CREATE held their third international conference, Voices in Action: empowering young people for positive change in the heart of Sydney from 10 – 12 August 2017. The International Convention Centre Sydney was graced with over 400 young people, carers, sector workers and academics from around Australia and the world to learn, have their voices heard and come together to empower young people for positive change.
DAY ONE: THURSDAY
The excitement and energy was next-level with everyone looking forward to three awesome days of connecting with new and old friends, feeling empowered and working together to change the system for the better. To open the conference, Walangari Karntawarra began with an Acknowledgement of Country and an awesome Digeridoo performance, followed by a Young Person Address by Aboriginal Young Consultant Taz from Queensland.
We were fortunate to have a National Welcome from Megan Mitchell, the National Children’s Commissioner and Michael Coutts-Trotter, Secretary for FACS NSW and of course, CREATE’s CEO and wonder woman Jacqui Reed! Inspirational surfing legend Layne Beachley truly kicked the conference off with a bang by telling her story of becoming a world champion and her quest to find belonging and battling perception. Her story truly touched and inspired everyone in the room, and definitely set the exhilarating and empowering tone for the rest of the conference.
The rest of the day was filled with a variety of sessions including fun and expressive art and song writing workshops with Freedom Road Creative Arts exclusively for young people and engaging and insightful workshops on topics like identity, extending the leaving care age, youth justice and mental health. To conclude the first day, we were touched by Scottish care-leaver Thomas’ journey and the impact the advocacy of Who Cares? Scotland had on the care system in Scotland. There was also an insightful panel on Participation as facilitated by Dr Tim Moore, reminding us all of the importance of young people leading their decision-making, and having decisions made with them and not for them.
DAY TWO: FRIDAY
After the fun and excitement of day one, everyone was invigorated and buzzing for the second day of Voices in Action, and of course, the conference dinner. NSW Young Consultant Emily gave us the ins and outs of day one, while Commissioner Bob Atkinson, provided an update on the Royal Commission. One of our international guests, Dr Justin Rogers from the University of Bath in the UK, delivered an amazing presentation on the ‘Value of Undertaking Research with Children and Young People’ and gave us some insights into his ‘Fostering Hope’ project that is all about changing people’s perceptions.
The rest of the day was jam-packed with an array of sessions that allowed us to have some fun and see the sights of Darling Harbour like the Sights Scavenger Hunt or the Body Percussion workshop, while there was some more serious sessions on participation, decision-making and education. The afternoon plenary sessions were a chance to listen to our New Zealand friends at VOYCE, and of course, we were inspired by Young Consultants from around Australia discussing important topics like stigma and language.
On Friday evening, we discovered the talents of CREATE Young Consultant Reg Townsend as Master of Ceremonies for our conference dinner! Guests also experienced beautiful voices from three CREATE Young People, Sharnece, Louella and Jacob performing the rendition on the National Anthem followed by a presentation by Rachel Robinson from Platinum Sponsor Churches of Christ Queensland and by Dancekool’s young performers who injected a great cocktail of energy in the room. His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley, Governor of New South Wales was next on stage and emphasised wonderfully the need to invest in our young people as they are the future of our nation. The evening continued to be entertaining with talented African singer Titoko and his musician followed by equally gifted Liam and Luke from Freedom Road in the UK. Everyone joined the dancefloor as soon as DJ Dan Garcia hit the decks…. There were some amazing breakdancing to be witnessed! The conference dinner was a great success and a night to remember for many young people and people working in the sector.
DAY THREE: SATURDAY
The final day of the conference was opened by CREATE’s very own Executive Director Research, Dr Joseph McDowall, who talked us through CREATE’s very important research and the importance of listening to the voices of children and young people in care. The audience was then captivated by the ever-energetic Gregory Nicolau, whose presentation on how to effectively engage with traumatised young people had everyone talking, laughing and thinking!
The afternoon followed with a collection of breakout sessions with topics including how to empower teenage girls, employment for those leaving care and advocating for changes to the education system to better engage those in care. On the main stage, we heard from Mr Zed Seselja, Assistant Minister for Social Services. Then a group of courageous young people performed a song they had written during the conference entitled Speak Up, Speak Out, which encouraged everyone to “let our voices lead the change”. To close the conference young people in the audience were asked what they would be taking away from the previous three days, and many expressed the greatest thing they had received was experiencing genuine acceptance, connection and confidence in themselves.
A huge, heartfelt thank you to all our sponsors, AMP Capital, Department of Social Services, Churches of Christ Care, Life Without Barriers and Barnardos for all of their support to make our conference a huge success. Thank you to our international speakers as well, for travelling all the way to Australia to provide our audience with relevant insights about the care system from an international perspective.
Thank you to all of the CREATE Young Consultants who assisted with introduced sessions, delivered speeches, participated in panels, assisted during workshops, interviewed conference guests, compered the dinner, danced in a monkey suit, and to all the young people who attended, who supported and encouraged other young people and most of all, participated and shared their voices with us!