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From the Commissioner

Hearing and promoting the voices of Western Australia’s children and young people continued to be the priority for my office over the last 12 months.

It is always a privilege in this role to meet so many children and young people around the state who are open and insightful in their discussions with myself and my team about the issues that are important to them.

In the last year, 2,212 children and young people shared their views with my office across a range of topics and issues, including living in regional WA, how they like to participate in decision making processes, access to services and supports, mental health, and the factors that help and diminish their engagement with learning and school.

The School and Learning Consultation is the largest consultation undertaken by this office, with 1,800 students from Year 3 to Year 12 providing valuable commentary on the factors that influence their education experience.

A positive and broad education is a key determinant of lifelong health and wellbeing so it is vital that we do all we can to promote children’s engagement in learning. This consultation has provided the views of students that has largely been lacking in research concerning engagement in education. I look forward to reporting on their views in 2017–18 to help legislators, agencies and educators understand how best to support students to reach their full potential.

My advocacy work in this past year has been guided by the important work of the previous reporting period that has shone a spotlight on vulnerable groups of children and young people, including my office’s out-of-home care and youth justice consultations and findings from mental health report Our Children Can’t Wait.

Children in out-of-home care often do not have a natural advocate, such as a parent or family member, to act on their behalf, so it is important these young people feel supported in raising concerns.

Many of the stories shared by the young people in our youth justice consultation make for confronting reading – there is often great trauma and dysfunction in these young people’s lives and their stories highlight just how vital early intervention and rehabilitation are in our juvenile justice system.

By working alongside the respective government departments responsible for overseeing child protection and youth justice and monitoring their reforms, I aim to ensure young people’s views gained through these consultations are acted upon by policy makers.

Support for young people’s mental health continues to be an area of concern. My office’s December 2015 report, Our Children Can’t Wait, on the status of mental health services for children and young people identified ongoing significant gaps in services, particularly in regional areas of the state and for children under the age of
12 years.

To continue the efforts to bridge gaps in mental health support for young people, I appointed e-mental health expert Professor Jane Burns as our fourth Thinker in Residence. Professor Burns worked with government and non-government agencies to explore how new and emerging technologies can be used to improve mental health service delivery in WA.

Professor Burns spent two weeks in WA and there was broad participation in the residency at 30 separate seminars, workshops and meetings, involving children and young people, their families, Ambassadors for Children and Young People, leaders from government, non-government and the private sector, and a range of professionals working directly with children and young people.

My office will continue to advocate for innovations in the mental health sector to better meet the needs of WA children and young people. Later in 2017 I am looking forward to showcasing the work and ideas of my office’s two advisory committees of young people from Geraldton and the northern suburbs of Perth on this same topic.

This year also sees the continuation of work to respond to the views expressed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in my office’s 2015 consultation. One of the findings from this consultation was that programs and services need to be underpinned by an ongoing commitment to listening and responding to the views of Aboriginal children and young people. To assist organisations to do this, my office is producing a ‘toolkit’ that outlines culturally appropriate and sustainable methods of working with Aboriginal children and young people.

In late June 2016 the Joint Standing Committee on the Commissioner for Children and Young People released its report Everyone’s Business: An examination of how the Commissioner for Children and Young People can enhance WA’s response to child abuse and over the last 12 months I have continued to provide information as the State Government further considers its response to the St Andrew’s Hostel Inquiry and other matters relating to the prevention of and response to child abuse.

Later this year we will commemorate 10 years since the establishment of a Commissioner for Children and Young People in WA. In recognition of this milestone, my office is celebrating a key function of the office, to consult children and young people from diverse backgrounds and locations. I have commenced a project to ask children born around the time the Commissioner’s office was created to have a say about what life is like being 10 years old and living in WA. More than 7,500 students are registered to take part and I look forward to sharing their artworks and words with the wider community later this year.

I would like to acknowledge the valuable input of our Ambassadors for Children and Young People who again have provided great support and guidance to my office and who continue to support Western Australian children and young people and their families.

COLIN PETTIT
Commissioner for Children and Young People Western Australia

 

Face to Face provides an annual report specifically for children and young people on how their views have influenced the Commissioner's work over the past year.