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Opinion piece in The West Australian - Kids need support in this testing time

by Colin Pettit 

In uncertain times our children and young people look to us for guidance and reassurance.

Children are well aware of the world around them and pick up on media reports, our conversations and interactions with others and our own anxiety. It is vital at this time that we all consider the safety and wellbeing of our children and young people and are proactive in helping them to understand what is occurring in the world right now and reassure them that they are not alone in feeling anxious.

In my Speaking Out Survey of almost 5,000 WA students released last month, one in ten said they did not feel that they could cope with life’s challenges. This was measured well before the current pandemic and I am certain that if I conducted the same survey today, many more would be feeling that their resilience is being strongly tested.

I have asked children and young people in WA to share with me their concerns during this difficult time.

Those who have responded so far have said that the main ways in which they felt the coronavirus pandemic was impacting their daily lives was through the loss of daily contact with friends, the cancelling of sports and other extracurricular activities, the increased attention on hand washing and in being worried.

In the range of advice available, one of the best sources for our children is to hear from their peers on what is helping them to stay positive.

The responses from WA children who have shared their views through my website so far are both simple and effective – listening to music, playing with pets, talking with a friend or family member.

For those caring for children and young people directly – please listen to their concerns and acknowledge them. Young people need to be able to talk to a trusted adult.

This may not always be a parent or guardian, but could be a teacher, a friend, a family member. Additional online and telephone support services specifically for children include KidsHelpline and Youth Beyond Blue.

There are a range of resources that are freely available to assist parents and carers in talking to children in times of stress and I urge anyone with a child in their care to seek the support they need and to make time with their children a priority. In the absence of the usual school and recreational activities developing a structure and routine also gives comfort to children and this may look different in each household.

Our children and young people are witnessing an event like none before, at a time when technology offers so many forms of connection.

While this will help many children across the state in maintaining vital connections to friends, their school and family, those who do not have access to home computers and internet connections must not be forgotten and urgently need other supports.

Limited social activities and time away from schools will heighten the risks for our most vulnerable children.

Children and young people who are living in poverty or with family violence, those who are away from their families or Aboriginal children who are away from their country may need additional care and support from a range of services.

​I thank everyone who is providing vital frontline care to WA's children and young people right now - including teachers and school support staff, child care workers, foster carers, residential carers, youth justice officers, youth workers, medical staff, support services, parents and guardians.

Our children and young people will need support and guidance through this period. They also have much to contribute and should be encouraged to play their part in looking after their own wellbeing and supporting one another wherever possible.

Published in The West Australian on page 20, 31 March 2020.