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

Speaking Out Survey 

More than 15,000 children and young people from all regions of WA have shared their views on their health, safety, family and school life and how they see their place in society in the Commissioner’s second Speaking Out Survey – creating a picture of what it is like to grow up in WA.

The 2021 survey was brought forward to capture students’ views on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also provide comparative data to the inaugural survey of approximately 5,000 students undertaken in 2019. The 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.

The survey fieldwork has been extended in the second half of 2021 with grant funding from Lotterywest to reach children outside of mainstream education, including students with special needs and those in remote communities.

The Commissioner will publish the latest findings of the Speaking Out Survey in late 2021.

The 2019 survey identified a number of areas of concern, including the wellbeing of female and Aboriginal students, mental health and safety. The Commissioner’s office conducted in-depth analysis of the data in these areas so services and policies that support young people's wellbeing can be improved. These data insights were distributed to stakeholders and are available on the Commissioner’s website.

Decline in the wellbeing of Australian girls 

A key finding in WA’s inaugural Speaking Out Survey of 2019 was that female young people consistently rated their wellbeing below that of their male peers, reporting higher rates of stress, low life satisfaction and not feeling happy about themselves.

This concerning finding warranted further investigation and having drawn it to the attention of the WA Government, the Commissioner sought to contextualise the WA data by seeking to compare what WA young people have said with evidence from research both nationally and internationally into gender and wellbeing. 

The Commissioner is currently reviewing the evidence to better understand the reasons for the wellbeing gap between male and female young people. The findings will be published in late 2021 and used to develop a program of work, including detailed analysis of the 2021 Speaking Out Survey data and further consultations with children and young people.

Child Safe Organisations

The Commissioner continues to promote and support the implementation of child safe principles and practices in organisations through the Child Safe Organisations WA resources. The guidelines, self-assessment and review tool, and information for parents, carers and families were downloaded 1,589 times throughout the year from the Commissioner’s website.

The Commissioner’s team continued to consult and provide advice 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 and outline how organisations can protect children from all types of harm in organisations, including physical, emotional and neglect, as well as sexual abuse.

A new checklist for staff and volunteers was published online to assist them to understand and reflect on their responsibilities to promote child safety in their organisations in line with the National Principles.

Helping children and young people make a complaint

Appointed by the National Office for Child Safety within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Commissioner’s office developed resources for children and young people across Australia explaining their right to speak up when they feel uncomfortable, unsafe or marginalised, and outlining the steps they can take to raise their concerns or make complaints within organisations.

To inform this work, 680 children and young people from across Australia took part in focus groups and an online survey on their experiences of speaking up when they do not feel safe or respected and what helped or hindered them in the process. Young people also provided direct feedback on the wording and appearance of the new resources. 

The resources included a poster, a poster designed by Aboriginal young people, a pamphlet for young people on how to make a complaint, and a guide to help adults support children and young people to speak up and make a complaint.

All resources have been published on the National Office for Child Safety and the Commissioner’s websites, with hard copies provided to all schools during the Speaking Out Survey fieldwork. Organisations are encouraged to provide copies to the young people they work with by downloading the online versions or contacting the Commissioner’s office for hard copies.

Monitoring complaints made by children and young people

Under the Commissioner for Children and Young People Act 2006, the Commissioner is required to monitor trends in complaints by children and young people made to government agencies.

Every two years, the Commissioner contacts WA government agencies about their complaints systems and the complaints they have received from children and young people. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 survey was postponed until 2021. The survey is currently underway, and the report will be published in late 2021.

Each year, individuals contact the Commissioner seeking information or to make complaints about other agencies. The number of complaints has been increasing for the past six years, with 39 complaints about external agencies received in 2020–21. Whilst the Commissioner is not able to deal with complaints made by, or on behalf of, individual young people, his team office provide information to community members about appropriate complaints systems and advocacy services.  The Commissioner reviews all community complaints to identify possible systemic matters that affect the wellbeing of children and young people more broadly.

The 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.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended that all organisations that work with children and young people ensure their processes respond to complaints and concerns are child focused. 

An update to the Child Friendly Complaints Guidelines is underway and will be distributed to government and non-government organisations in late 2021.

Indicators of Wellbeing

The Commissioner’s Indicators of Wellbeing online resource continues to be updated with new data published on a range of measures for WA children and young people from birth to 18 years.

The Indicators of Wellbeing provide government and non-government organisations with a single place for information from a variety of sources on WA children and young people’s wellbeing to help them identify what is working and where changes are required.

Data is collated from a variety of sources including the Commissioner’s Speaking Out Survey, previous consultations, Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, NAPLAN data and other state and federal government departments.

Profile of Children and Young People in WA

An updated Profile of Children and Young People in Western Australia was published in early 2021.

The report is produced annually and provides a demographic profile of WA’s 610,000 children and young people. It includes a focus on children and young people who experience vulnerability and hardship, such as those in the juvenile justice system, in out-of-home care, with disability and living in poverty.

The report is a component of the Commissioner’s Wellbeing Monitoring Framework and can be used by government and non-government organisations to help them allocate resources for children and young people across WA.

Student wellbeing in schools

WA children and young people have regularly identified school as an important factor in their lives, providing a strong foundation for their wellbeing.

The Commissioner consulted the Department of Education, Catholic Education WA and Association of Independent Schools WA as well as 177 schools on aspects of supporting student wellbeing. The schools provided information on the issues, approaches, resources and the opportunities to strengthen responses to ensure that students receive the support they need.

In October 2020, the consultation findings were published along with a discussion paper that made a number of recommendations, including the need for a statewide strategy and more resourcing to support student wellbeing. A report prepared for the Commissioner on the extent and distribution of financial resources available to address student health and wellbeing needs in schools was also released.

To overcome the COVID-19 pandemic social gathering restrictions, a webinar was produced on the findings and recommendations, which was distributed to schools throughout WA and is available on the office’s website.

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 meet regularly to share information and plan joint advocacy projects.

In the past year, the ANZCCG collectively advocated for a greater focus on child wellbeing at a federal level relating to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts.

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 group also continues to strongly advocate for the need to develop a Child Poverty Reduction Bill. Defining, outlining and agreeing on a means of measuring child poverty is critical and should guide the development of the Bill. This measure should incorporate the different aspects of poverty and deprivation, such as access to income, material basics, health, education, housing and food.

Due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions, the group met by video conference six times in 2020–21.

Public commentary

There are many ways in which the Commissioner advocates for WA’s children and young people, to raise awareness of the issues affecting their wellbeing and encourage positive change in our society. 

During the year the Commissioner gave 40 speeches and presentations on a range of issues such as the Speaking Out Survey results, mental health, children and young people’s wellbeing, child safe organisations, student wellbeing in schools and the importance of listening to the views of children and young people.

Where appropriate and in the best interests of WA’s children and young people, the Commissioner makes public comment in the media. In 2020−21, the Commissioner had three opinion pieces published in The West Australian and gave a range of interviews and comments on issues, including the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on children and young people, female wellbeing, mental health, child poverty and the importance of including young people in community decision making.

Social media is an important way to engage with stakeholders and the community. The Commissioner’s social media platforms continued to experience strong growth in the year.

Explore the 2020-21 Annual Report