Just over a year ago I was appointed Commissioner for Children and Young People in South Australia.
I want to use this as an opportunity to tell you the story of what’s happened so far, but also tell you about what you can expect in the next four years.
The first year has been both inspiring and interesting and at times challenging.
I have been inspired by how deeply our children and young people care about inequality, and how much they want to participate and be involved in the issues that impact on them. Although they are often viewed as an individualistic generation, I have seen that they care about their communities and each other. They desperately want us adults to shift our attitudes — to ask them what they think, listen to what they have to say and take their views seriously.
If we do take the time and effort to truly engage with them we will all get to experience some extremely interesting observations of people born since the year 2000. From my interactions, many of our children and young people appear almost hard-wired for ambiguity and uncertainty which makes them comfortable with change, diversity and fluidity. It also facilitates the blurring of online and offline worlds and creates a complex network of friendships and relationships that I am completely unfamiliar with.
I have also been challenged by the concerns many young people expressed about not feeling part of the vision of the state. They have told me that there is such a strong focus on older people and our ageing state and such negative views of young people that they feel like they don’t belong. Many expressed feeling that other cities were more welcoming of young people and celebrated a youth culture, so in order to be included and valued perhaps they needed to move.
My approach to date has been to go out and see what children and young people have to say — to let them set the agenda and to represent their voices. Children and young people have been forthcoming in sharing their ideas, hopes and concerns with me. This has informed my plan and focus areas for the next four years. It’s a privilege to be tasked with listening to the children and young people of SA and making sure these voices are heard. My advocacy is directed by the experiences and issues that children and young people talk about and have asked me to focus on.
I have four key focus areas:
- Place the interest of children and young people front and centre in everyday life.
- Prioritise the development and wellbeing of those doing it tough.
- Engage and empower young digital citizens.
- Strengthen children and young people’s participation in society.
During my Listening Tour last year, one of the things I asked was ‘what was the one thing I should prioritise to help make life better for children and young people in South Australia’. This resulted in 1000 notes telling me the ‘one thing’ I needed to do first. I’m already acting on some of the top five of these ‘one things’ — The key one being ‘keep listening to children and young people’. This is the crux of what I’m doing and trying to do every day.
Another ‘one thing’ was to ‘help stop bullying and cyberbullying’. In February I started a series of focused consultations asking children and young people aged 11–18 what they think should be done about bullying. By actively engaging children and young people on issues directly impacting them is the missing piece in what we need to do as the first step in coming up with solutions to this problem.
I’m also currently on a tour of the regions, visiting 10 towns in 10 months, asking children and young people what their hopes and dreams are. Previously young people in regional towns told me it was important to feel proud of where they lived and they wanted more opportunities and facilities that were close to home so they didn’t have to leave. I will be helping to build relationships between young people and local decision makers in the regions.
This is just the beginning for me and my office. It is my intention to not only fulfill the expectations of being a Commissioner that children and young people can trust, but to work with parents, family members, carers, professionals, policy makers and the broader community to build families and communities where children and young people are safe, healthy, engaged and valued.
I have heard first hand that many children and young people in South Australia lead happy active lives and feel respected by adults. They are passionate citizens and want to participate in the decisions that affect them and their futures. They are hopeful and have a strong vision for their future in SA and they want to play an active part in building that future. I want to be part of building that future.
Helen Connolly, Commissioner for Children and Young People SA.
Friday 27th April 2018