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Monitoring and advocacy to strengthen the wellbeing of all WA children and young people

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-informed 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 2017-18

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 Western Australia. 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 2017–18 the Commissioner’s staff conducted seven whole-day, free seminars in Perth, attended by 155 participants. A total of 582 people have attended these seminars to date with continued positive feedback.

The Commissioner has developed a range of resources, available on the office’s website, to support organisations to develop child safe policies and practices.

The Commissioner fully supports the recommendations by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse with regard to child safe organisations, including the implementation of national standards that are externally monitored by an independent body. The child safe standards articulated by the Royal Commission align with the Commissioner’s guidelines and resources.

Monitoring complaints made by children and young people

Children and young people face unique barriers to raising concerns and making complaints.

The 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 was deferred in 2017–18 due to Machinery of Government changes and will be undertaken during the second half of 2018.

Throughout the year the Commissioner’s office has continued to promote the importance of child friendly complaints systems within all organisations through its Child Safe Organisations resources and seminars, and in the Commissioner’s support of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse work and recommendations.

“When I tell an adult about a problem I want them to understand and listen to what I say and believe me.” 10 year-old (Child Safe Organisations Consultation)

"The most important thing to me is my family. My dad gives me kisses and hugs and takes me on bike rides. My mum packs my lunch and cuddles me goodnight and my sister plays with me."

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 2017 and May 2018. The Commissioner hosted the May meeting in Perth.

As issues of national significance and common interest arise, ACCG members may decide to prepare a joint submission or paper. 

In 2017–18 the ACCG members signed a position paper calling on governments to take steps to ensure the rights of children and young people in youth justice detention are respected, defended and promoted.

The ACCG released the 13-point Statement on conditions and treatment in youth justice detention which calls for measures to reduce reoffending by children and young people, bring Australian jurisdictions into line with relevant human rights standards, and ultimately improve community safety.

The ACCG also engaged the Australian Centre for Child Protection to provide an analysis of a range of child protection practice frameworks in terms of the principles and approaches to working with children and families. This work is published in the Assessing the quality and comprehensiveness of child protection practice frameworks report.

Monitoring and oversight of organisations that provide services to children

Following the 2016 report of the Joint Standing Committee on the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Everybody’s Business: An examination into how the Commissioner for Children and Young People can enhance WA’s response to child abuse, the Commissioner for Children and Young People undertook work to map the monitoring and oversight of services for children and young people in Western Australia.

In November 2017 the Commissioner published the Oversight of services for children and young people in Western Australia report.

The report reviewed Western Australia’s current arrangements against best practice principles of oversight of services provided to children and young people to identify areas for improvement. It focused on six priority service areas: child protection, disability services, youth justice, mental health services, police custody and the education system.

It is clear that while Western Australia’s independent oversight bodies do important work in a range of areas, further work is needed to ensure mechanisms are comprehensive and robust, the rights and wellbeing of children and young people are protected, and services are safe and fit-for-purpose.

The report makes a number of broad recommendations aimed at strengthening the State’s independent oversight arrangements as they relate to children and young people.

Wellbeing Monitoring Framework

The Commissioner monitors and conducts research and consultations relating to the wellbeing of children and young people and uses this information to make recommendations for changes to policies and services that strengthen Western Australian children and young people’s wellbeing.

In 2017–18 the Commissioner published a new Profile of Children and Young People in Western Australia. The report contains updated socio-demographic information based on existing data as at 2017 and can be used by agencies to assist them in allocating resources for children and young people across the State.

Further, the Commissioner consulted with Telethon Kids Institute’s CoLab project to develop the Wellbeing Monitoring Framework – Indicators of Wellbeing, an evidence-based data collection framework that monitors specific measures of Western Australia’s children and young people’s wellbeing.

Once complete, the framework will be available on the Commissioner’s website and focus on data for core aspects of wellbeing for children and young people such as safety, health and learning. This resource will also take into account the Commissioner’s numerous consultations with children and young people about what wellbeing means to them and what they need to have a good life.

 "My friends are important to me at the age ten because they are there when I need them and they care for me and I care for them."

Public commentary

The Commissioner works in a variety of ways to inform broad sectors of the community about issues affecting the wellbeing of the State’s children and young people and encourage positive change.

During the year the Commissioner gave 51 speeches and presentations on a broad range of issues such as education, homelessness, Child Safe Organisations and the importance of listening to the views of children and young people. Examples of significant presentations include the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Symposium, New North Education Initiative, WA Council of State School Organisations as well as briefings to the Western Australian Parliament.

The Commissioner makes public comment in the media where appropriate and in the best interests of the State’s children and young people. In 2017−18 the Commissioner had three opinion pieces published in major media outlets on the subjects of education and vulnerable children and young people. The Commissioner also gave a range of interviews and comments to media on issues relating to children and young people’s wellbeing.

In March 2018 the Commissioner was pleased to receive the Margaret McAleer Special Commendation and a Bronze Award for agencies with less than 100 full-time equivalent employees in the 33rd Annual WS Lonnie Awards. The Lonnie Awards are presented by the Institute of Public Administration Australia WA to recognise excellence and accountability in annual reporting.

Case study

Harmful sexual behaviours

From the inception of the Commissioner’s Child Safe Organisations seminars in 2016, professionals expressed concerns about the lack of appropriate responses to the harmful sexual behaviours of children and young people. This was further confirmed by concerns raised with the Commissioner by community members about individual situations.

In 2017 the Commissioner’s team met with relevant government agencies and non- government service providers who identified several significant issues including:

  • the lack of common definition, language or framework for understanding and responding to harmful sexual behaviours across agencies
  • poor data available within agencies about children with harmful sexual behaviours
  • inconsistent responses within agencies to children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours
  • variations in the level of training; in some agencies training was minimal
  • the quantity, quality and effectiveness of services available

The Commissioner’s harmful sexual behaviours project aimed to improve the understanding of children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours and enhance responses to children and young people who may be harming themselves or others.

This project included mapping the existing services for children and young people who have been harmed and/or who display harmful sexual behaviours in Western Australia, and a review of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse research reports, case studies, final report and recommendations relevant to harmful sexual behaviours.

Drawing on the findings of these activities and other research in the area, in June 2018 the Commissioner published the following reports:

  • Discussion paper – Children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours
  • Western Australian service mapping report - Harmful sexual behaviours project
  • A Continuum of Responses for Harmful Sexual Behaviours – a report prepared for the Commissioner by the Australian Centre for Child

The Commissioner held a seminar to progress the discussion on improving policy, prevention and responses to harmful sexual behaviours. The seminar provided an opportunity for 96 leaders, policy makers and practitioners to hear from leading Australian experts in addressing harmful sexual behaviour in children and young people.

The Commissioner will be furthering the discussion with Western Australian leaders, policy makers and practitioners.