By Commissioner Colin Pettit
There are around 593,000 children and young people under the age of 18 in WA – representing almost one quarter of the total state population.
While the majority are thriving, a growing number of children and young people continue to experience significant adversity and disadvantage.
We cannot expect services and policies to address their needs without first understanding the home, school and wider community environments in which children live and the reality of their everyday lives.
Statistics such as school attendance rates and the number of contacts with community services give us important information on the areas in which children may need support, but numbers alone do not tell us how children and young people themselves see their lives.
Adults have many opportunities to voice their opinion; however, we do not often consider how children perceive their environment and how they think they are faring.
On any given day, there are a range of factors that affect a child’s wellbeing.
Do they get enough sleep? How often do they eat healthy food? Do they get the help they need at school? Are they involved in positive activities with friends and family? Are they feeling physically and mentally well? Do they feel safe and have opportunities to contribute to their communities?
From this week, children and young people from across Western Australia will take part in the state’s first Speaking Out Survey.
Students in Years 4-12 across a randomised sample of 150 schools will be invited to share anonymously their views on their day to day lives and what influences their wellbeing.
The survey is a collaboration between my office and the Telethon Kids Institute, with funding support from the Departments of Communities, Education, Health and Justice.
Survey topics have been built around the key factors children consistently tell me are important to them – family, friends, education, culture (particularly for Aboriginal young people) as well as being respected and acknowledged.
This information will provide valuable information for both government and non-government services in evaluating if our existing policies and services are meeting the needs of the children and young people – and if services are reaching the children who need them.
Last year I tabled in Parliament the views of 1800 students on school and learning. This consultation provided important data on what helps them to stay engaged at school and identified key areas of concern.
I expect that the Speaking Out Survey will provide similar insights across a much broader range of issues and give a strong indication of how our children and young people are faring and what life is like growing up in their part of WA.
My aim is to repeat the Speaking Out Survey in future years so that we can track issues and changes in the wellbeing of our children and young people.
It is important we get the foundations right to make sure every child in Western Australia has the opportunity to thrive and reach their potential.
We cannot fully respond to the needs of WA children and young people without first listening to their views.
I look forward to publishing the findings from the Speaking Out Survey in early 2020.
* Published in The West Australian on page 51, 28 March 2019