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Listen to the voices of Aboriginal children

“My culture is who I am, it is a part of everything I do. It connects me to my family and makes me unique.”

Today being National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day is an opportune time to showcase to the WA community the views of Aboriginal children and young people, the great contribution they are making to their families and communities, and the enormous potential they possess.

The quote above is from a 17 year-old girl from the Kimberley who was one of 1,271 Aboriginal children and young people who shared their views with my office over the past year as part of a Statewide consultation project.

Today I will table in the WA Parliament the report of this consultation, “Listen To Us”.

The consultation asked Aboriginal children and young people about the things that are important in their lives, what they needed to be healthy, and their hopes and dreams for the future.

Aboriginal children and young people have an important role to play in the future prosperity of our State, as highlighted by the variety of dreams and aspirations expressed in the report – of getting a good education, helping others, stopping racism, becoming a bushman, a policeman, a human rights lawyer, a scientist, an electrician, and one 12 year-old girl’s aim to be prime minister.

The children and young people who took part in the consultation came from metropolitan and regional WA, and identified with more than 40 Aboriginal language groups, each with their own stories, beliefs and practices.

Their views were as diverse as they are themselves. In fact, that was one of the main themes to arise from the consultation – that Aboriginal children and communities are not all the same, and this has important meaning for the organisations that work to support their wellbeing.

Many identified culture as an important part of their lives - supporting a positive identity, a sense of belonging and respectful relationships with elders, family and the broader community.

They also had important things to say about family and community, education, recreation, their experience of racism and their support for reconciliation. Many said they benefit from strong family connections and networks, and value education as a way of achieving their goals.

They were eager to see more of their culture included in their schooling, both through their language and by learning more about Aboriginal history, culture and country.

Some spoke about their concerns for the health and safety of their families and friends, and for themselves. They also spoke about their desire for more cohesive communities and strategies to deal with drug and alcohol abuse, violence, and the racism and discrimination they witness and experience.

There are more than 36,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people living in WA and, while the majority lead happy and healthy lives, many experience significant and ongoing disadvantage.

It is of concern that across so many indicators such little progress has been made to improve the wellbeing of Aboriginal people. The “Listen To Us” report provides a strong and compelling voice for making practical changes to the way we support their healthy development and wellbeing.

Programs and services must be flexible and respond to the diversity of Aboriginal children and young people and their communities. Services must also recognise and build on the strengths of Aboriginal family and kinship.

There needs to be better integrated planning across all levels of government and non-government sectors, along with a commitment to evaluating and supporting programs which have demonstrated benefits to Aboriginal children and young people’s wellbeing.

At the same time, there needs to be support for new and innovative approaches that are locally and community driven.

Having spoken to many Aboriginal children and young people and community members over the past 18 months, I am encouraged by their sense of hope and bold visions for the future. “Listen To Us” represents the collective voices of Aboriginal children and young people in WA and they have appealed to us to listen and act on what they say.  

It is imperative that we work together in true partnership and listen, learn and act on the valuable knowledge and insights of children and young people about what impacts their lives.

In the words of a 16 year-old boy from the Mid West: “Listen to all these ideas you’re getting to help make good changes for the future.”

“Listen To Us” and other reports from the consultation will be available at about 2pm today.

Jenni Perkins
A/Commissioner for Children and Young People WA

The West Australian