School nurses are a small, often stretched workforce, yet the recent School Nurses International Conference provided an opportunity for the voice of the school nursing workforce to be heard. Over 300 delegates from across the globe, all with a passion for improving the health and wellbeing of children and young people, descended on Greenwich for the 18th Biennial School Nurses' International Conference in July. Although the main audience was school nurses, it was refreshing to welcome nurses from CAMHS, mental health, youth justice and children's services.
The delegates soon found themselves engrossed in debating sensitive issues including FGM and child sexual exploitation. Key public health issues that resonated across the international platform included obesity, mental health and sexual health. Some issues not discussed by our international colleagues provided food for thought including young carers and military families.
The incredible line up of expert speakers provided a wealth of international evidence, data and research, while practitioners shared examples of excellent practice and young people shared their life experiences.
We often hear that it is hard to engage young people. I disagree. It is more about the way we as professionals seek to engage young people, who need to be recognised as active participants rather than passive recipients of healthcare. If we are to shift the balance towards sustained behaviour change and self-care to tackle key public health issues we have to work with young people and work within their 'space'.
School nurses repeatedly shine as leaders in this space. The rich learning from this engagement can be shared across all professional disciplines and with all nurses who regularly have contact with children and young people.
The breadth of subjects covered during this event illustrated the complexity and far-reaching role of school nurses, which is too often underplayed. Perhaps practitioners are just too busy to be loud and proud? As nurse leaders, we need to create more opportunities to share and develop stronger networks and encourage teams to shout louder.
A special thank you to Sharon White and the School and Public Health Nurse Association, our co-hosts of the event. Also a huge thanks to Youth Foria, the Diana Awards, NHS Youth forum, the Department for International Development, FGM Youth panel and Kissing it Better for the young people's engagement.
Wendy Nicholson, national lead nurse for children, young people and families, PHE