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From the Commissioner

I’m very pleased to report in my final year as Commissioner that despite the planning challenges COVID-19 has created for all of us, over the last year a record number of Western Australian children and young people have shared their views on their lives and wellbeing.

To ensure WA has a strong evidence base of how children and young people’s wellbeing has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and to inform our social recovery, the planned 2022 Speaking Out Survey was brought forward to early 2021.

Children and young people across all three education sectors have shared their views, which gives comparative data to the inaugural survey in 2019 and contained several questions related to COVID-19. We have also expanded the reach of this important wellbeing resource to children outside of mainstream education, including students with special needs and those in remote communities.

While most WA children and young people are doing well, a concerning finding from the 2019 Speaking Out Survey 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.

My office is reviewing the research both nationally and internationally 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.

Mental health continues to be a serious issue for many WA children and young people, and the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic adds another element of uncertainty. Although my office has been advocating for improved resourcing and services for the past 11 years, we still have a system that does not adequately plan for, invest in, and support the mental health needs of children and young people and their families. I continue to urge government to provide more resources to support children and young people’s mental health.

The need for strong independent oversight of the child protection and out-of-home care system in WA remains. Following media reports in late 2020, I raised concerns with the Minister for Child Protection regarding the placement of children with harmful sexual behaviours in residential care. I have undertaken an independent review of Department of Communities' policies, practices and services in relation to placement decisions and will publish the findings in late 2021.

I am pleased to have worked closely with several Aboriginal communities this year and support them to lead the design and delivery of programs and services to provide better outcomes for their children and young people. My office provided training for young Aboriginal people to become community researchers in Wyndham and Roebourne, enabling them to conduct consultations with young people on issues such as youth service provision and the building of a new school in Roebourne. I look forward to seeing these young people leading the way in their communities.

In November I will be stepping down as Commissioner for Children and Young People when my term ends. It has been my absolute privilege to advocate on behalf of WA’s children and young people for the past six years. I am grateful to each and every young person who has shared their views and contributed to the work of my office.

I also acknowledge the many parents, carers, families, community members and service providers who support children and young people, and the Ambassadors for Children and Young People for their ongoing commitment to supporting children and young people and their families in WA.

Finally, thank you to my team, who have supported me throughout my term and who are dedicated to helping ensure children and young people are heard, valued, healthy and safe.

I look forward to welcoming the next Commissioner and trust they will enjoy working for the children and young people of WA as much as I have.

Colin Pettit

Commissioner for Children and Young People Western Australia 

Explore the 2020-21 Annual Report