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

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

Speaking Out Survey 2021

In November 2021 summary results of the Speaking Out Survey were published in the report Speaking Out Survey 2021: The views of WA children and young people on their wellbeing – a summary report, which was tabled in Parliament.

Through this survey, 16,532 children and young people from all regions of WA have shared their views and opinions about their health, safety, family and school life and how they see their place in society.

The aim of the Speaking Out Survey is to capture the views of a representative sample of children and young people, creating a robust data source about the wellbeing of children and young people in our state.

The Commissioner and her delegates have presented on the Speaking Out Survey 2021 results to members of Parliament, state government departments and various community groups across WA.

Work is now underway preparing for the Speaking Out Survey 2024.

Speaking Out Survey 2021 extension project

In 2021 grant funding was received from Lotterywest to extend the survey to reach children outside mainstream education, including students with special needs and those in remote communities. This project included conducting the survey with:

  • children and young people in Education Support Centres
  • additional Aboriginal children and young people living in remote and very remote locations
  • children and young people who are homeschooled.

As part of this extension project, the Speaking Out Survey questionnaire was modified to make it more accessible for the various cohorts, including a fully symbolised survey for students with special needs.

The Commissioner will report on the results of these extension projects in the 2022/23 financial year.

Decline in the wellbeing of Australian girls

A key finding in WA’s inaugural Speaking Out Survey in 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 was confirmed in the 2021 survey.

In response, the Commissioner established the Girls’ Wellbeing project which aims to better understand the reasons for the wellbeing gap between male and female young people.

As part of this project, in August 2021 the Commissioner published the literature review Exploring the decline in wellbeing for Australian girls. This report highlighted that international and Australian research shows not only that female young people have lower wellbeing than male young people, but that the gender gap is widening.

In late 2022 the Commissioner will publish an analysis report, Girls’ wellbeing: Insights from the Speaking Out Survey 2021, and will conduct additional consultations with young people. These consultations will gather young people’s views on how to improve girls’ experiences and reduce the gender wellbeing gap. The Commissioner will report on young people’s views about the way forward.

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 National Principles for Child Safe Organisations (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 from neglect, and physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Consulting and providing advice to a range of WA agencies who enquired about how they can implement the National Principles in their child-related work remained a focus of the Commissioner. Over 2021 and 2022 the Commissioner’s office participated in multiple
government and non-government interagency forums about the National Principles.

The Commissioner’s website contains many resources on Child Safe Organisations. This year, copies of the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations WA: Guidelines, the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations WA – Self-assessment and review tool and the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations WA: Information for parents, carers and family members were accessed and downloaded over 1020 times.

An update on the activities of the Commissioner that support the National Principles was released in December 2021. An update and reprint of the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations WA: Guidelines is underway and will be available in late 2022.

Child Friendly Complaints Guidelines

The Commissioner continues to help WA organisations 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 that are embedded in the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations.

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

In late 2021 the Commissioner released the revised Child Friendly Complaints Guidelines to help organisations strengthen their processes to better support children and young people who raise complaints or concerns. The steps in the guidelines are based on best practice as well as the voices and experience of WA’s children and young people. The guidelines provide practical advice for organisations on what they can do to ensure their complaints systems are child friendly and safe.

The Child Friendly Complaints Guidelines have been distributed across government and non-government organisations and are available online. They are designed to be used in conjunction with the Commissioner’s Child Safe Organisations WA resources and the suite of Speak Up resources the Commissioner developed with input from 680 children and young people in 2020–21 on behalf of the National Office for Child Safety.

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 on the wellbeing of WA children and young people to help them identify what is working and where changes are required.

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

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 made about government agencies by children and young people.

In early 2022 the Commissioner released her Monitoring of complaints systems 2021 report. The report outlines findings of a survey of 34 WA government organisations on how complaints from children and young people are being managed. This is the fifth complaints monitoring survey undertaken by the Commissioner for Children and Young People since 2010. The 2021 survey was strengthened through consultation with a group of young people.

The 2021 monitoring process was closely aligned with the expectations of National Principle Six, that complaints systems are child friendly. It found that only 16 per cent of agencies engaged in child-related work met or exceeded more than half the performance indicators of a child friendly complaints system.

While the report indicates that no public sector agency has a complaint system that fully aligns with the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations, many agencies used the process as an opportunity to commit to improvement and have identified ways to increase the child focus of their current complaints policies. The Commissioner provided individualised feedback to each agency to support these improvement efforts.

Key findings from the 34 agencies that participated in the complaints survey are:

  • 1,628 complaints from, or on behalf of, children and young people were received in 2019–2020
  • complaints generally related to education, accommodation, health and recreation
  • 37 per cent of complaints could be identified as being directly from children and young people
  • 22 of the 34 agencies recorded if a complaint was from, or on behalf of, a child or young person
  • only 18 per cent of agencies who fund non-government organisations to provide services to children and young people said they have a requirement for these organisations to have child friendly complaints systems.

At the time the complaints monitoring process commenced (early 2021), the last full financial year was the 2019–2020 period. Hence this was the timeframe that the Commissioner requested agencies provide data for.

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 seven years, with 66 complaints about external agencies received in 2021–22. This was a substantial increase from the 39 complaints received in 2020–21. While the Commissioner is not able to deal with complaints made by, or on behalf of, individual young people, her team provides 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.

Profile of Children and Young People in WA

An updated Profile of Children and Young People in Western Australia was published in early 2022.

The report is produced annually and provides a demographic profile of WA’s 616,000 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.

Public commentary

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

The Commissioner makes public comment in the media where it is in the best interests of WA children and young people. In 2021−22 The West Australian published one opinion piece about the importance of giving vulnerable children an opportunity to be heard by decision-makers. Commissioners Pettit and McGowan-Jones gave many further interviews and comments to the media. The interviews highlighted current issues for children and young people, including concerns about wellbeing, mental and physical health, safety in the community, housing, the environment and more.

Social media is a vital tool to promote the voices of children and young people to the community. The Commissioner’s social media platforms continued to experience growth in the year and a LinkedIn presence was established in early 2022.

Australia and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners and Guardians Group (ANZCCG)

The ANZCCG is a coalition of independent commissioners, guardians and advocates for children and young people that aims to:

  • promote the rights of children and young people, including their right to participate in decisions relating to them, as articulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • ensure the best interests of children and young people are considered in the development of policies and programs
  • give voice to the views of, and encourage direct consultation with, children and young people on matters that affect them
  • encourage systemic improvement, informed by evidence-based research, in areas that impact on the rights, interests and wellbeing of children and young people.

In the past year, the ANZCCG released a progress update on the implementation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) recommendations. The ANZCCG expressed concern about the quality and lack of clarity of the annual public reporting on the progress of implementation within and across jurisdictions and the inequity in implementation progress developing between states and territories. ANZCCG members called on all governments to improve their transparency in reporting and recommended an independent oversight mechanism should be established to ensure quality assurance of the implementation progress to give confidence to survivors who participated in the Royal Commission and to all community members that the recommendations are being implemented as intended.

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.

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

Explore the 2021-22 Annual Report