Family time

Family Voice conference

Family Voice conference - Credit: Archant

Family Voice Norfolk is helping people to shape the services that give them and their children the support they need. Rachel Buller reports.

Karen Wooddrissee, of Family Voice Norfolk

Karen Wooddrissee, of Family Voice Norfolk - Credit: Archant

For the families of children with special and additional needs, it isn’t always easy to know where to turn to for support or how to get your voice heard. This month, the fifth annual Family Voice conference takes place in Norwich, bringing together professionals working across education, health and the voluntary sector with parents and carers, enabling them to have their say on the issues that matter to them.

“It can be very difficult for parents to find their way around the new world that they find themselves in when their child has additional needs,” says Karen Wooddissee, Family Voice steering group member. “It is almost impossible to know where to start. We need the practitioners who become involved with our families to help us navigate and understand the new language we need to learn.”

The organisation represents families in Norfolk with children with special and additional needs and provides a liaison point for statutory and voluntary agencies. Those parents and carers who help form the collective also share a single ambition – to aim high for their children and help them achieve the best future possible. Family Voice not only points them in the direction of service providers, it gives them a chance to shape policy through their own experiences.

“We are not a service and don’t offer help or support, but we hold our annual conference to enable families to meet the people who do provide services to our families. It is an opportunity to find out what is available and most importantly an opportunity to meet the decision-makers and influence their thinking.”

As well as looking at areas of health and education, parents are able to explain the importance of additional services which have proved vital to their children – from early language development, preparation for adulthood to the importance of short breaks and mental health services.

The conference, on Saturday, March 21, is free to attend and includes lunch. Children’s activities will also be available throughout the day and everyone is welcome to attend. Family Voice Norfolk is independent and has a presence on many groups and project boards, so it can represent the feelings and needs of families at a strategic level.

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Karen says it is essential to enable parents to influence policy and that it can be very effective: “Family Voice Norfolk is one of 150 parent carer forums partly funded by the Department for Education to work strategically with local services to design, develop and review the services our families use. We are members of the National Network of Parent Carer Forums and have a regional parent carer representative, currently a Norfolk parent, who ensures that our voice is heard at national Government level too.”

To book a place at the conference, on Saturday, March 21, 10am to 3.30pm, at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, see or call 07950 302937.

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