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Talented students at Edge Hill University have designed and developed a new app to help a children’s charity reach more vulnerable young people.

Students in the University’s Department of Computer Science have designed an app for the National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS).

NYAS, which provides advocacy and legal representation, hopes the app will offer a direct line of communication to children stuck in difficult and traumatic situations.

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales, helped launch the App in the House of Commons (12 October).

He said:

“Apps are how the younger generation communicate nowadays and I’m delighted to be here to celebrate this app which is doing something vitally important. You need to be at the cutting edge, communicating with young people on their own terms and this app does that.”

The app offers instant messaging and in-app phone calls to NYAS’ telephone helpline and crucially enables young people to self-refer.

A key design element is that information, such as material about being in care, is embedded within the password protected app meaning it can be used offline.

During the launch Claire Lyons, 21, a NYAS ambassador, spoke of her experience of the care system and how having an advocate had changed her life for the better.

She said:

“My brother, sister and I were taken into care when we were eight, six and four. Both of my parents were alcoholics and we were often left for long periods of time without gas and electricity. On one occasion we were left for three weeks with just raisins and toilet rolls to eat. Sometimes we even ate the plaster off our bedroom walls.

“However, for us being taken into care was not a relief. We were placed in the care of a family member, who was mentally cruel to us and physically abused us. For my younger brother and sister – this abuse went on for many years. It was only when I was referred to NYAS and given an advocate that I was given the support I needed which enabled me to go forward and improve my life.”

She added: “Many young people are too scared to pick up the phone or tell anyone what’s happening to them. This app means they can get information and then reach out for help in a way that suits them.  If it had been available when I was younger I might have been able to contact NYAS sooner.”

The app will be hosted across social media platforms and be available from the App Store from 1 November.

Professor Mark Anderson from Edge Hill’s Department of Computer Science, said: “What makes this app great is that it’s designed by young people for young people, so it’s relevant and reflects what they want.

“Our students met with NYAS young ambassadors and they told us how they’d use the app and what features would make them want to use it and more importantly keep using it.

“The next stage is further app development, including more age-appropriate features and other systems based projects.”

He added: “This partnership not only offers great practical opportunities for our students but also reflects the University’s commitment to helping and improving the well-being and mental health of young people through education, research and innovation.”

Rita Waters, CEO of NYAS, said:  “Times are changing and we need to reflect the digital world. We’re delighted to be the only national advocacy charity providing an app.

“Our young people helped develop the app, they said they wanted it to work offline and have a bright display. They wanted a being in care section for those going into, or living in care, and we’ve put all the questions they might ask into the app so they can be answered at the touch of a button.

“The app means they can get reassurance from people there to help them and it’s also user friendly for professionals who can use it as a reference point. Our thanks go to Edge Hill University for helping us to reach out and engage with more young people than ever before.”

The app also features digital life stories videos which cover many situations NYAS’s young people find themselves in and has links to the charity’s new website.

Speaking at the launch, Professor Tanya Byron, Chancellor of Edge Hill University, said:

“Children and young people suffer lots of issues due to lack of attachment and abuse and neglect. Everyone needs someone to nurture and support them, I’m really lucky as for me that was my mum, but for many children they don’t have anyone. That’s why NYAS is absolutely vital.”

She added: “There is a digital generation divide and I’m very proud that Edge Hill is able to help NYAS by creating solutions to digital problems in the hope of reaching thousands more vulnerable young people.”