The importance of listening to children and young people is becoming increasingly understood as central to their wellbeing, safety and development.  This is particularly so where matters of child protection are concerned.  Queensland Child Protection Week (QCPW) notes listening to children and young people as the key child protection message, alongside child protection being everyone’s business.  Child Safety Minister, Hon Shannon Fentiman, noted the vital importance of hearing children and young people during her QCPW speeches.  Forgotten Australians in speaking to historical abuse in institutions have also noted the importance of hearing children and young people.  A message being echoed loudly by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Whilst there is clearly growing recognition of the paramount need to listen to children and young people and to hear what they say, translating this into embedded practices whereby  their voices are given credence and a platform for being both heard and genuinely responded to remains a work in progress.  Arguably one of the best examples of this in Australia is the CREATE Foundation (CREATE), an organisation for children and young people in statutory care.

In Queensland young people through CREATE have various opportunities for being heard and ensuring their voices and feedback reaches relevant persons including professionals, parents and carers as well as those in various positions of authority.  One such example is G Force, a workgroup of CREATE young consultants and professionals in the child protection arena where young people lead the agenda and raise issues relevant to them for the group to work alongside young people to establish work plans, liaise with government and key stakeholders and develop resources and policy.

CREATE also showcases the voices of children and young people nationally through their Conferences.  The most recent: Voices in Action: empowering young people for positive change, was held in August in Sydney.  Regular national surveys of children and young people in care garnishing their opinions and experiences are also another avenue offered to children and young people by CREATE. CREATE’s 2017 National Survey is currently underway and is the largest survey of its kind ever undertaken with children and young people with a care experience in the world. CREATE is seeking all involved with children and young people in care to encourage young people aged 8-25 years around Australia to have their say and to help change the care system for the better. Find out more here.

Whilst excellent inroads are being made by the CREATE Foundation and others regarding the voices of children in care, it is widely acknowledged that a voice for children and young people in much research is still lacking.  In an exciting initiative, the University of Melbourne has engaged with children and young people in research to hear their views about family violence.

The researchers assert that: “Across sectors children experiencing family violence have not been treated as victims in their own right. They have not been able to have their voices heard.” However, recent research has brought this issue to the fore and begun to create innovative ways for children to have a say about their experiences of family violence.

Dr Katie Lamb carried out the study as part of her doctoral research in collaboration with University of Melbourne’s Research Alliance to End Violence Against Women and their Children, supervised by Professor Cathy Humphreys and Professor Kelsey Hegarty. This group of researchers are aiming for practice reform that creates enabling environments where children feel safe and supported to express themselves.  They see this as the crucial next step to ensure appropriate responses for children experiencing family violence.  The findings of this current research are being used in fathering programs to assist fathers who use violence in understanding and having empathy for their children as they work towards their own rehabilitation and recovery.

“Children’s perspectives on their relationship with fathers who use violence rarely figure in the research literature or in the legal processes dealing with family violence. But when I came to talking to them I was blown away by exactly how strong their views were, whether it was an older young person or a child as young as a nine year old,” says Dr Lamb. “They all in some way wanted their fathers to acknowledge that what they had done was wrong and apologise.”

“Even those children who wanted no further relationship with their fathers still saw reparation as being important to their own healing and giving them closure,” says Dr Katie Lamb.  Overall, she found that common to the children commenting was a demand that their Dad make reparations in some way, to try to make amends.  They saw this as either a precondition for rebuilding trust or as a way that they could move on with their lives.

For more information please read the full article in Pursuit by Andrew Trounson, University of Melbourne – Children speak out on family violence.