Northern Ireland Youth Forum

The Youth Forum was set up by NI Government in 1979 to promote the voice of young people and involve them in the policy making process. The Youth Forum believes that young people have an important role to play. The Youth Forum exists to support young people to affect positive change for themselves and for their communities; we believe young people sound be invested in; can be part of the solution; want to be empowered and must be listened to. We believe that one person can make a difference; and that together we can achieve great things. Although we provide a universal service we work hard to involve those young people who are traditionally excluded; therefore providing more resources to reach out to those negatively affected by deprivation; poverty; exclusion etc. The NI Youth Forum is the only Youth Led Regional Orgnisation tasked with the participation of (all) Young People in NI. The Youth Forum is entirely Youth Led. As a leader in the field of Participation, the Youth Forum has cultivated an active membership of young people, and participative structures, to set the strategic direction of our work. For over 30 years the Youth Forum has led the way in promoting the voice of young people. We have effectively strengthened the direct voice of young people in the work that government does. A 12-person voluntary management committee, made up of young people, elected from within the membership, work closely with the staff team to oversee the implementation of the strategy, and ensure that young people are fully involved in all levels of governance. We have a strong track record in ensuring the effective participation of young people in the communities’, services and structures that make up their lives. This has included many years of training young people in their rights, developing the awareness, confidence and skills of young people, lobbying and advocacy, influencing policy, developing forums for consultation and informing the debate and practice of participation. In recent years the Youth Forum’s members have been centrally involved in shaping Department of Education’s Youth Work Strategy. The NIYF is accessible to any young person aged 11 to 25 who is interested in our work or wants our support. We have developed particular expertise in seeking the views of marginalised young people and groups of young people who tend to be overlooked. The Youth Forum has operated now for just over 32 years. This has spanned much of the time of the Troubles in NI. Young People from all backgrounds have been coming to the Youth Forum for over three decades to discuss issues of importance to them; hence the Youth Forum has always prided it's self in providing safe space for young people to engage with each-other as well as with decision makers. We know that the number one priority for many young people is having somewhere to go and something to do. Young people identify ‘places to go’ and ‘things to do’ as the most important things that would improve their life experience. It is important to young people that these places and activities were available in the evenings and at weekends and were affordable. They should also give the young people the opportunity to ‘hang out’ and meet other young people. The majority of young people were not aware of local projects and groups they could get involved in. Young people from disadvantaged communities often tell us of a lack of facilities in their areas. They felt that alcohol use was inevitable because there was nowhere to go and nothing to do. The need for safe neutral space for young people to socialise and get involved in positive activity in Northern Ireland is obvious to see. Such facilities in NI are rare - i.e. providing for young people from all sides of our community on a regional basis. The NIYF provides this. Our communities are segregated; the affects of decades of conflict are there for all to see. Our young people are engrained with sectarianism and bigotry. Yes we are moving forward, but community relations should still be central to the work that we do. It is well documented that safe neutral spaces for young people to go can have a lasting impact on breaking down these barriers. The Youth Forum prides it's self in providing, safe, neutral, accessible space for young people. This acts as a catalyst for developmental and issue based work. NIYF boasts employing the regional experts in the field of participation in NI. Each of our staff members are professionally qualified and seen as experts in the field. The Quality of our work is always number one priority. Our work must be enjoyable and meaningful for young people. We are flexible in our approach and place much emphasis on the relationship between staff and young people - this is seen as one of our great strengths. We believe that with the right people we can achieve anything. As documented throughout - Young People run the Youth Forum. Ultimately it is them who are responsible for 'hiring and firing' of staff. The Youth Forum is 100% Youth Led. The Youth Forum's work is diverse and wide ranging. Much of our focus is on supporting young people to participate in the decision making process and to have a voice on issues that concern them. AS such, we deliver a wide range of training and capacity building courses for young people. Some are accredited and some non accredited. Our courses range from aspirational and inspirational focus; to community and civic action and even political education. Our work is designed to enhance the personal and social development of young people and is based on the individual needs of the young person. Many of the young people we work with engage in personal decision making capacity building projects. We believe that once a young person can become comfortable and confident within one's self a sound basis has been developed in order to take on some of life's so called bigger decisions. Our accredited training suite consists of around 12 different courses at a range of levels. our non accredited training is developed following a needs assessment of the group or individual and is based on an outcomes framework. We advocate strongly that this kind of work - i.e. supporting young people to grow - must be meaningful and enjoyable for the young person. We deliver our work in this way. One of the KPI's (Key Priority Areas) in our Strategic plan is support. Through the work we do we encourage young people to take on leadership roles and advocate on behalf of their peers. We realise that not all young people have the confidence or desire to engage with our civic leaders but also realise that these young people also have a key role to play. In supporting young people we include support to engage with other young people; youth projects or civic leaders. We support young people through our training and capacity building as outlined previously; and we also support fellow practitioners - especially given that our work is extremely specialist. The Youth Forum has some of the most robust and fair systems in the sector. We employ the strictest procedures in the recruitment and supervision of staff to ensure we have the best and most supported and motivated team of professionals in the business. Our supervision flexi and TOIL policies help us to ensure that we have an energised professional staff team available to young people at all times. We place a lot of emphasis on the relation ships between staff members and young people - this is one of the things that is very important to young people; and in youth work terms the voluntary relationship is of paramount importance. Young people know that there is always someone on the team available to listen. We always make time when young people drop in regardless of how busy we are. Lack of resources is never a barrier to our work. Our innovation and enthusiasm helps us overcome this. Much of our work over the years has involved us supporting young people in developing community projects. Sometimes linked to small grants schemes, and some times not involving money. This kind of work is part and parcel of our everyday operation. Our strap line is to promote the voice of young people. besides this we place young people at the centre, and indeed the forefront of everything we do. We ensure that young people are promoted as being part of the solution as oppose to the problem. The Youth Forum believes that young people have an important role to play. The Youth Forum exists to support young people to affect positive change for themselves and for their communities; we believe young people sound be invested in; can be part of the solution; want to be empowered and must be listened to. We believe that one person can make a difference; and that together we can achieve great things. We believe that every young person has a part to play - no part too big nor too small. We believe in celebrating young people - they are the present and the future, they have so much to bring to society. We place significant emphasis on PR and publicising the great work of young people both within the Youth Forum and through local structures. We use new and traditional media to do this including social networking, SMS text, the internet, e-mail, newspaper, radio, TV, and word of mouth - which often works best!! We are passionate about promoting young people in a positive light. We are confident that all of our work does this. As outlined previously - the NIYF is run by young people for young people. We are governed by a management committee made up of young people. Young People 'control' our strategy, finances and corporate affairs. Staff are employed by the committee (Young People) to impalement an operational plan as set out by young people themselves. A great deal of our capacity building and training is in the area of leadership. We delivery a wide range of courses, accredited and non accredited which aim at promoting leadership among young people at local; sub regional, regional and national levels. Young people are the main power brokers in the Youth Forum. Our work is support young people to take on leadership roles. We are fully committed to promoting leadership opportunities. Furthermore, through the work of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum, young people have been at the heart of the decision making process for over 3 decades. This work was ongoing long before any of the more recent legislation was in place that document young people’s rights in this area. In this sense the Youth Forum was well ahead of its time. Young people have actively played a roll in the decision making process, for many years, through their involvement in the Youth Forum. Because of our unique link to the Department of Education young people have played a particularly role in shaping DE and Youth Service policy.
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