Supporting children and young people’s healthy development recognises their place as equal citizens in our society and builds a brighter future for our State.
The challenges children and young people face continually evolve and need to be recognised and addressed by evidence-based programs, policy and legislation.
Monitoring children and young people’s wellbeing and considering the latest research is essential to inform decision making and develop innovative approaches.
Major achievements in 2016−17
Child safe organisations
The Commissioner’s Child Safe Organisations WA program promotes and supports the implementation of child safe principles and practices in organisations in WA. The program aims to help agencies identify and manage any risks that affect the safety and wellbeing of children and young people, including physical and sexual abuse, bullying and accidental injury.
In 2016–17, staff from the Commissioner’s office coordinated 21 whole-day, free seminars to increase understanding and use of the child safe principles and the resources published by the Commissioner’s office in May 2016.
A total of 427 people attended the seminars held in metropolitan and regional locations. The response to seminars indicates participants found them effective and useful to improve the capacity of organisations to establish strong child safe practices and policies – 98 per cent of surveyed participants agreed the information was relevant, 99 per cent agreed the resources were helpful, and 95 per cent said they felt able to review child safe strategies in their organisations as a result of the seminar.
In June 2017 new resources were released to provide targeted child safe information for children and young people, their parents/families and organisations working with children and their families:
- Top tips for making a complaint fact sheet for children and young people
- A three-minute Top tips for making a complaint video
- Child Safe Organisations: Information for parents and carers brochure and checklist – are aimed at supporting organisations’ child safe communication with children and families they work with.
Thinker in Residence
The Commissioner’s Thinker in Residence program invites leading researchers and practitioners to Western Australia to raise awareness about issues that impact the wellbeing of the state’s youngest citizens.
In 2016−17 the Commissioner hosted the fourth Thinker in Residence with e-mental health researcher and advocate Professor Jane Burns. Professor Burns is Professor of Innovation and Industry at The University of Sydney in the Faculty of Health Sciences. Her work focuses on driving practical and positive change in the community and the mental health sector, with a priority on uniting young people with researchers, practitioners and innovators to explore the role of technology in improving mental health programs and services.
The theme of the 2016−17 Thinker in Residence was strengthening children and young people's mental health and wellbeing through technology and social media, continuing the long-term focus the Commissioner’s office has placed on mental health. The Residency was directly supported by 10 government and non-government agencies that have a role in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of WA children and young people.
During Professor Burns’ Residency, which included a visit to Geraldton, more than 1,300 people attended events and meetings to discuss how children’s wellbeing could be further supported by taking advantage of new and emerging technologies.
The 2016−17 Thinker in Residence was structured in two phases. Phase One in late 2016 aimed to increase awareness about how technologies can be used to improve mental health and wellbeing for children and young people and how organisations could use technology to enhance or improve services and programs. Phase Two in 2017 focused on how organisations translated this research to practice and policy.
A full report on the residency was released in June and is available on the Commissioner’s website. The report identifies medium and longterm opportunities to enhance innovation in mental health service delivery, and provides a list of evidence-based social media and technology platforms that are available now to support children and young people’s mental health.
Monitoring complaints made by children and young people
Children and young people face unique barriers to raising concerns and making complaints.
In January 2016 the Commissioner published the office’s third report on complaints systems in government agencies which was detailed in last year’s annual report. This is a biennial survey to monitor the way government agencies deal with complaints and the trends in complaints made by, or on behalf of, children and young people.
The survey scheduled for the first half of 2017 was deferred due to Machinery of Government changes and will be undertaken in 2018.
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 2016 and May 2017.
As issues of national significance and common interest arise, ACCG members may decide to prepare a joint submission or paper. In the last year the Commissioner has led the process to undertake joint work regarding a national approach to evidenced-based practice in child protection.
The Commissioner works in a variety of ways to inform broad sectors of the community about issues affecting the wellbeing of WA children and young people and encourage positive change. In the last year the Commissioner gave major speeches and presentations on a broad range of issues such as youth justice, child safe organisations and the importance of listening to the views of children and young people. Examples of significant presentations include the keynote address at the WA Police Goldfields Officer in Charge Conference, Edith Cowan University School of Education Research Week Seminar and Neurodevelopmental and the Behavioural Paediatric Society of Australasia 2016 Annual Meeting.
The Commissioner also makes public comment in the media where this is appropriate and in the best interests of WA children and young people.
In 2016−17 the Commissioner had four opinion pieces published in major media outlets on the subjects of youth justice and supporting the mental health of children and young people. The Commissioner also published 18 media statements and provided other comments to media on issues relating to children and young people’s wellbeing.
The following is a list of major submissions in 2016–17 and does not indicate all submissions or representations made by the Commissioner during the year as some submissions may not be publicly available.
“So we can get other kids to speak up as well, not just a little bit of the kids. We want more kids to start speaking up so you can solve problems.”
11 year-old girl in residential care – out-of-home care consultation
Kimberley children and young people speak out on the impact of alcohol
In late 2016 the Commissioner lodged a formal objection to a proposed relaxing of takeaway alcohol sales restrictions in Fitzroy Crossing.
This objection sought to ensure that the views of local children and young people were heard in the decision making process.
Alcohol has had a devastating effect on the children and young people of the Fitzroy Valley and there is strong evidence that the current restrictions had been effective in reducing levels of alcohol-related harm, domestic violence and other destructive behaviours.
The Commissioner first met with children and young people during a regional visit to Fitzroy Crossing in April 2016, talking informally about the impact of excessive alcohol use on their lives, as well as receiving written feedback and
artwork from projects undertaken at school on this issue.
The Commissioner then partnered with Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services to undertake a community-based consultation project between April and August 2016.
Nindilingarri’s ‘Hearing their voices’ project aimed to collect the views about alcohol-related harm of children and young people living in the communities of Fitzroy Valley using workshops, photography and art. Eleven workshops were run by locally-based staff across the region in Yakanarra, Muludja, Yiyili, Yirramalay Studio School, Fitzroy Crossing and Kurlku Cultural Camp and at youth drop-in centres.
190 children and young people, ranging in age from seven to 17 years, participated in the activities, with 61 of them officially A recurrent theme was that these children and young people felt safer and better cared for when their community was alcohol-free, and these views were clearly portrayed in the Commissioner’s submission.
The Director of Liquor Licensing’s determination, released in January 2017, was to refuse the application to relax liquor restrictions in Fitzroy Crossing and the Commissioner stated he was pleased that the views of these young people have been heard and their wellbeing protected.
“I don’t like people get drunk around kids” 11 year-old girl
“When there is more grog in town I don’t feel safe” 9 year-old girl
“Some people go through my house and I don’t feel safe” 9 year-old boy
“People fight and I feel low” 8 year-old boy
“When your parents get drunk you will be worried all night when you sleep and you will be crying” 10 year-old girl
“More parents drinking at home and less care for their children” 14 year-old girl
“When someone drinks, I feel sad because they don’t look after me” 7 year-old girl