Audio transcript: Involving children in child-safe organisations
Return to CFCA webinar - 8 December 2016
Audio transcript (edited)
Good afternoon everyone and welcome to today's webinar, ‘Protection through participation: Involving children in child-safe organisations’. My name is Jessica Smart and I'm a Senior Research Officer within the Practice, Evidence and Engagement team here at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Today in this webinar we will consider the nature and benefits of meaningful youth participation in practice and look at tools and strategies that can help adults and agencies draw on children's expertise. Before I introduce our speaker I'd like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet. Here in Melbourne this is the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nations. I would like to pay my respect to Wurundjeri elders, past and present and also to elders and members of other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities who may be joining us today.
Before we begin I will go over some brief housekeeping details. One of the core functions of the CFCA information exchange is to share knowledge so I would like to invite everyone to submit questions via the chat box at any time during the webinar. We will respond to questions at the end of the presentation.
We'd also like you to continue the conversation we begin here today. You can do this via a forum on our website, where you can discuss the ideas and issues raised and submit additional questions for our presenter. We will send you a link to this forum at the end of today's presentation.
Now I should also mention that as well as today's webinar we'll be publishing a practice guide on this topic early next year. So if you're not already a subscriber to the fortnightly CFCA alert I encourage you to sign up so that you don't miss this publication. Okay, so please remember that this webinar is being recorded and that the audio, transcript and presentation slides will be made available both on our website and on our YouTube channel in due course.
It is now my pleasure to introduce today's presenter. Dr Tim Moore is a Senior Research Fellow with the Institute of Child Protection Studies at Australian Catholic University. For the past three years Tim and his colleagues have spent time with children and young people conducting research for the Royal Commission. The research focuses on how to create child informed responses to children's safety concerns including, but not limited to, child sexual abuse. As a former youth worker Tim is committed to conducting research that influences practice and draws on the lived experiences of children and young people most affected by policy and practice. Please join me in giving Tim a very warm virtual welcome.
Well thank you very much. Good afternoon, everyone. It's a great delight to be here with you to talk to you about some of the things that we've heard from children and young people over the last few years, particularly around their participation and how we can make organisations safe for them.
Can I begin by joining with Jess and acknowledging the traditional owners of the land in which we meet and to pay my respects to elders, past, present and emerging and any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are with us today. Thank you all for coming along. I really hope that today starts a conversation that can be ongoing about children's safety and how we can engage kids in processes that can keep them safe.
Over the last three years I've had the great fortune of working with children and young people directly, talking to them about some of the things that worry them, some of the things that concern them and most importantly how they believe that adults and institutions can best respond to some of these concerns.
In one of the children's reference groups that we conducted very early on in the piece I asked some of the kids what was some of their fears and some of their concerns. One of the 11 year olds in the group rattled off a whole list. He said, "Cyber bullying, rats, taxi drivers, the news, spiders, being home alone, natural disasters, pigs, criminals, cyber bullying, guns, violence, big dogs, clowns." I can agree with him on that one. "Persecution, boogie men, the news, 60 Minutes, Twitter, violence, Facebook, police, video games that give you the heebie jeebies, Halloween and walruses." He then laughed and said, "Well actually walruses scare me the most."
Another young person in the group said, "I'm really scared of public speaking. I just get freaked out and I stutter and I get all sweaty and I don't know what I'm saying and I hate it. There's nothing like having people sitting there watching. Nope, it's the worst." So can I begin by thanking AIFS for organising today's session as a webinar because I agree with the young man. There's nothing like having people sitting there watching. Nope, it's the worst.
I'd also like to thank my colleagues who have been on this journey with me over the last few years particularly Morag McArthur, Steve Roach, Debbie Noble-Carr and countless others who really have been involved in this study and helped make it the success that it is. I want to thank too, of course, the children and young people who spent time with us, who really thought quite deeply about the issues that we were discussing and gave us some great insights into how we can improve the way that we keep things safe. And of course, to the Royal Commission who took a leap of faith and commissioned this important piece of research.
So you'd have to be living under a rock not to realise that we are in the middle of a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. As you would know, in 2012 the Australian Government announced the Commission which aim was to understand how and why sexual abuse occurred within Australian institutions and to provide guidance as to how future abuse might be prevented.
