Promoting the rights, voices and contributions of children and young people
Being aware of, understanding and acting to uphold the human rights of children and young people are fundamental to recognising and supporting children and young people as valued citizens of the community.
Major achievements in 2019-20
Key project: Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic
Australia recorded its first cases of COVID-19 in January 2020, and in late February the first case was confirmed in WA. The months to follow were ones of enormous change and unprecedented times with physical distancing, lockdowns and closures of schools, businesses and travel restrictions.
Recognising the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts being felt across the community, the Commissioner issued an open invitation for WA children and young people to write in anonymously to share their views about their experiences and how they were feeling as events unfolded.
Children and young people were encouraged to submit their views by email, the Commissioner’s website and on worksheets sent to remote communities.
The questions asked through DigiMe and the Commissioner’s online email form changed during the pandemic as the situation evolved and included:
- When you are worried about things, what do you do to stay positive?
- How has your day-to-day life been impacted by the coronavirus and what supports have helped you?
- What impact do you think the coronavirus pandemic will have for you (or your family) in the future?
The Commissioner received over 800 responses from March–June 2020 from children and young people across metropolitan, regional and remote areas of WA, ranging in age from 5 to 18 years. This included young people in contact with the youth justice system, those living in crisis accommodation and remote Aboriginal communities.
The young people’s responses helped the Commissioner shape several resources for parents and carers on how best to support young people. The resources were provided to government and community decision-makers to promote consideration of young people in the planning of WA’s recovery phase.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues both in Australia and overseas, the long-term impacts on WA children and young people are yet to be known.
The Commissioner’s next Speaking Out Survey is planned for early 2021 and will provide comparative data to the inaugural survey to indicate how thousands of WA children and young people saw their wellbeing both before and after the events of 2020.
To ensure WA children and young people are part of the national discussion around the current system of autism diagnosis, intervention and support and the associated need for a National Autism Strategy, the Commissioner invited children and young people with autism to share their views.
Twelve children and young people participated in face-to-face and video interviews on a range of issues relating to autism, including diagnosis, education, health and mental health, employment and their participation in the community.
Based on the insights of participants, the Commissioner submitted recommendations along with his Speaking Out About Autism report to the Senate Select Committee on Autism in July 2020 to strengthen the rights of autistic children and young people within a National Autism Strategy.
The main issues important to the children and young people were being listened to and valued within their school and services, and improved understanding of autism in the wider community. Their views will be published on the Commissioner’s website in early 2020–21.
The Commissioner regularly visits regional and remote areas of WA to hear from children and young people, as well as their families and those who work to support their wellbeing.
In 2019, the Commissioner visited Northam, Merredin, Southern Cross and Jigalong and met with local children and young people.
They spoke about their close-knit communities and the issues affecting their towns, particularly the presence of drugs and alcohol, the amount of plastic in the environment and limited youth activities. The Commissioner also had the opportunity to meet with a range of local service providers and local government representatives who support young people.
The Commissioner will use the insights gathered during his visits to advocate on behalf of children and young people and encourage local decision makers and service providers to ensure that programs meet their needs.
DigiMe, an online avatar creator, was developed by the Commissioner to provide children and young people with a way to share their views and have them published on his website and social media.
The Commissioner received 467 DigiMe contributions from children and young people on topics such as the best things about reading, the important things in their life and local community issues.
From March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic started affecting the WA community, the Commissioner invited young people to share about what they do to stay positive when they are worried, what support has helped them during the pandemic, and what impact they think the pandemic will have for them or their family in the future. Over 400 children and young people shared their views in response to these questions.
Australian Children’s Laureate event
To celebrate the voices of children and young people, the Commissioner held a literature event in September, which was attended by 115 students from 14 schools.
Students spent the day with Australian Children’s Laureate Morris Gleitzman and children’s book authors Dianne Wolfer, Mark Greenwood and Frané Lessac, looking at the right of children to explore, express and create. Inspired by the authors’ guidance and encouragement, students explored ideas to improve their communities and expressed themselves through stories and drawings.
The Commissioner shared the students’ contributions on his social media and in stakeholder presentations.
Children’s Week 2019
Children’s Week is a national celebration of children’s rights, talents and citizenship, which is observed in Australia around Universal Children’s Day in late October.
During Children’s Week, the Commissioner took part in community events to honour the contributions of children and young people, including running a workshop with the Edmund Rice Youth Leaders who come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
The Commissioner also attended the WA Youth Awards to celebrate the outstanding contributions of children and young people and present his Participate Award.
Commissioner for Children and Young People Participate Award
The Commissioner has sponsored the Participate Award, part of the WA Youth Awards, since 2010. The award recognises a young person aged 12 to 17 years who has shown outstanding dedication to making positive change in their community and has inspired other young people to get involved.
Brenda Amito won the Commissioner’s 2019 Participate Award and was also named the overall Young Person of the Year.
Brenda founded the Edmund Rice Centre WA Multicultural AFL Umpiring Academy – the first of its kind – to bring cultural diversity into AFL umpiring.
Brenda was born in Uganda and migrated to Australia with her family in 2007. Shortly after her arrival, she joined the Butler Falcons, a multicultural all-girls AFL team. She found her passion for the game through the team and was inspired to give back by starting her own umpiring academy and empowering other young people.
Now in its third year of operation, the Umpiring Academy has developed more than 60 umpires from diverse backgrounds, many of whom now earn an income from umpiring and are on umpiring talent pathways. She undertook all of this work as a volunteer and recently secured funds to have a paid employee to help manage the Academy.
Local Government Policy Awards
The annual Children’s Environment and Health Local Government Policy Awards are coordinated by the Public Health Advocacy Institute of WA, Healthway and the WA Local Government Association. The awards promote and celebrate local governments that demonstrate outstanding commitment to supporting the health of children and young people.
The Commissioner sponsors the Children’s Consultation award, which recognises and promotes high-quality consultation activities involving children and young people, and the benefits these create for children, young people and communities.
The City of Stirling won the 2019 Children’s Consultation award for their consultation with over 350 children and young people to develop a youth framework to respond to gaps in youth services and support.
The Commissioner also sponsors the Young People Making a Difference in Communities award, which looks at how local governments support their young people, giving them a voice to address current and potential issues that affect them. The Shire of Augusta-Margaret River won this award for their work to support the leadership and development of young people in the area.