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 2019-20
Key project: Speaking Out Survey
Almost 5,000 children and young people from all regions shared their views on their health, safety, family and school life and how they see their place in our society in the Commissioner’s inaugural Speaking Out Survey – creating a picture of what it is like to grow up in WA.
Most children and young people reported they feel healthy, have the material things they need and they like school. However, mental health, perceptions of safety and feeling connected are areas of concern.
Key findings included:
- Almost 12% of students rated their health as ‘fair’ or ‘poor’
- Nearly 1 in 2 female high school students do not always feel safe at home
- 70% of female high school students worry about their weight, compared to 37% of male students
- School and study problems are the most common source of stress for students in Years 9–12
- More than half of female Year 9–12 students and one quarter of male students have been sent unwanted sexual material
- 1 in 10 students say there is only sometimes enough food for them to eat at home
- Aboriginal students reported higher self-esteem and sense of belonging than non-Aboriginal students.
The Commissioner and staff conducted survey fieldwork in 2019, with the findings tabled in Parliament in February.
To better understand the responses from children and young people, the Commissioner is undertaking further analysis. Data is being published progressively in the Indicators of Wellbeing online data resource.
The Speaking Out Survey will be conducted again in 2021. This comparative data will be important in monitoring the wellbeing of WA’s children and young people for the longer term and help governments, communities and families meet their needs with appropriate support and services.
Child Safe Organisations
The Commissioner updated the Child Safe Organisations WA resources in November 2019 to align with the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations.
The Commissioner’s resources continue to promote and support the implementation of child safe principles and practices in organisations in WA and include the guidelines, self-assessment and review tool, and information for parents, carers and families. The updated resources were downloaded 1,424 times from the Commissioner’s website.
The Commissioner held two free information workshops for stakeholders on the National Principles, which were attended by 47 people. Further planned workshops were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic social gathering restrictions from March to June.
The Commissioner’s team continued to consult and provide advice throughout the year to a range of WA agencies who enquired about how they can implement the National Principles in their child-related work.
The National Principles reflect the ten child safe standards recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. However, importantly the Principles are clear that children should be safe from all types of harm in organisations, including physical, emotional and neglect, as well as sexual abuse. In February 2019, the National Principles were agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments to drive national consistency in the application of Child Safe Standards across Australia.
Indicators of Wellbeing
The Commissioner’s Indicators of Wellbeing online resource provides data on a range of measures for WA children and young people from birth to 18 years.
It is designed for government and non- government organisations involved in policy and service delivery to identify what is working and where changes are required to improve the wellbeing of children and young people.
The Indicators of Wellbeing data is structured into three age groups and across three domains: Learning and participating, Healthy and connected, and Safe and supported.
In 2019–20, the Healthy and connected and Safe and supported data sets were published. Learning and participating data was first published in 2018–19.
The Healthy and connected domain includes data on young people’s physical and mental health, engagement in healthy behaviours and connection to culture and community.
The Safe and supported data set provides information on WA children and young people’s supportive relationships, safety and their access to basic material needs – all of which are critical to a child or young person’s wellbeing.
Data for the Indicators of Wellbeing has been collated from a variety of sources, including the Commissioner’s Speaking Out Survey and school and learning consultation, Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, NAPLAN data and other state and federal government departments.
The Indicators of Wellbeing is a component of the Wellbeing Monitoring Framework and continues to be updated regularly as new data is published.
Profile of Children and Young People in WA
An updated Profile of Children and Young People in Western Australia was released in January 2020.
The report is updated annually and contains new socio-demographic data for WA’s 598,000 children and young people across areas such as population, projected growth, education, housing, disability and poverty.
Data has been sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and government departments.
The report is a component of the Commissioner’s Wellbeing Monitoring Framework and can be used by agencies to help them allocate resources for children and young people across WA.
Student wellbeing in schools
This project follows on from the recommendations of the Commissioner’s school and learning consultation in 2018, and the 2015 Our Children Can’t Wait Report: Review of the implementation of the Inquiry into the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people in Western Australia.
Approximately 180 schools from the Department of Education, Catholic Education WA and Association of Independent Schools WA were consulted on aspects of supporting student wellbeing. They provided information on the issues, approaches, resources and the opportunities to strengthen responses to ensure that students receive the support they need.
The Commissioner will publish the findings in early 2020–21.
Monitoring complaints made by children and young people
The Commissioner published the findings of his biennial survey of state government agencies about their complaints systems and the complaints they have received from children and young people.
The survey found that only 26 per cent described the agencies’ complaints process as child friendly, less than half include specific mention of children in their complaints policy, and a complaints policy could be located on only 10 of the 32 websites managed by the 27 participating organisations.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended that all organisations that work with children and young people ensure their processes to respond to complaints and concerns are child focused.
The Commissioner’s office continues to support WA organisations to improve their child safe practices and child friendly complaints mechanisms, and work with the WA Government to plan for future monitoring of the child safe standards embedded within the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations WA.
Places and spaces have a significant impact on a child’s development, health and wellbeing.
The Commissioner initiated a living environment project to examine the impact of physical and social environments on WA children’s health and wellbeing. A review of the latest national and international research was undertaken and a discussion paper published to summarise the issues and findings.
The Commissioner will be inviting WA children and young people to share what constitutes healthy, accessible, friendly and safe places and spaces in their local community. Their views will be captured through a statewide art project and two advisory committees of young people. Initially planned for early 2020, due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic this consultation was postponed.
Australian and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners and Guardians Group (ANZCCG)
The ANZCCG aims to promote and protect the safety, wellbeing and rights of children and young people in Australia and New Zealand.
Every Australian state and territory has a Child Guardian and/or Commissioner’s office, each guided by specific legislation, and in New Zealand there is a national Commissioner. Despite the differences in statutory function between these jurisdictions, the Commissioners and Guardians collaborate where possible and usually meet twice a year to share information and plan joint advocacy projects.
In the past year the ANZCCG met in November 2019, and from February 2020, due to COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions, met by video conference three times.
The ANZCCG continues to recommend governments in Australia and New Zealand raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years, consistent with international standards. The age of criminal responsibility in all Australian jurisdictions and New Zealand is currently 10 years. ANZCCG members are concerned about the number of children aged between 10 and 13 held in youth detention across Australia.
The Commissioner works in a variety of ways to inform broad sectors of the community about issues affecting the wellbeing of the WA’s children and young people and encourage positive change.
During the year the Commissioner gave 31 speeches and presentations on a range of issues such as his Speaking Out Survey results, child protection, early years, vulnerable children and young people, wellbeing and the importance of listening to the views of children and young people. The COVID-19 pandemic social gathering restrictions from March to June 2020 impacted the number of presentations the Commissioner was able to give compared to previous years.
The Commissioner makes public comment in the media where appropriate and in the best interests of the WA’s children and young people. In 2019−20, the Commissioner had four opinion pieces published in major media outlets and gave over 30 interviews and comments on issues, including his Speaking Out Survey findings, youth suicide, youth justice and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and young people.
Social media is recognised as an increasingly important way for the Commissioner to engage with stakeholders and the community. In the past year, all of the Commissioner’s social media platforms continued to experience strong growth.