The world is changing for children and young people in regional communities.
They are globally connected and are part of a large youth generation that has high expectations of their community leaders along with a desire to have their views and opinions listened to and acted upon.
Young people in regional South Australia contribute to conversations with other young people around the world through their social media channels daily. They are interested in issues of global concern such as climate change, politics, equal rights, refugees, mental health, poverty and homelessness. More than the generations before them, they know what to expect from leaders, and how they want to be treated.
Representing up to 25 per cent of some local populations, regional children and young people have a lot to say about the issues facing their own communities and their possible solutions. Whether it’s concerns regarding how inclusive their communities are to LGBTI+ young people, supporting young people living with disability coping with the lack of bulk billing doctors in the area, or welcoming refugees, young people want us to know what life is really like for them.
What happens if you are not into sport? Where do you find your place to belong? How do you hold down a part-time job after school if you can’t get there because there is no public transport? How do you stay in your community if there are no jobs, and what does your future in a regional town look like if you don’t feel you belong?
At the moment young people are not confident job opportunities will be available to them in their own communities in the future. Nor do they believe they will be able to access work experience connected to their interests and aspirations. They are concerned that the lack of reliable internet access and limited free Wi-Fi connections limits their ability to remain connected globally, or to participate in conversations around the big issues that confront them. These include access to education, online training, job seeking, as well as being socially connected.
Many of these issues were discussed as part of my nine month tour of regional communities spent speaking with children and young people in schools, at clubs, at scouts and guides, youth agencies and health service centre. The kids I spoke with talked about common themes including wanting to have a good home, living with people they care about and getting a good job when they leave school. They also spoke about wanting to feel proud of where they live and how they don’t necessarily want to leave their home towns, but couldn’t see the opportunities that they needed to create their futures available. They care deeply about how visitors perceive their towns. They want to feel good about themselves and they want to feel connected to their communities. Most of all they want more opportunities for input into the decision-making frameworks of their communities and for their ideas and contributions to be taken seriously and acted upon.
Children and young people want to be part of the decision making about the things that matter; jobs, the environment, services and transport. As community leaders we have a significant opportunity to harness the enthusiasm and energy of our young people, to facilitate solutions they suggest, simultaneously enabling them to feel more connected and supported to contribute to making their towns more sustainable.
They have many ideas about how to harness technology and creativity for the benefit of the communities in which they live, and they would like opportunities to express these ideas.
I challenge regional leaders to think about new and innovative ways to engage young people in decision-making and to ensure their ideas are fed into policy development and planning that impacts them directly.
For more information about the work of the Commissioner for Children and Young People and to access the “Hopes and Dreams” report, go to ccyp.com.au!
Helen Connolly, Commissioner for Children and Young People SA.
Monday 4th March 2019