Strengthening the voice of young people in state care

June 20, 2017
Amanda Shaw Guardian

20 June 2017

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I recently had the opportunity to speak with the Legislative Council Select Committee on Statutory Child Protection and Care specifically about the Children and Young People (Safety) Bill 2017, following my two written submissions in January and February.

All three submissions were about  the children and young people whose interests I represent – the almost 3,400 in state care and those detained in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre.

I would like to share some of the things I said to the Select Committee:

‘Underpinning what we do is the drive to make transparent what is happening for children and young people in state care and to strengthen their voice and capacity to influence what happens in their lives.  It is a commitment to the fundamental rights of children and young people.

‘The concepts of safety, best interests and wellbeing of children and young people are not mutually exclusive. It is in a child’s best interests to protect them from harm, protect their rights and promote their development in age, stage and culturally appropriate ways.

‘When children are at risk of harm, or indeed harmed, there must be action to protect and heal. What this looks like should depend on an individual child’s needs in those specific circumstances.  Some will need services and supports to maintain them safely within their home and with their parent/s.  And it will be in their best interests, and promote their wellbeing, to do so. Sadly, some will need intervention to place them in an alternative environment in order to secure their safety and wellbeing. And it will be in their best interests to do so. We’ve heard that directly from children in care.

‘Legislative reform, including the current Safety Bill, is only a part of the significant change needed to promote the safety and wellbeing of children and young people in South Australia. It does contribute incremental improvements in this overall context and substantial innovations in specific areas (for example the proposed community visitor scheme for children and young people in residential and emergency care).  But, legislation alone will not revolutionise the system that children and young people currently live within.’

‘We all have to look at other crucial factors, especially policy reform and organisational culture.

‘In our advocacy and monitoring work we often see a significant disconnection between policy and implementation.

‘The transformation of our child protection and out of home care requires cooperation and collaboration within government, between government and non-government organisations, with academia and the community … and we all must listen respectfully to those most directly affected – the children and young people who live this.’

This article first appeared in the Guardian’s Newsletter in May 2017.

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