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Mental health and perceptions of safety key findings in survey of WA children and young people

Mental health, perceptions of safety and feeling connected are some of the key areas of concern in the Commissioner for Children and Young People’s inaugural Speaking Out Survey.

The survey included 4,912 Year 4ꟷ12 students from 125 schools across WA, who anonymously answered a range of questions about their day-to-day lives and how they rate their wellbeing.

Commissioner Colin Pettit said that the survey was the first of its kind to be undertaken in WA and had provided valuable insights into how children and young people are faring.

“I’m pleased that the majority of children and young people reported that they are physically and mentally healthy, their material needs are met and they like school,” Mr Pettit said.

“Many children and young people also say that their relationships with family, friends and teachers are positive and that they feel like they belong in their community.

“Our goal as a community should be that our children and young people are happy, healthy, safe and learning – and to have any chance in achieving this we need to provide the right supports for all children to reach their full potential.

“We cannot understand how best to support children and young people without first listening to them.”

Mr Pettit said he was concerned to see female students rating their mental health, relationships, safety and independence lower than their male peers.

“This is a key finding from the inaugural survey and warrants further investigation – we also need to reflect on this result as a community and what we can all do to address this.

“Aboriginal children and young people fared less well than non-Aboriginal students in terms of their material needs, family stability or expectations for further education, however I am encouraged by their responses that they had a higher likelihood of having high self-esteem and a strong sense of belonging in their community.”

Key findings from the Speaking Out Survey 2019 include:

• Almost 12% of students rated their health as ‘fair’ or ‘poor’.
• Nearly 1 in 2 female high school students do not always feel safe at home.
• 70% of female high school students worry about their weight, compared to 37% of males.
• School and study problems are the most common source of stress for students in Years 9ꟷ12.
• Most high school students think people their age should not use alcohol, drugs or cigarettes.
• More than half of female Year 9ꟷ12 students and one quarter of males have been sent unwanted sexual material.
• Half of male students in Years 4ꟷ12 said they play electronic games every day.
• 1 in 10 children and young people said there is only sometimes enough food for them to eat at home.
• Aboriginal students reported higher self esteem and sense of belonging than non-Aboriginal students.

The Speaking Out Survey directly links to the Commissioner’s role to research the wellbeing needs of children and young people and to have their views heard. The Commissioner has tabled a summary report on the survey findings in State Parliament.

The Speaking Out Survey 2019 was part funded by the Departments of Communities, Education, Health and Justice, with survey field work undertaken by the Commissioner’s staff and data analysis by Telethon Kids Institute.

“I thank each department for seeing the value of hearing the views of children and young people and providing their support,” Mr Petitt said.

“The aim in collecting these insights from young people is to use their views to improve the services, supports and policies that support their wellbeing.”