you. The discipline committee has to take your views into account.
Decisions about how your school is run
Your school will have a school council which is there to represent your views as a pupil on things that affect the whole school (or groups of students). If you want to talk about something, you can ask your school council representative to raise it at the school council meeting. You could also talk to a teacher if there’s something you would like to change in school that will affect all pupils.
Complaints about school
Every school must have a complaints procedure. This means that if there’s something you’re unhappy about that you can’t solve another way, you can make a complaint. You should be able to make a complaint about your school if you want to, even if your parents have made their own complaint.
If you have a concern about your apprenticeship and you can’t sort it out informally with your manager or by talking so HR where you work, you may have to use the business’s grievance procedure to raise the problem formally. If the problem relates to your employment rights, ACAS may be able to help you, or your Trade Union, if you belong to one.
The Welsh Government’s Department for Education and Skills is responsible for Apprenticeships so if you can’t sort things out, you might think about contacting them.
If you’re 16 or older, or your doctor thinks you are old enough to understand what is going on, what the medical treatment that is being suggested involves, and what the consequences could be if you decide not to go ahead, you can make your own decisions about medical treatment.
If you’re under 16 and the doctor thinks you don’t have this understanding, he or she has to get the consent of your parent or carer to go ahead – the doctor can’t go ahead on your say so.
PARTICIPATION IN THE BIG DECISIONS!
Getting your voice heard in the decisions that affect you in your daily life is very important. It’s also important that you understand that you have a voice in the big decisions that are made that affect everyone in Wales. Decision making in Wales can happen at the UK level, because many laws that apply in Wales are still made in the Westminster parliament. However, with devolution, more and more decisions about life in Wales are made in Cardiff. The Welsh Government work with the National Assembly of Wales to make decisions about what the law will be in Wales. Some decisions are also made by local authorities.
Everyone in Wales is represented in the UK Parliament, and in the National Assembly of Wales, by someone who has been elected for the job. You will have an MP (Member of Parliament) who represent you in the UK Parliament, and an AM (Assembly Member) who represents you in the National Assembly for Wales. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t vote for them, or that your parents didn’t vote for them. If you live in the area of Wales that they are responsible for, they have a duty to represent you.
This means that if you are worried about something you can ask your MP or your AM (or both!) to help you.
You can find out who your MP is here
You can find out who is your AM here
Start a petition
If you think something should be changed in Wales, you can set up a petition to ask the National Assembly for Wales or the Welsh Government to do something about it. The petition must be about something that the Welsh Government has the power to change.
If your petition is accepted and gets enough signatures, it will be considered by the Petitions Committee. If your petition gets over 5,000 signatures, it will be considered for a full debate by the National Assembly for Wales. However, even if you only get 50 signatures for your petition, the Petitions Committee will look at your petition and may decide to take further action. This could include asking for more evidence or inviting people to talk about the issue in the petition. The Petitions Committee might hold a short inquiry into the issue your petition raises, or pass it on to another committee to have a look at.
You can’t ask for a petition about a decision by a local authority that you might disagree with. You can’t petition the Welsh Government about something that is the responsibility of the UK Government – but there is a similar petition process for the UK Government.
In November 2018, the first elections for the Welsh Youth Parliament (WYP) will take place. Young people between the ages of 11-18 can stand for election, and children and young people between the same ages can register to vote in the elections.
Members of the WYP will sit for 2 years, representing either their ‘constituency’ – where they live in Wales – or a participating group chosen to ensure that the WYP represents all children and young people in Wales, from all walks of life and all communities.
The WYP will be able to feed into decision making by the National Assembly for Wales on specific issues. Anything that is a ‘devolved matter’ – something that the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government have power to change – can be addressed by the WYP. This list of devolved matters includes things like health, education, and the care system – all things that affect children and young people.
As a young person in Wales, you have a say about what happens by using your opportunity to vote for your member of the WYP through elections. If something is affecting you, you can raise it with your Member of the WYP (as well as with your local AM).
The UK Youth Parliament gives an opportunity for 11-18 year olds to be elected and take part in discussion and debate to bring about changes in the UK. There are 369 elected members of the UK Youth Parliament and all areas of the UK are represented – including Wales.
Find out more about the UK Youth Parliament here.
There may be a local Youth Council in your area. Youth Councils are organisations set up and run by and for young people under the age of 25 to have a say about things that are happening at a local level (rather than a national level – which is where the WYP would get involved). Local youth councils can link with youth councils in other areas through the British Youth Council.
COMPLAINING ABOUT HOW YOU HAVE BEEN TREATED
If you have to go to court and you are sentenced to spend time in Youth Detention Accommodation, the Youth Custody Service will decide which type of accommodation is most suitable for you (a Young Offenders Institution, a Secure Children’s Home or a Secure Training Centre). If you don’t agree with what is decided about where you should go, you can ask for the decision to be reviewed.
Sometimes, things that happen to you could mean that you can bring a legal claim. Some examples include
- if you have been hurt in an accident that was someone else’s fault
- if social services decide that you should be taken into care when you shouldn’t have been
- if you have been treated badly by the police
- if you have been wrongly excluded from school
In most cases, if you are under 18, you will have to bring your case through an adult – called your ‘litigation friend’ (‘litigation’ is the process of going to court). Your litigation friend could be your parent or guardian or another family member or friend (although they must be over 18). It could also be a solicitor. If you don’t know someone who could be your litigation friend, then the Official Solicitor can do this for you.
The Official Solicitor is a public office set up to look after the interests of young people (under the age of 18) and of adults who don’t have mental capacity to take part in legal proceedings, and there is no one else to do this. The Official Solicitor acts as a ‘litigation friend’ to help you bring the legal claim. The Official Solicitor doesn’t have any power to represent you outside the court system.
AND IF YOU CAN'T GET YOUR VOICE HEARD…
If you’re struggling to make your voice heard even though there are procedures in place, or a decision is being made where there doesn’t seem to be a way to make your voice heard, you can get in touch with the Children’s Commissioner, Wales.