Aiming Higher and making sure disabled children’s voice is heard

This week I attended and opened the annual Aiming Higher Conference in Wadebridge. It was great to see so many parents, carers and professionals making the time to attend. Over the years this conference has provided parents and professionals with an opportunity to come together and discuss how we will improve services for disabled children, young people and their families.

Sadly, over the last few years, our discussions have been over-shadowed by the scale of government cuts to public services. To put it in perspective, this is a cut of £45m since 2011 or one-third of the budget cut to the Children’s Services budget at Cornwall Council. This is why it is all the more important to find solutions together.

Genuine partnership working can be difficult to achieve because it requires mutual respect and trust as well as a solution-focused approach to the challenges and problems we are facing. I believe that we are fortunate in Cornwall that there has been a strong tradition of co-production to innovate service design and delivery. Comments from parents at last year’s conference said that they wanted to work in partnership, not just at the margin but to be fully engaged in some of the more difficult areas of service design. The conference is also a time for reflecting and celebrating what has been jointly achieved through partnership working between parents and professionals.

There are some examples of what has worked well and we need to listen to what does not work well. We also need to welcome the national recognition for Cornwall on how improvements can be made through co-production – even in the most challenging context of cuts to local government children’s services.

It is very important to look to the future, and to spend time asking ourselves; what services will be needed for disabled children, young people and their families in Cornwall over the next 5 or 10 years?

I put several questions to those in attendance. These were:

  • Do we have a shared understanding of the need?
  • Do we have an agreed set of outcomes we want to achieve for disabled children in Cornwall?
  • Do we agree what works and what does not work, and;
  • How are we going to balance an increase in demand, with further cuts in funding and an increase in individual expectations?

One thing for sure is we are going to have to do things differently. We will have to explore together those areas that will need to change. And most importantly, we will have to discuss how we can continue to work together to make the best use of limited resources.

This is why the experience, views and ideas from parents and Carters will help shape services for Disabled Children in Cornwall. We must together, truly aim higher for disabled children in Cornwall.

Part of the conference were heard from various keynote speakers. It was good to hear from Amanda Harvey from the Council of Disabled Children giving the national context.

We also heard from an inspirational young speaker called Molly Watt. Molly is registered visually impaired and deaf. She explained the difficulties in her educational journey and how she overcame them. From these experiences she set up her own company, The Molly Watt Trust to help raise awareness of Ushers Syndrome. Molly advises how government and companies make their services more accessible. Please have a look at her website HERE. She had a standing ovation from the audience on completion of her talk.

It is also not often you go to a conference and are handed a plastic water-proof cape. This meant I was going to get wet. However, I was more than willing to get wet and was honoured to be part of the Get Out There Act play (GOT Act). This play highlighted the journey of the group from where it started to where it is now. I have blogged about this fantastic group before. You can see their great work HERE. It was a great performance with a important message, made the audience laugh.