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Age group 6 to 11 years

Autonomy and voice

Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have a right to give their opinion and be listened to by the adults around them. Giving children a voice and encouraging them to be involved in decisions affecting them contributes to the development of self-esteem and identity. It also enables children to learn how to develop and articulate opinions and make choices which can influence events.

There is limited data that measures whether WA children aged 6 to 11 years feel their autonomy is supported and their voice is heard. The indicator currently uses data from the National School Opinion Survey which is administered in WA government schools. 

Overview and areas of concern

The term ‘participation’ is often used to describe the active involvement of children and young people in being informed, expressing their views, having their views listened to and making decisions.For children and young people to be participants, both in their own lives and in the broader community, the acknowledgment and support of adults with whom they have contact is critical.When children and young people are supported to participate actively in decisions that affect their lives, their wellbeing improves.3

In particular, providing students with the opportunity to have a say in the creation of a learning environment that best suits their needs supports their engagement with school and learning, can result in more effective strategies to address safety, and promotes autonomy and responsibility for learning.4

Data overview

There is limited data on whether WA children aged 6 to 11 years feel that their autonomy is supported and voice is heard.

Areas of concern

The lack of data measuring whether WA children feel their autonomy is supported and their voice matters. 

Endnotes

  1. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2009, Participation Issues paper, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  2. Commissioner for Children and Young People WA 2011, Speaking Out About Wellbeing: Children and Young People speak out about being acknowledged and involved in decisions, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  3. NSW Commission for Children and Young People 2007, Ask the Children: Overview of Children’s Understandings of Well-being, NSW Commission for Children and Young People, p. 2.
  4. Commissioner for Children and Young People 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA, p. 114.
Measure: Autonomy and voice

Experiencing a level of autonomy and having a voice are important developmental aspects for children and young people in all areas of their life including at school. Feeling their independence is supported and that they are able to participate in decision making at school is critical.

The Commissioner’s 2016 School and Learning Consultation,1 did not include any questions about whether Year 3 to Year 6 students are given a say at their school in matters that affect them. The views of participating Year 7 to Year 12 students are available under this Autonomy and voice indicator for the 12-17 years age group.

National School Opinion Survey

In the 2016 National School Opinion Survey,2 64 per cent of participating Year 5 and Year 6 students in government schools either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “my school takes students’ opinions seriously”. Twenty three per cent neither agreed nor disagreed with this statement, while 12 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed.

National School Opinion Survey, 2016, Proportion of Year 5 and Year 6 WA government school students saying their school takes students’ opinions seriously

Source: National School Opinion Survey 2016, custom report prepared by WA Department of Education for the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA (unpublished)

There were minimal differences between male and female students or students in different geographical locations. While a similar proportion of Aboriginal students agreed or strongly agreed with this statement compared to non-Aboriginal students (51% versus 52%), a higher proportion of Aboriginal students disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement compared to non-Aboriginal students (23% versus 19%).

This finding strongly suggests that schools and their communities should allow for more opportunities for students to have a say in decisions about matters that affect them. Within a school environment there are multiple opportunities for autonomy at varying levels of control that can be provided to students. Classroom management strategies, learning activities, curriculum content and school organisation are all areas in which students can contribute.

Endnotes

  1. The Commissioner for Children and Young People’s School and Learning Consultation was conducted from July to November 2016. The purpose of the Consultation was to seek the views of Year 3 to Year 12 students enrolled in government, Catholic and independent schools across WA on the positive and negative factors that influence their engagement in education. In total, 1,812 students across 98 schools participated in the survey and 1,174 students participated in the group discussion between July and November 2016. Schools from all nine geographic regions of WA were involved in the consultation. For more information refer: Commissioner for Children and Young People 2018, School and Learning Consultation: Technical Report, Commissioner for Children and Young People WA.
  2. Results from the National School Opinion Survey 2016, custom report prepared by WA Department of Education for Commissioner for Children and Young People WA. All WA government schools are required to administer parent, student and staff National School Opinion Surveys (NSOS) at least every two years, commencing in 2014. The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) was responsible for the development and implementation of the NSOS. The WA Department of Education and individual schools are also able to add additional questions to the survey. In WA, the first complete (although non-mandatory) implementation of the survey was conducted in government schools in 2016. The next survey will be conducted in 2018. The data should be interpreted with caution as the survey is relatively new and there is a consequent lack of an agreed baseline for results. 
Children in care

The National Standards for out-of-home care Standard 2 stipulates that ‘children and young people participate in decisions that have an impact on their lives’.