What has been made clear in private sessions, through case studies and in a number of reports is that children and young people's safety was often compromised because they were not given opportunities to raise their concerns, to disclose their abuse or inform how their concerns were managed. We also have heard on multiple occasions that children and young people were often not believed, their issues were minimised and their concerns weren't taken seriously.
Organisations, it's been discovered, prioritise adults and institutional reputation over children's safety and fail to recognise the impacts that abuse has on children and young people. This was often because adults did not work with children to understand how significant their concerns were or worked with them to find solutions to the issues that they encountered.
As the chair of the Royal Commission, Justice McClellan, stated in a 2015 address, "We must ensure then that in the future the institution does not silence the child. The institution must work to ensure that the child can be heard." So as I said, the Royal Commission, as part of its research agenda, commissioned us to really look at how we can best understand children's safety and most importantly what the implications of that are for the way that we protect them from harm. So we put together, very much informed by children and young people themselves, a research project that really asked the question, "How do children perceive and experience safety in institutions and how do institutions respond?."
This was a global study that engaged kids in a whole range of different institutions. What we learned early on was that kids with disability and kids in residential care had specific needs and we were very pleased that the Royal Commission supported the Southern Cross University to conduct a study looking at the needs of kids with disability and then asked us to do a further study, looking at young people's experiences with residential care. As you can see a number of reports have fallen out of those projects and they're available on the Royal Commission website.
The study, the children's safety study, really was the first of its kind in Australia, if not the world and really what we wanted to do was to understand what children themselves felt and need rather than requiring other adults to give us their ideas and their summations of what children need to be safe and how well they think institutions are responding. So what did we do? Well as you can see there, there are a number of questions that we asked children and young people in a whole range of different ways. What does safety mean? What safety concerns do you have? What do you need to be safe and feel safe? How well do institutions do in keeping you safe and what needs to be done to improve your safety?
We thought it was really important to engage children in a meaningful way right from the start so we established three children and young people's reference groups. One made up of primary school aged kids, one of young people who were in high school and then one made up of young people in alternate education. Those kids really helped to inform the project, to help us think about the nature and extent of safety issues for kids and to identify some of the things that children might find difficult talking about. They trialled some of the tools, they provided feedback on some of the games and activities that we used. They helped us analyse the data and then, once we started to pull the report together, to prioritise some of the messages that they thought the Royal Commission and others needed to hear.
We then conducted focus groups with 121 children and young people aged 4 to 18. We were really delighted to engage kids in early learning centres – we had some colleagues from Queensland who were engaged with that – and then we talked to kids in primary schools, high schools, kids with disability, kids in out of home care, young carers and others about their experiences. From the findings of the focus group we then developed the ASK-Young People survey which really drew on the findings of the focus groups and told us - sorry, attempted to elicit from children and young people the extent to which organisations were child safe as described by kids in the focus groups.
So I'll talk a little bit about both the focus groups and the ASK-Young People survey today. But again, putting in a bit of a plug, the reports are available on the Royal Commission website. Alright, so one of the first things that we wanted to explore with kids was why is it important for children and young people to participate, to have a say and for adults to take their views seriously. As you can see in this quote, one young person said, "Lots of adults don't care enough about kids, and this stuff is gonna keep happening until they see us having good ideas and believe us when things go wrong, nothing will change."
Children and young people felt strongly that participation demonstrates a respect for kids that was sometimes lacking in organisations and institutions. They felt that because they were little, because adults thought that they were incompetent or vulnerable, that often adults minimise their ideas or wrote them off as being childish. They felt that good participation enabled adults to listen to them and to experience, I suppose, the knowledge and the insights that they were able to proffer.
This is a quote that snuck in from another project, but it think summarises a number of the things that we heard from children and young people about the importance of being heard. That just having an opportunity to speak with adults about things that are worrying and concerning is important for kids. "'Cause just talking to people takes a big load off your chest, like a huge weight is lifted off you. So there does need to be more people, because it's hard to talk to people, you've got to trust them a lot, there are not many people that I can trust that I can tell."
