Imagine Being 25: the hopes and dreams of South Australia’s regional children and young people.

Helen with students from her regional tour: hopes and dreams

Last year when I started as Commissioner I went around the State and asked children and young people what they wanted to change, what they wanted me to do and what was important to them. In regional areas there was a real sense that they love where they live and they get to do lots of outdoor activities, like having bonfires and riding motor bikes. However, they said they didn’t have a lot of fast food places or a lot of activities aimed at young people and they felt like they were missing out on some things, and that they may have to leave their communities to do well. Given there are around 90,000 children and young people outside the greater metro area I thought it would be good to find out what their hopes and dreams are for the future, and if they can achieve that in the places where they live, or are there things that we as adults can do to assist.

I wanted to visit 10 regions in 10 months and so far I have been to the Riverland, Murray Bridge, Adelaide Hills and the Yorke Peninsula. By the end of November I will have also been to Ceduna, Fleurieu, Whyalla, Barossa Valley and Kangaroo Island. In each town or region I meet with small groups of children and young people in public and independent schools, young people outside the school system and also children having fun at scouts, guides or sports.

Going around the State I have seen and heard great diversity. They talk about everything from their love of sport to what they want in the future. I ask them to imagine being 25 and tell me where they will be re living and what they have done, how they are spending their time, if they have children and if they have been anywhere interesting on holiday.

This has been a fun way to find out what is important to them and what they want from life. Some kids want to have lots of money, drive a flash car and live in a trendy apartment in an exotic place, but the majority want to live closer to home with a good job and a comfortable life.

Helen in the Riverland with some girl guides

People always ask how their region compares to others. Whereas there are lots of similarities there are some differences. For example, places like Birdwood and Gumeracha have a different relationship to Adelaide due to the ease of getting there compared to Murray Bridge, although the travelling time is pretty similar. In the Riverland, transport came out loud and clear as being an issue with kids saying they couldn’t get between different towns independently and they were very reliant on others to drive them to school, work, sport and activities. The older they got, their ability to balance a part time job, sport, contribution to community and school, meant a lot of travel for parents to get them to different places and young people felt this was a huge imposition.

In the Yorke Peninsula, and particularly Moonta, there are more tourists, more cafes and job opportunities and young people had a positive view of their communities. Even though there are quite nuanced differences in what young people talk about between our regional towns, it’s also true that kids are kids wherever you go and there are things they share with all children and young people globally.

Something I have found, both in country and metro, is that children and young people are greatly influenced by what is said around them. A lot of them spend a lot of time with adults in the car, so conversations about what’s happening in the town and the pressure adults are under plays out in their conversations with me. They pick up on worries about jobs and cost of living. Whilst largely these are adult conversations they do impact on how they view their world.

I’m really looking forward to bringing it all together at the end of the tour when I can give a report on what children and young people’s hopes and dreams are in 10 different regions. I will share their views and opinions with local leadership and work to build stronger relationships between young people and decision makers.

At the end of the tour we want to have an understanding of what life is like for children and young people living in country towns and put together a report about the good things, the challenges and aspirations, and what we as a community need to do to support them.

The next stop on my regional tour will be in Ceduna during late June.

Helen Connolly, Commissioner for Children and Young People SA.
Friday 8th June 2018