In WA, children and young people in care are required to have an individualised plan that details their health, education and other needs. One of the key mechanisms that the Department of Communities uses to effect care planning is Viewpoint, an on-line tool. The Department for Child Protection and Family Support (Department of Communities) 2016-2017 Annual Report indicated 1,269 Viewpoint surveys were completed by children in care. It should be noted that where the same young person completes a survey more than once in the relevant time period, all their responses are included in this statistic. There were a total number of 3,604 children aged five to 17 years in care, therefore the maximum possible participation rate that year was 35 per cent.

If the Viewpoint survey is to continue as the primary mechanism for children and young people in care to have a say regarding their experience, it is critical that the participation rate of children and young people completing the questionnaire is increased.

Data from the Viewpoint survey is not published other than two collated effectiveness indicators in the Annual Report regarding the children and young people’s experiences of safety and support in their care arrangement.1

Endnotes

  1. The effectiveness indicators publicly reported are: proportion of children and young people in care who felt safe in their care arrangement (96% in 2016-17) and proportion of children and young people in care who felt supported in their care arrangement (83% in 2016-17).
Children with disability

People with disability in the community, including children and young people, often experience social exclusion and barriers to meaningful participation in the community.1 There are significant issues and a range of barriers that can discourage, prevent or actively exclude children and young people with disability from participating in decisions that affect their lives. For some, this can be the nature of their support needs, however more frequently it is a culture of low expectations, lack of opportunity, inaccessible processes and social and cultural barriers.2 

All children, regardless of the range of their abilities, must be seen as active and valued participants who have the right to be heard and provided with equitable access to education if Australia is to achieve inclusive and quality education for all.3  

No data is available on whether WA children aged 6 to 11 years old with disability feel that their autonomy is supported and their voice is heard at school or in other areas of life.

Endnotes

  1. National People with Disabilities and Carer Council, SHUT OUT: The Experience of People with Disabilities and their Families in Australia: National Disability Strategy Consultation Report, Commonwealth of Australia.
  2. Simmons C and Robinson S 2014, Strengthening Participation of Children and Young People with Disability in Advocacy, Children with Disability Australia.
  3. Cologan K 2013, Inclusion in Education: towards equality for students with disability, Children and Families Research Centre Institute of Early Childhood, Macquarie University.
Policy implications

Children and young people repeatedly say in consultations that they want to feel valued, respected, listened to and have their ideas taken seriously. They also want to be involved in making decisions and influencing matters that affect them. They recognise these rights as being important to their wellbeing.

A key function of the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA is to promote the participation of children and young people in the making of decisions that affect their lives and to encourage government and non-government agencies to seek the participation of children and young people appropriate to their age and maturity.1

There are many organisations that are involved in developing and delivering services for children and young people or engaging with children and young people as part of their work. These include schools, councils, police and justice organisations, medical practitioners and hospitals, and the family court.

All organisations whose work affects children and young people are encouraged to involve them in decision making. The Commissioner has published the Involving Children and Young People: Participation Guidelines for organisations that are planning to involve children and young people in their work and decision making.

The Commissioner has also provided case studies of the great work occurring around WA to involve children and young in ways which benefit both the organisation and children and young people.

The Commissioner undertakes consultations with children and young people on a wide range of topics and prepares reports and other publications, including:

Data gap

There is a lack of data on WA children and young people’s experiences of autonomy and having their voice heard. It is therefore not possible to assess how WA children and young people are faring with regard to this indicator.

Endnotes

  1. Commissioner for Children and Young People Act 2006, Western Australian Government.
Further resources

For more information on children’s autonomy and voice refer to the following resources: