I was given the opportunity to attend the School Nurse International Conference with 7 other young people to change the way school nurses carry out their role and the involvement of children and young people. It was incredible learning about issues in public health (i.e. childhood obesity, female genital mutilation, young carers and supporting and guiding vulnerable children) and how school nurses can be involved in things such as counselling and advice to help young people. It extremely eye-opening to see the resilience of school nurses and finally understanding the position they are put in and their immense capacity. We interviewed many school nurses from foreign countries (Denmark, Slovenia, USA, Sweden, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand) learning much about the difference in the processes that are taken place according to polices set in place by their government. It was my first time attending such an event and I am really grateful for such an opportunity.
At the end of the week, we created a poster called ‘Upfront and centre’ to show what we had learnt throughout the week. We had 8 big issues talk about and linked those back to how school nurses could involved. They were: young people involvement, stigmas, effective impact, improving young lives, vulnerable young people, making an influence, the care of young people and education.
Firstly, young people involvement related to helping more young people involved in the role of the school nurses and thus making a positive impact. We also talked about stigmas and how they are attached not only to mental health, but the public’s perception of young people. At the start of the week, we hung up underwear with words that people would associate with young people such as: arrogant, sexting, ignorant, lazy, useless, apathetic, gangs, lost generation, worthless, lost in screens, ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) and spoon-fed. We then turned that around and explained how school nurses can also help to change this perspective.
Thirdly, effective impact was mainly about our big issues can as a result make an effective in the careers of school nurses and also within the society. Improving young lives was about making young lives better by the counselling and support of school nurses. Vulnerable young people really shone to me personally as I was really moved by the presentation on Female Genital Mutilation by Tessy Ojo and the youth panel members from Youth for Change, Harry Phinda and Fatima Awil. Girls who have experienced female genital mutilation are left scarred and traumatised. Without the right help, the mental impact could possibly expand itself to something bigger than it really is. Through school nurses, girls are helped through that chapter of their lives and are given continuous support.
Making an influence was essentially about young people leaving a lasting influence on people and changing their negative perspectives of young people. The care of young people was heavily pertaining to young carers and the respite care that is offered to them and listening to their voice. School nurses are involved in this because they show the understanding and empathy required in the situation of young carers.
Lastly, education was about educating young people about the role of school nurses and how they can be an integral part of our lives in terms of not giving you a sick note to go home but instead helping us with whatever issues we may face.
The title of our presentation was called ‘Positive Change’ because of the positive change that young people and school nurses can make. Our graphic display was named ‘Upfront and centre’ because we, as young people, are at the centre of any decision making. We also showed the negative words associated with young people at the bottom and at the top was positive words about the young generation. These were: ambitious, passionate, inspirational, independent, community, equal, honest, determined, innovative, powerful and proud.
The week finished with a Gala Dinner at the beautiful Painted Hall, including a tribute to founder of School Nurse International, Mary E. Henley. Also, all of the school nurses made pledges to what they would try to change in their field of work. Some were: create more opportunities for young people, find more youth clubs and involve more young people in decisions that are made.
It was amazing to have made an influence at the conference and have represented young people as whole.
Cecilia Adekoya is from the North West Regional Youth Unit