Most importantly children and young people thought that having opportunities for kids to talk to adults about issues like safety was important because they didn't believe that adults really had a good appreciation of what kids need to be safe and to feel safe. This young person says, "You think that adults must surely have heard something if you have, and that they're dealing with it. You know we're used to not being told about things so you just assume that they're dealing with it but haven't told us. But it turns out that sometimes they have no idea, they're clueless, so maybe we need to tell them more and not assume so much. And they have to ask more, even when they think things are going okay."
One of the discussions we had with the young people, the older young people in particular was around the Internet. And they said that adults really didn't understand how to use the Internet and freaked out about kids safety online because of that lack of understanding. So a couple of quotes from kids here. "I think the big difference between adults and kids at the moment is that a lot of adults don't think their kids are safe on the Internet and stuff. When I think a lot of them, if they don't know what to do, if they're not used to it, they think it's unsafe. But we're more used to it, we know what we're doing, so we feel more confident. We're safer than their generation, they might click on something in iPad and go somewhere they shouldn't go. But we're used to using it and know what we're doing. We know what will happen if we do something, when they mightn't just because they haven't used it as much."
So kids wanted adults to respect their knowledge, their experience and the way that they, themselves, manage some of the risks. They felt that adults often minimised children's own capacity to deal with things. And wanted adults to be more respectful of that. So how do we have these conversations with kids about safety? This is a very simple activity that we developed for the safety study. We call them the cloud maps, as you can see there, what we have asked kids to do is to write the "safe" in the middle of the page. And around that to identify some words, some synonyms, things that popped up for them when they first heard the word. Around that we then asked them to write the words, "what, when, where and how" and to identify who was safe, where safe places were, what things helped them feel safe. And when during the day but also when more broadly, are they most safe.
Some of the things kids told us, so in regards to some of the words that came up for them, protection, comfort, we've got this young person here says, "Talking about anything comfortable." So they're things that relate to safety for kids. When we asked them what sorts of things helped them feel safe, lots of kids talked about their nanna's hugs, hot chocolate, their puppy that would come and comfort them when they were feeling unsafe. When we asked them, who were most safe? They often identified parents, siblings, teachers, people whose jobs it was to protect kids. So police, the army and in some cases life guards. We then also asked them about where and when they felt most safe? And most often they said that they felt safe in places that were for children as I'll talk about in a moment. Places like pubs and clubs, sporting events and the like weren't safe for kids because they would get lost there. And in lots of ways adults would act in unsafe ways.
So as you can see we repeated the activity in regards to unsafe and kids gave us a whole range of different ideas as to what unsafe meant and when and where they were unsafe. I won't go into them all now. But as you can see, kids gave us lots of different ideas about their safety, particularly in regards to their feelings, in regards to times, activities and the like. So I suppose, very briefly in summary, some of the key things that we learned from children was that, kids and young people differentiate between being safe and feeling safe. And feel that it's possible to experience one without the other.
Children and young people are often more concerned about feeling safe than being safe and believe that adults often dismiss children's needs to feel safe sometimes in an attempt to keep them safe. Say, for example, kids talked about locks on doors or security cameras and the like and they said, I understand why adults have them there so we can be safe but, you know, when you've got someone looking at you all the time or when you see grates on the windows, you know, you're reminded that maybe you're not safe and you freak out because you're worried that people might be trying to break in and hurt you.
Children and young people often said that they demonstrated how safe they are and how safe they feel through their behaviour and assess their safety in relation to how their bodies respond to people, places and experience. They said that often adults weren't very good at picking up on how children's behaviour reflects the level of safety that they experience. They said, "You know, when we are stressed out we get a little bit sweaty," like I am right now. "We get a bit nervous and it's really hard for us to concentrate." They said that they weren't necessarily very good at reflecting on why their bodies were responding that way but knew that they could take advantage of their bodies' response to a person, place or an experience to help them protect themselves.
Peoples, places and experiences that are familiar to children and young people seem safer than those that aren't. People, particularly adults, who are different to children and young people and their parents or trusted allies, so people who look the same, who've got similar background and behaviour and those who act in unpredictable, unusual, or erratic ways, are considered unsafe. So it's interesting. Some kids in New South Wales, for example, talked about kids in Queensland or adults in Queensland who were a bit unsafe. Kids talked in rural communities about city folk being unsafe. Lots of kids talked about carnies as being unsafe for children and young people. And again, I share their fears. So people who are a little bit different to them. People who were outsiders, who didn't necessarily act in familiar kinds of ways were seen as being unsafe.
So in regards to some of the others ways that we can talk to kids about safety. We've just talked about the safety maps. But here's a couple of tools that I've developed, again with and for children and young people. This one there is "The things that make me feel safe" where kids can not only identify their worries, but more importantly in this tool, identify the things that they need around them to be safe and to feel safe. Another activity that we have there, which I might talk a little bit more about later is the friendly maps, where we give kids a map of their school, their youth centre, their refuge or what have you and ask them to identify places around them that are safe and unsafe. And places where they would go really to calm themselves down and comfort themselves.
Kids wanted adults really, to recognise that they did have their own skills and strategies to deal with unsafe people, places and things. But sometimes they weren't very effective. So kids often talked about hiding under the bed or going to the sick bay or what have you at school, and realise that that may not confront the issue whether it be bullying or unsafe adults. But it might give them an opportunity to stop, to calm down and to keep themselves safe. So what else did we hear about participation, well kids told us that they valued participation because it affords them opportunities to help adults understand and respond to their needs. As this young person says, "Adults think they know what kids need to be safe but I don't think they do. They base it on what they remember from when they were kids and the world is different now. So they need to talk to kids and find out what it means to them."
One of the things that kids talked a lot about was how life was different for children now than what it was in the past. You know, kids talked about stories they'd heard from their parents of flying on the hills hoist out the back or going on these little exploration tours by themselves. I'm sure our listeners would have some of those experiences themselves. And they thought that was really unfair, that adults prevented them from doing similar kinds of things because adults themselves had put themselves in unsafe situations in the past.
They also recognised that the world is different now and that some of the risks for children that are evident now, weren't evident in the past. So here's a little quote that I love. This young person was talking her issues and she said, "I don't feel safe at Sea World, I don't like people, I don't like bears, I don't like animals, I don't like Sea World or zoos. I hate the zoo and I'm worried the tiger will get out of its cage and it will attack me and I will die. And someone will film it and it'll be on YouTube." So kids are really quite – in sharing experiences like that were very aware that there were risks that adults hadn't experience in the past that were really, really worrying for kids. This girl said the YouTube bit was the bit that she was most worried about.
Just to break up the presentation, here's what a tiger selfie might look like. Alright, so how do we talk to kids about some of these concerns and get a sense, not only about what worries them but the nature of that worry? So what we did in all of our focus groups with kids in primary school and secondary school was to develop what we call the “worry matrix”. And as you can kind of see there, I'll move on to another slide in a moment where it might be a bit clearer. On what axis we ask kids to think about the likelihood of an issue being encountered and, on the other, to look at what the impact might be if they came across this. So, for example, these are some of the issues that kids identified.
So we gave each of the kids a pad of post-it notes and we asked them to scribble as many fears and worries that they and their friends might have. We then actually gave them another set of coloured post-it notes and asked them to identify some of the fears and concerns parents might have about kids, or adults might have about kids. And then in some other groups we gave them another set and asked them to talk about worries that little children might have.
So these are some of the ones that came up for young people. I have to say there's about seven or eight hundred post-it notes that I've accumulated in my office, which we're still sorting through at the moment, but some of these came up. So, for example, ‘parent dying’. Kids felt that it was highly likely that a parent would die at some stage. And as you can see the impact was quite significant. So, you know, if the parent died the impact for the child would be quite great. There were other things on there like ghosts for example. Kids thought it was highly unlikely that a child would encounter a ghost but were very worried that, if kids did, things would be pretty dire. Losing friends, having bad grades, snake bites, were some of the issues that came up.
We then asked kids – oh, actually before I move on – one of the things I learned about participation that this is a lovely exercise and kids get very engaged, but don't leave the room while kids are in the middle of this activity because you may come back and find a child, like I did, covered in post-it notes. So, I'll come back to that in a minute.
So as you can see there are a number of issues that children raise. After we did the exercise with kids, we talked a little bit about the Royal Commission and what it was attempting to do. And we said to them, okay, from all the post-it notes that you've got there, identify the ones that the Royal Commission would be most concerned about. Kidnapping and child abduction was a big issue for many children and young people. When we were doing focus groups it was in the middle of the Morcombe case and lots of kids were really aware that child abduction was a great risk for kids. So as you can see, it's actually outside of the scale, that the impact was huge. Even though the likelihood wasn't as great.
Adult bullies, children and young people talked a lot about adults who use their power over kids. Peer pressure, and this was pressure, not only to do unsafe things but, also for the older young people in particular, this was pressure in relation to sex. Bullying by peers, adults who had their favourites, kids saw that as a big issue. It was interesting, one of the focus groups, one of the boys said, "Oh no you can't have favourites, you know, 'cause it's not fair, 'cause not everyone has a teacher who sees them as their favourite. I always wished that I was a favourite and you know, it makes me so sad that I don't think any kid should have to go through that." So you know, kids felt that it was problematic, not only in relation to grooming, which some of the older young people talked about, but also because they thought that it was unfair.
Adults doing bad stuff. And under that, kids did talk about sexual abuse but also, you know, adults who might, you know offer them drugs or get them to do things that were unsavoury. Creepy adults, as you can see, is highly likely and highly impactful. There wasn't one group of primary or secondary age kids who didn't talk about creepy adults who freak them out. And I think this really highlighted that point that I made before, about kids feeling safety within their bodies. That they sometimes couldn't identify, you know, what it was about a particular adult that made them creepy. But felt that, you know, if they were freaked out or felt a bit ew about an adult or worker or someone else, that adults really needed to take that into consideration.
So we then chose, or got them, to choose a particular issue. So for example, this is one group's thoughts about adults who bully kids. And we asked them to work with us to think about, well what would a child who experienced an adult bully, in this case. And what would they need? What do adults do at the moment? What keeps adults from doing things for kids in this situation? What are some of the things that adults do that are unhelpful? And what advice would children and young people give to adults who encountered a child who'd experienced one of these things?
As you can see in there, the kids thought that they would need support, advice, understanding; that adults were sometimes good at helping kids safe at schools; that they often paid attention; that they hear kids’ feelings. But there are some things that they were, sort of unhappy about too. They felt that sometimes adults were scared about being bullied by adult bullies and maybe they wouldn't do anything. They thought that adults often minimised kids’ concerns and think it's not a big deal. One of the complaints that lots of kids raised in groups was that adults want to fix rather than to listen and that adults sometimes didn't have skills to be able to manage the issues for children.
So as a result sometimes adults would say things like, "Grow up, walk away," or "It's not a big deal." And as you can see there in the last column, the advice that they gave for adults was to, don't forget what it's like to be a kid, how kids feel and what's important to them. Work with kids rather than doing things for them. Maybe set up a kids advisory group who can help you find solutions and give training to adults on how they might listen.
Another activity which you can have a look at, which again we developed with the kids central training was this, “here and there” activity, which, we did a similar thing. So on the left-hand side we'd ask kids to talk about life now, what are some of the good things, what are the problems, some of the risks and safety concerns that they might have. In the far right column, we then get them to write down some of the things that they would sort of hope in a – not in an ideal situation, but in a better situation. So in a school where there wasn't bullying or a school where adults weren't harming, or where kids felt that they were able to talk to adults about their problem and we describe life in that column there.
And then, what we then did was ask kids to identify some of the steps. What are some of the things that adults and institutions could do to get us where we are – where there are some problems – to where we want to be, where things are better for kids? And to come up with an action plan. So it's a more visual way of doing the exercise that I've just spoken to you about now. So in response to advice, sorry the question about advice, kids talked to us about how they would like adults to respond when children were unsafe. And they felt that adults could respect children and young people, their abilities, observations, needs and wishes; ask children what they're thinking, feeling and seeing; watch other adults and to see how they're interacting with children and how the children are behaving; listen to what kids are really saying; stand up and speak out; do what they're supposed to do, what they say they will do and what children and young people need them to d; and inform children and young people about the dangers, what's being done and how they'll do what kids have asked them to do.
