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Influencing - policy, services, attitudes and outcomes

Child safe organisations

A suite of resources to aid Western Australian organisations in strengthening their child safe principles and practices was released in early 2016. The Child Safe Organisations WA resources, including guidelines, self-assessment tool and training manual, have been in development for two years (see case study below). 

Mental health and monitoring the implementation of the recommendations of the Report of the Inquiry into Mental Health and Wellbeing of Children and Young People

Mental health remains a consistent theme that impacts significantly on the wellbeing of children and young people across WA. In December 2015 the Commissioner tabled the report, Our Children Can’t Wait: Review of the implementation of recommendations of the 2011 Report of the Inquiry into the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people in WA, in State Parliament.

The report detailed findings of a review of the implementation of recommendations of the 2011 Report of the Inquiry into the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people and includes 12 new recommendations. This review found that while there had been considerable activity and some major developments, significant gaps and challenges remained. Services and supports for children under the age of 12 years, Aboriginal children and young people, and children and young people who are vulnerable such as those in the justice or the out-of-home care systems require particular attention. Access to early intervention and treatment programs for those with mild to moderate mental illness was also identified as a gap in service. The Commissioner will continue to work with agencies to promote and monitor the implementation of the recommendations of both the initial Inquiry in 2011 and the new recommendations set out in the 2015 report.

The Commissioner also facilitated the return to WA of former Thinker in Residence Dr Michael Ungar who ran a series of workshops for key agencies on building resilience in vulnerable children and young people, with a particular focus on those in the youth justice and out-of-home care systems.

Additional work in the area of mental health included a submission to the WA Parliament Standing Committee on Education and Health’s Inquiry into Aboriginal Youth Suicides.

In Children’s Week 2015 the Commissioner hosted a seminar, Addressing Bullying Behaviour in Children and Young People. The seminar was attended by almost 350 people and included presentations by Professor Donna Cross, psychologists and Cyber Savvy Ambassadors. 

Aboriginal children and young people

In August 2015 the acting Commissioner was joined by a group of Aboriginal students to table in State Parliament the consultation report “Listen To Us”: Using the views of WA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people to improve policy and service delivery.

The report is based on a consultation undertaken in 2014−15 involving 1,271 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people across WA, the largest single consultation to be completed by the Commissioner’s office to date and arguably the biggest consultation ever undertaken with Aboriginal children and young people in WA.

Listen To Us details eight key strategies in which more focused investment is required.

Two other publications from the consultation were released in August:

A briefing on the key findings and strategies from the consultation was held in late 2015 for senior executives across government whose agencies work directly with children and young people. Almost 400 people from the non-government sector and broader community attended a seminar on the consultation findings in November 2015. Resources from this seminar have been made available online.

In addition to this project, the Commissioner made a submission to the WA Parliament Standing Committee on Education and Health’s Inquiry into Aboriginal Youth Suicides and released a public statement that a long-term approach must be maintained to address the deeply complex issues that some Aboriginal communities face that put children’s lives at risk.

In April 2016 the Commissioner attended the Kimberley Aboriginal Children in Care Committee’s forum. This two-day forum was led by Aboriginal organisations in partnership with the Department for Child Protection and Family Support, bringing together key stakeholders to discuss the over-representation of Aboriginal children in state care.

Child protection

Protecting children and young people from harm should be every community’s top priority. The Commissioner has continued to focus on advocacy work in the areas of family violence, access to services and supports for children and young people in out-of-home care, homelessness, and the need for early intervention and family support programs, particularly effective support for parents to provide nurturing and safe environments for children and young people.

Former Thinker in Residence Dr Michael Ungar returned to Perth to provide further support and training for people working with children in the out-of-home care system and also presented a workshop for foster parents to enable them to respond effectively to children who have experienced trauma.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has continued to highlight the appalling, life-long legacy of child sexual abuse. In addition to the Child Safe Organisations WA project, the Commissioner has provided evidence to the Royal Commission on a range of matters relating to the prevention, identification and management of child sexual abuse.

