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Young people need to give their views

One of the roles of Healthwatch is getting views from the seldom heard and hard-to-reach and the one group that sums this up is Croydon’s youth. You may not be aware that Croydon has the largest under 15 population of all London boroughs with 22% of the population. This means 84,000 people who rarely get to have their say on services.

The reasons for this are not unusual. Firstly, most are in schools or family settings where it is difficult for us to access, compared with individual living independently. Secondly, since we tend to focus on conditions, and since most are lucky in good health, we don’t tend to come across them. Although mental health in children and young is now becoming a bigger priority, as it services for those with learning disabilities.

Two weeks ago, my week was bookended by two great opportunities to meet under 15s. At the South West London NHS Health and Care Plan event, I got to facilitate a table of Tudor Academy pupils from New Addington, and then Healthwatch Croydon participated in Youth Takeover day where we showed seven youths what we did and encouraged them to undertake outreach with us asking residents their views on services.

The young children aged 10-12 at the Health and Care Event, not only sung at the start of the event as part of their choir but stayed the whole morning to give their views on how health services could be changed or improved to meet their needs. There was literally a factory of ideas with tens of post-it notes on different ways that people could take control of their health and also get the services they need. There was a big emphasis on reducing isolation, learning about healthy eating and lifestyles and a focus on mental health and wellbeing. These articulate youngsters presented their views at the end of the session, and are a real credit to their school and their community.

I was inspired by their positivity and problem-solving focus. Having a chat with the Deputy Head of the school, she explained the community focus the school had. They run mother and baby groups to help raise the profile of the school but at the same time help with social isolation, which shows the roles that other organisations beyond health centres can give. With so many schools in Croydon, could they not be funded to provide services?  Especially as they connect with children and young families on a daily basis for 39 weeks of the year, not to mention after school and holiday clubs.

Hats off the Clinical Commissioning Group for building a good relationship with the school as well. As a result, they are very open to engagement as a result and Healthwatch have been invited to visit the school and gain views from parents and children alike.

On Youth Takeover day, we took seven 11-17 year olds, on two rounds of outreach at London Road Medical Centre, where they met social prescribing staff as well as patients. In the afternoon, we did a similar tour of the hospital main reception where we gained many comments on service, and where they also got to meet the new Interim Chief Executive of Croydon Health Services, Matthew Kershaw. Many of the teenagers found the process both interesting and challenging, having to do much active listening.

For us it was a good opportunity to hear their views on services as well, which were a little less forthcoming. It seems that many do not use services that much, leading us to think about how health and social care services can engage with this part of the population. Interestingly, many few used other services such as youth clubs, but they did all attend school, so maybe that is the approach that commissioners and providers need to focus on if they want this group to engage.  Other ways maybe through some council projects. Indeed, we had some useful conversations with the Youth team at Croydon Council, about working with the Young Congress and networks of young people to gain their views.

With so many challenges both around physical but also mental health, it is important that their voice is heard. After all, they are the future generation for Croydon and engaging them now, will ensure they are active citizens in the future, contributing to discussions on building better services for all.