So, once we got a sense as to what kids are worried about and how they would like adults to respond. Kids told us that it's actually important for them to be informed about risks too. Because they were very aware that sometimes they were unsafe, even though they felt safe. So they might come across an adult who could abuse or exploit or manipulate children and these people seemed like safe people, so they needed to get some skills on how to better assess what's going on in this scenario. But they also recognise that sometimes they freaked out, or felt that they were unsafe, when actually things were okay.
So they felt that it was really important for adults to have conversations with kids to help them understand the nature of risks and as we'll see, what adults and institutions are actually doing about it. As this young person says, "Knowledge, knowing what is being done, something dangerous has happened it's really important. Like if there are strangers in the area, knowing what your teachers and adults are doing makes you feel more safe. Rather than just knowing something bad is happening and worrying that you're in danger. But adults don't always do this or understand this, they think they should hide that stuff from kids to keep them safe. But you feel more scared if you don't know what's happening."
So when we asked kids about, for example, how their institution, in this case, it was a school context that we asked in the young people's survey. You can see, now the kids have interesting ideas about what schools were and weren't doing. And what adults – how adults would respond if kids raised their safety concerns. So as you can seek there, you know, about 30 per cent of females said that they'd be worried that things would get worse if they told an adult, and that over 45 per cent of both boys and girls said that they would feel uncomfortable talking to an adult at school. So you know, kids said that they needed to know that adults could appreciate the risks, that they had the skills to help the child manage the risk and that they had strategies in place to help resolve the issues if kids couldn't solve them by themselves.
So, through this discussion with children and young people I started to form this idea of what I'm calling "protective participation." Now I don't necessarily have a lot of time to talk too much about it today, but I want to put in another plug for an article that will hopefully come out in the new year with CFCA where we describe further this idea of protective participation. But I suppose in brief, if you look at the literature around participation and, in fact, if you think about your own practice, often we limit children's participation because we're worried about their safety. So we sort of see protection on one side and participation on the other.
Children and young people in our study I think really stressed the value of participation for their protection. They believe that, through participation, through having conversations, both formal and informal with adults, they got a better sense as to what adults were doing to keep them safe. But they also thought that adults would better appreciate the nature of risks that children had experienced and could then come up with better strategies to deal with them.
Say for example, one of the young women, who I think was 15 talked about in one of the focus groups, she said, "I was always worried about being attacked by an older, bigger guy." And she said the school strategy was to bring in a group of rugby players to talk to kids about how they dealt with bullying and harassment. And one of the strategies that was suggested was that, you know, children should act really confidently, and that bullies would stay away. The little girl said, "You know, it's all well and good for them, these big rugby players to say act all confident but I'm a little girl and I can't protect myself in that way." And as soon as I heard that I thought, you know, adults don't understand and won't do anything about it.
So, when we think about participation, protective participation, it's about not only understanding what children's needs are but also helping them have opportunities to inform the way that we respond to their fears and worries too. Again, I won't talk about it too much now but one of the things that's come through quite clearly from the literature is the need to embed participation in organisational practice; to recognise that it's not just something that we do when there's an issue. But it's something that we do to inform the ways that we work with children and young people over a long period of time. Kids said that, unless they felt that the organisation was really committed to participation and to listening and acting on what children wanted and need, they wouldn't necessarily feel comfortable in raising their concerns.
I put this slide in the hand-outs that will be available on the website afterwards. But one model that might be useful for you in thinking about how you can embed participation in organisational culture is the model by Harry Shears, where he asks you to consider, not only are you ready to listen to children and young people and have you got supports in place for them, but also, what are the opportunities, what strategies are you going to use to elicit their ideas and to act on them? And most importantly, I think, what obligations do we have?
A lot of kids said, it's all well and good that adults ask us for our opinions, but unless we think that they have a responsibility to act on them, maybe that participation is a little bit tokenistic. So Harry Shears gives you, not only some reflective questions to consider but also some strategies on how to implement them in practice.
