Helen Dale is Engagement Officer for the Wales Observatory on the Human Rights of Children and Young People, based at the Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law, Swansea University. She is also Research Assistant for the Little Voices / Lleisiau Bach project, which was shortlisted for the NCCPE Engage Award 2016 in the Engaging with Young People category.
In contrast to the 15th century adage, Helen Dale has long believed that children should very much be seen and, in particular, heard. She has spent an entire career working with children and young people, ensuring that they have a voice on issues that affect them.
Early inspiration and education
Helen’s path to the engaged research which underpins so much of her career started, as is often the case, early in life. Inspired by her sister, who was working with young people, she began volunteering at a youth club for under-7s and soon became immersed in the challenge of helping them and children like them to find a way of making their voices heard.
She says: “I really wanted to be a teacher, but when I saw the community-based work that was going on it really steered me in that direction.”
Her move into the sixth form at school gave her access to a new subject – sociology – which she studied at A Level before taking the subject to degree level at University of Wales Institute Cardiff. From there, it was a relatively short hop to the University of Wales Trinity St David to take a Master’s degree in Education and Society: Youth and Community.
Armed with an impressive raft of qualifications, it remained only to decide where to put them to the best possible use.
Starting off at Funky Dragon
An organisation called Funky Dragon (The Children and Young People’s Assembly for Wales), which had a very publicly stated mission to ‘enable children and young people in Wales to get their voices heard by Government and others who make decisions about policies and services that affect their lives’, was a natural place for Helen to further pursue her passion.
Whilst employed at Funky Dragon, as part of a Big Lottery funded project to work on a report to the UN by young people below the age of 11, Helen found herself co-ordinating the youngsters as researchers – a participative approach to data collection that very much underpins the work that has followed since.
Ultimately, though, core government funding for Funky came to an end and for a while it looked as though the Little Voices / Lleisiau Bach project might stall. Those concerns were short-lived.
Making history at the United Nations
Helen says: “When Funky Dragon lost its funding we were very lucky that Associate Professor Jane Williams adopted what we were doing into the Wales Observatory on Human Rights of Children and Young People.”
Little Voices Shouting Out / Lleisiau Bach Yn Galw Allan - the Big Lottery funded project which Helen led with Jane Williams and, at the University of Bangor, Arwyn Roberts – made history by giving children under the age of 11 an opportunity to present their findings to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Helen, whose formal role is Research Assistant to the project, also now works two days each week as an Engagement Officer for Children and Young People, a responsibility she enjoys.
Further Big Lottery funding has enabled a three-year project called Little Voices Being Heard to build on the legacy of Little Voices / Lleisiau Bach, working towards age-inclusive co-production. Helen is excited to see where that leads. The project will help young voices reach influencers and decision-makers in a way that can effect tangible outcomes like policy creation or change
“My advice is in life is to do something you love,” she says. “That’s all I’m doing, really – something I love.”