Where Are the Children’s Voices?
Thursday, 29th May 2014 at 9:45 am
It’s Australian children who will feel the brunt of the Federal Budget decisions on student fees, Newstart and Youth Allowance – but will they get the chance to express their opinions and views on these policy changes, asks childhood advocate and researcher Dr Sarah Wise.
Recent policy changes and proposals have highlighted the distinct lack of children’s voices in public debate. It is children who will feel the full impact of Federal Budget decisions to uncap student fees and change eligibility arrangements for Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance. And yet, they have no meaningful mechanism to share their fears, experiences, hopes and doubts as they cut a path towards earning and higher learning.
Children naturally aspire to a rich variety of careers and positive adulthoods. If our younger generations were able to contribute their views and opinions to current debates, society would be more accountable for helping them achieve the wonderful futures they want and deserve, rather than blaming a section of the youth population once roadblocks get in the way of their dreams.
A compelling children’s voice would also protect against their views and lived experiences being distorted; as they were in the recent negative portrayal of youth attitudes to work and the general deficit view of disadvantaged young people.
Experience shows that children generate valuable information and insights that lead to better decision-making and more responsive services, policy development and legislative reform.
Children’s perspectives and self-reports are also critical to create innovative, effective responses to emerging problems facing children and childhood in a constantly changing and ever more technological world.
There is also strong evidence that children benefit from consultation that makes the most of their abilities and treats them with respect. A growing field of rights-based research and service delivery with children also demonstrates that children appreciate exercising their right to be consulted and to have their concerns taken seriously.
This challenges an ‘apathetic’ view of younger Australian’s civic participation.
Increasingly, the principles of child participation are being applied within education, health and social care in Australia and the various Children’s Commissioners and some enlightened non-government organisations regularly consult with children about the services they receive and their lives.
Still, the enfranchisement of children needs to be taken to a whole new level.
Australia needs an accessible and public forum for encouraging children to make their voices heard on important social and economic issues with real-time analysis of opinions and views.
Two things appear to be holding us back; an understandable nervousness about the exploitation of children, and a lack of vision needed to develop the necessary machinery to enable a strong national children’s voice. Neither is insurmountable and should not be allowed to continue to prevent the right of children to be visible and be heard.
Australian democracy must be inclusive of the active, genuine participation of children. Now is the time for children to have a say in how their dreams for the future will be affected by the policies of today.
About the Author: Dr Sarah Wise is a Good Childhood Fellow at the Berry Street Good Childhood Institute and member of the University of Melbourne Department of Social Work.
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