Youth justice

Young people’s involvement in the criminal justice system is an ongoing priority for the office. The over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in the youth justice system is of particular concern.

One of the 12 recommendations in the Commissioner’s Our Children Can’t Wait report supported the need for a forensic mental health service to provide relevant assessment, diagnosis and access to treatment for children and young people involved in the youth justice system. The Commissioner will continue to monitor action on this recommendation and advocate for such services to be implemented as a matter of priority.

In conjunction with other Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians the Commissioner has authored a paper on Human Rights Standards in youth detention facilities in Australia. The paper sets out the standards and current practices in relation to the use of restraint, disciplinary regimes and other specified practices and is intended to provide a discussion point for the development of policy and practice in youth justice detention facilities to support systems in complying with human rights obligations and provide appropriate environments for the young people who are detained.

The Commissioner provided a submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission on the Optional Protocol for the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). In the submission the Commissioner supported the development of a National Preventative Mechanism to monitor the conditions of children and young people held in places of detention. 

Disengagement from mainstream education

In 2015–16 work began on a major project that focuses on the factors that support children and young people’s engagement in school, learning and education.

This project has been informed by a literature review on student ‘disengagement’ undertaken by Telethon Kids Institute for the Commissioner and published in August 2015–16.

The project is supported by a Reference Group comprising representatives from all education sectors, academics and government and non-government agencies.

The Commissioner’s 2016 Advisory Committees are also providing advice − ensuring the development of this project is informed by children and young people.

The first phase of the project – the School and Learning Consultation – will be a state-wide survey that will ask children and young people about the factors that influence their engagement in school and learning. Students from Year 3 to Year 12 in schools from all education sectors and all regions of WA will be involved.

The information from the consultation will be published in the second half of 2016–17.

Children and young people with disability
The Commissioner has special regard for the needs of children and young people with disability throughout all of the work undertaken by the office, although some work specifically focuses on the needs of those with disability. In 2015 the School of Special Education Sensory Advisory Committee was appointed as one of the Commissioner’s Advisory Committees. This Committee investigated the impact of social media on the health and wellbeing of young people with a sensory loss. The report of their survey highlighted the importance of social media citing benefits such as facilitating communication, fun and providing a level playing field for the participation of some children and young people with disability.

The Commissioner also made a number of submissions relating to the needs of children and young people with disability including commenting on the adequacy of support for students with disability in schools. In submissions and other advocacy work, such as meetings with key decision makers, the Commissioner draws on the views and ideas put forward by children and young people with disability gathered in consultations and meetings. In addition to the meetings with the Sensory Advisory Committee the Commissioner also met with children engaged with wheelchair basketball in Melville.

Early childhood

Early childhood remains an ongoing area of work for the Commissioner’s office as it is difficult to overstate the importance of establishing, during the first five years of life, a sound foundation for lifelong health and wellbeing.

The Commissioner was pleased to host, in conjunction with Child Australia, a roundtable discussion with early childhood expert Naomi Eisenstadt in August 2015. As the first director of the United Kingdom’s Sure Start Unit, Ms Eisenstadt was responsible for delivering the government’s commitment to education for three and four year-olds and the national child care strategy, along with extended services for families of school-aged children aimed at reducing the gap in outcomes for children living in disadvantaged areas.

Ms Eisenstadt spoke of her work and learnings in the UK and their relevance to some of the early childhood initiatives underway in WA that are based on collaborative and holistic service delivery models to better support vulnerable children and their families.

The Commissioner continues to meet with early years groups in both regional and metropolitan areas to hear about the issues affecting infants and young children and access to services and supports. Advocacy has particularly focused around the gaps in service provision in relation to mental health identified in the Our Children Can’t Wait report.

Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians Group (ACCG)

Every Australian State and Territory has a Child Guardian and/or Commissioner office, each guided by specific State legislation. Despite the differences in statutory function between these jurisdictions, the Commissioners and Guardians collaborate where possible and meet twice a year to share information and plan joint advocacy projects.

The ACCG met in November 2015 and May 2016. 

As issues of national significance and common interest arise, ACCG members may decide to prepare a joint submission or paper. In the last year this has included joint work regarding regulation of domestic and international surrogacy, and human rights issues in youth justice detention centres.

Social media

In August 2015 the Commissioner released a literature review on the impact of social media on the wellbeing of children and young people. Highlighting both the positive and negative impacts, the evidence presented in this report showed that social media had an impact on different aspects of young people’s lives, including access to information on health and wellbeing, supporting learning, providing opportunity for leisure and recreation, and developing support networks. This was consistent with the information provided by the Sensory Advisory Committee’s project.

The Commissioner has also made representations to the National e-Safety Commissioner on child-friendly complaints systems and to a Commonwealth Parliamentary Inquiry into the harm done to Australian children through access to pornography on the internet.

To progress work in this area the 2016−17 Thinker in Residence will focus on using social media to enhance children and young people’s wellbeing.

#Case study

Case study

Children should feel safe and respected wherever they are

Children have the right to be properly cared for and to be protected from violence, abuse and neglect at all times and in all places (Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 19). 

In April 2016 the Commissioner released the Child Safe Organisations WA resources and seminar series to support WA organisations to systematically consider and implement strategies to ensure children and young people feel safe and respected wherever they are.

Child Safe Organisations WA is a long-term, strategic approach to improving the safety and protection of WA children and young people, developed in response to the work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and other inquiries both in Australia and overseas.

The resources are structured on nine domains that have been informed by an expert reference group, the available materials and frameworks of other jurisdictions, research, the work of the Royal Commission and the views of 365 children who took part in a consultation on this topic in 2014−15.

The resources are:

Child Safe Organisations WA: Guidelines – over-arching document outlining the nine domains, intended to assist a broad range of organisations become more child safe.

Child Safe Organisations WA: Self-Assessment and Review Tool – designed to be used with the guidelines to assess current organisational practices, recognise strengths, identify areas for further improvement and outline what still needs to be done.

Child Safe Organisations WA: In brief – designed to promote sharing of information within a workplace or with an organisation’s stakeholders.

Feeling safe and respected wherever you are – produced as a hardcopy handout and an online animation for organisations to use when discussing child safe messages with children and young people.

The resources aim to create child safe and friendly organisations across the community that value children, understand safety does not just happen and skilfully balance a safety focus with positive interactions and environments that contribute to the healthy development of children and young people.

The Commissioner’s staff delivered seven Child Safe Organisations WA seminars between April and June 2016 attended by 165 people, with a state-wide program of seminars planned for the year ahead.

In addition a strategic briefing and roundtable with executives of government and non-government agencies was held by the Commissioner and Royal Commissioner Professor Helen Milroy. This important area of work now transitions into an ongoing program to provide information and support to government departments and community services to encourage use of the resources to strengthen and implement child safe strategies at all levels of their organisations.

“As the state’s flagship contemporary dance company, Co3 have found the resources and training conducted by the Commissioner for Children and Young People as a welcome call to action that provide an in-depth and systematic review of practices in relation to child safety.

The strength of the resources is that they are practical and get you thinking; you are able to initiate a review in manageable steps, reflecting upon one aspect of your operations at a time. Since attending the CCYP-led training, a dialogue around child safety and friendliness has been opened at a governance level within Co3, and discussions have begun with colleagues working within the wider WA arts sector with the potential for more arts-specific training.

Co3 is definitely more confident to implement strategies in how we operate in terms of child safety at an executive level, and also have been prompted to think more deeply about the child-friendliness of the company.”

Richard Longbottom, Community Engagement Director, Co3