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Valuing the Voice of Children and Young People

by PeakCare Qld on 28th May 2015

Home -> Articles -> 2015 -> May -> Valuing the Voice of Children and Young People

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The need to pay close attention to what children and young people say and do has long been recognised both in research and practice and across communities globally. Their right to a voice in all decisions that affect their well-being is one obligation amongst many pertaining to children and young people placed on adults and communities. In November 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). It is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world. Australia ratified the CRC in December 1990.

When considering the importance of the voice of children and young people, the relevant Articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child are Articles 12 and 13. These are respectively:

Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child. For this purpose the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.

The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art or through any other media of the child’s choice. The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For the respect of the rights or reputation of others; or

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health and morals.

In short, Australia has a duty to ensure that all children in Australia enjoy the rights set out in this treaty which include the right to be listened to and be heard. Such requirements also apply to all States and Territories. In Queensland, the above Articles are particularly pertinent given the most recent Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry, commonly referred to as the Carmody Inquiry.

In the Report, Taking Responsibility: A Roadmap for Queensland Child Protection, Commissioner Carmody stated: “Growing self-esteem and self-worth and having a sense of personal power and control are essential for faring well in the system.”

(p 46)

Furthermore, to enhance the voices of children and young people in Queensland’s child protection system and in response to the following Carmody recommendations, the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) came into being on July 1st last year:

12.7: the role of the Child Guardian be refocused on providing individual advocacy for children and young people in the child protection system. The role could be combined with the existing Adult Guardian to form the Public Guardian of Queensland, an independent statutory body reporting to the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice.

12.8: the role of Child Guardian — operating primarily from statewide ‘advocacy hubs’ that are readily accessible to children and young people — assume the responsibilities of the child protection community visitors and re-focus on young people who are considered most vulnerable.

This independent entity is responsible for ensuring the rights of children and young people as well as the well-being of vulnerable adults with impaired capacity. The Office of the Public Guardian has two key functions as it relates to children and young people: Community Visitors and Advocacy.

The community visitor program previously part of the Commission for Children, Young People and Child Guardian (CCYPCG) is now a function of the OPG. The community visitors (CVs) provide a monitoring opportunity in terms of the well-being of children and young people and the assurance their holistic needs are being met. This includes working with children and young people to assist them with various education, health, placement and care needs by offering information, support and guidance to young people in out of home care.

The independence of CVs affords children and young people the opportunity to share their experiences and raise any concerns they may have with the expectation that they will be heard and taken seriously. When a child or young person enters care they are visited by a CV. The initial visit includes rapport building and information sharing about their role and capacity with the child or young person and their carer. At this time, the specific needs of each child or young person can be identified and their interest in further visits including regular on-going visits ascertained. Young people can also contact community visitors whenever they feel the need to do so.

Ensuring that the rights of children and young people are protected and their voices heard is a mandate of the OPG. Child advocacy officers provide individual advocacy for children and young people in the child protection system. Working in collaboration with CVs, child advocacy officers ensure children and young people have a voice in the service system and throughout legal processes. This is particularly pertinent with regard to young people having a say in decisions that impact their lives and well-being:

“This new individual advocacy function is about gathering the information children and young people need to effectively support their participation in decision making by the Department, tribunals and courts. The challenge for the Community Visitors and Child Advocates is to support safe participation that effectively “carves out a space” for children and young people’s voices to be heard by the adults making these decisions” says Catherine Moynihan, Official Solicitor, OPG.

The advocates ensure that young people’s views are taken into account when decisions are made about placements and care options. This includes the capacity to attend family group meetings, court hearings or support a child or young person in applying to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) to have a decision reviewed. This affords children and young people a voice with regard to reviewable decisions by Child Safety concerning issues such as: contact with parents, siblings and placement changes. Advocates can also arrange legal representation for children and young people.

Dispute resolution is also part of the advocate role. Children and young people can receive support with resolving conflict with others or making official complaints to relevant authorities such as the Police. Children and young people can also benefit from the support of advocates in their capacity to assist in the resolution of educational issues such as school suspensions or exclusions.

Most working in child protection in Queensland are acutely aware that improvements to the well-being and life outcomes for children and young people in the child protection system require a whole of government, non-government and community response to child and family well-being. This sentiment was also clearly articulated in the Carmody report. The Office of the Public Guardian has a significant role to play in ensuring that children and young people are heard and receive the appropriate and timely responses they require when voicing their needs and concerns.

Across Queensland each organisation, practitioner, family and community member shares the same responsibility to listen to children and young people and respond in a relevant and appropriate manner. Roles may differ but the intent needs to be the same. Listening to children and young people is key to ensuring that children and young people find their voices, learn positive ways of asserting their needs and are supported in dealing with conflict in order to work through issues with the aim of resolution.

Click here to find out more about the Office of the Public Guardian

Click here to contact a Community Visitor