So, the next principle I suppose – so the first one is to embed participation in practice – the next I would argue would be that protective participation is child friendly and approaches are shaped by children and young people themselves. So some of the things that we heard, particularly form our children and young people's reference groups, is that kids want to have their say and appreciate the opportunities to do so.
However, kids said that sometimes it was really awkward and weird talking to adults about their concerns. Particularly if it was sexual, a lot of the young men and young women in particular said "Oh it's ew talking about sex and stuff with your parents and you know, I really want to have this discussion but it's gonna take a little bit of a while before I feel comfortable and, in fact, my parents or other adults feel comfortable in me having this conversation."
It's quite interesting, kids throughout the study said that one of the reasons why adults didn't talk to kids about safety, particularly from abuse, was because adults didn't cope with those conversations. The adults either didn't want to hear kids who are uncomfortable or feel that distress that children are experiencing, or were overly anxious that, they wouldn't know what to do or to say if a child disclosed that they were being hurt or abused. Kids said that that's not okay, you know, adults need to be adults and get over the squeamish feeling that they might encounter and not use that as a reason not to talk to children about these things.
Children and young people, as has been demonstrated already, think about safety differently to adults, and differently to how a lot of adult think kids think. They want you to know that it takes a while to get used to talking about these issues and that sometimes they need to practice to do that for them to be more confident. Kids felt that it was important to start sussing out what children and young people already know, because they were aware that sometimes adults didn't want to fill kids' heads with worries and concerns but they thought, well we know a whole lot more than adults give us credit for. So maybe suss out first what we do and don't know and then build on that.
It's important to be guided by children and young people about what and how things are discussed. Choice and control is important and children feel more empowered when they have opportunities to talk. Again, all of these things I will discuss further in the accompanying article that will be out early in the new year. Alright, so we're about the 38 minute mark, so I'm going to hurry my way through the next couple of slides. I've been a little bit too excited, my apologies. But in regards to other characteristics of what I'm calling protective participation I'd argue that protective participation needs to be not only responsive to when a child discloses an issue or a concern, but also when we're thinking about child abuse prevention.
This child said, "Adults and youth think about things different when they're trying to work out what's going on. I think adults make a quick judgment while we watch, look out for things more. Adults probably more experiences so they can decide quicker. But that doesn't mean they don't make mistakes. Maybe because we're watching, we see things they don't see." So kids wanted to be involved in identifying things early. And one of the criticisms they made on some approaches to child safety is that adults require something to have happened before they take kids seriously. So engaging kids in a preventative way is important.
Kids said that it was also important for participation not to be seen as a one off exercise. And that maybe it would better if it didn't require adults to initiate the participation, but sometimes it was useful if they did. So we've got sort of mixed messages for different situations. Now we've lost the dot, dot dots which doesn't help me very much. So I will have to come back to that slide. But kids overwhelmingly, I think the third one down was a question where kids were asked to respond to a statement that was, "Adults at my school would only know if a child was unsafe if the child told them." They felt that most adults would be clueless about kids’ safety because they weren't good at picking up on kids’ behaviours. And felt therefore that children need to feel comfortable going to an adult and raising their concerns. But they also said that keeping kids safe was an adult responsibility and that adults needed to check in with kids every once in a while to make sure that they were safe.
It was interesting in focus groups, we asked kids how often it was that an adult in a school, in a refuge, in a resi-care unit actually asked them, whether or not they felt safe. And most of the children said that they couldn't remember a time when adults asked those questions. Teachers and support workers who were sitting in on those focus groups said that they were quite challenged by that and they realised that they didn't ask those questions, thinking that they probably would pick up when a child was unsafe. They took the point that was important for kids to have adults ask them, at different points and at different times.
Particularly protective participation understands and responds to – addresses – power imbalances. So kids talked a lot about feeling quite disempowered, not only when they were experiencing abuse and other safety concerns but more generally. Kids talked about the fact that they were small and little, like the girl with the rugby players. But they also recognise that there was an intergenerational vulnerability. "Because they're adults and we're kids, we're always gonna be in a worse off position. Everyone thinks that adults can treat kids how they want, that kids should be respectful of adults no matter what and that adults should just do what adults say because they're kids and adults are adults."
They also felt that adults stuck together, and weren't very good at taking kids’ side when kids needed it the most. "Adults won't usually stand up against an adult bully," said one kid for example. "Maybe it's because they don't see it as a problem or maybe because they don't want to get caught in the middle of it. I think people think it's okay to intimidate a kid, particularly if it's so they do something that people think is gonna be good for the kid but that doesn't mean that it's okay."
Protective participation is skill building, it gives kids opportunities to learn how to identify risks and to keep them safe when those risks emerge. Protective participation leads to change. Kids highlighted the fact that they were sick of adults asking them for their opinions when they felt that the adults didn't respect them and that things didn't result or change as a result of their participation. Protective participation fosters evaluation and complaints handling.
A lot of children particularly those in out-of-home care and residential care, but other kids who are involved in the system, really felt that we had to have more robust complaints handling systems, that kids didn't think that adults would take their views seriously. And that when they did raise concerns or complaints with adults and institutions, often the adults didn't feedback to say, this is what we've done and this is what you can now expect.
The Western Australia Commissioner for Children and Young People has developed a beautiful resource the link to which I will make sure is available to you, which identifies some really great ideas about what we need to do, what we need to build into a complaints handling system. Again I won't go into that now. Protective participation focuses on children's needs and wishes as well as organisational responsibilities. Some children and young people, particularly those in the welfare system, felt that many of the strategies that were in place to protect them, were more about fulfilling organisations' responsibilities than about meeting their immediate needs.
They believe for example, that in an attempt to keep kids safe, adults were told not to spend time alone with kids, were required to fill out more paperwork and report to authorities to meet their legal responsibilities. This was seen as the top priority. More important than ensuring that children and young people felt safe, were given some control over what they wanted to have happen and for adults to be present for kids in their own spaces. And to develop relationships that will afford a kids confidence and trust.
Having opportunities to feed back their level of satisfaction on how well adults and institutions were balancing their compliance responsibilities and children's needs were also advocated. So kids were saying, you know, that in an attempt to protect kids, there's a whole lot more paperwork that had to be filled in. If someone fell off the monkey bars or what have you, adults were then tied up in the office, meeting their organisation’s requirements of them rather than actually being there to watch to make sure that kids weren't falling off the monkey bars. Kids in residential care, in the focus group with kids in residential care, talked about the fact that adults were spending more and more time in the office because they had more and more requirements from their organisation to fulfil; that they had, again, to fill in daily reports on what kids were doing and what they weren't doing. And in particular, writing out critical incident reports when things had gone awry.
They said that by spending all this time in the office they weren't on the floor with kids, which meant that they weren't developing relationships that kids felt were trustworthy. And they weren't there, physically present when bullying or harassment or what have you arose. So really protective participation challenges some of the old ideas about protection, where adults are responsible for kids and where the relationship really is one way. As Kay Tisdall writes in this book, "The lesson to be learned is that effective protection of children can only be achieved by listening to and taking them seriously. The conventional view of protection has been a one way process with adults as agents and children as recipients. What is now needed is a more sophisticated approach in which it is understood as a dynamic process in which adults take responsibility for keeping kids safe. By listening to, and respecting their perspectives while empowering them to contribute for their protection."
So we're running out of time but I suppose the key points that I wanted to stress today, from the things that we've heard from children and young people is that it's really important obviously to develop child safe strategies and to think about participation. But we need to think about how the strategies and the responses to children's safety are actually informed by children and young people themselves. We also need to think about participation as a prevention activity. How do we get kids involved early on in the piece? And how do we ensure that what we're doing is not only keeping them safe but helping them feel safe? Because children stress that the real importance for them of feeling safe.
The last one was that participation can inform strategies related to child was - but to others too, you know, kids wanted to be involved in identifying staff, in recruiting staff, in training staff and supporting staff. They felt that kids needed also to be informed a lot about the way that these processes were in place. One group for example, you know, were quite mindful that these working with children checks were in place. But they said, you know, adults never ever share them with us. We don't know which workers have got working with children checks and which ones don't. Why is that the adults find out about this stuff and not kids?
So reporting back to kids and involving them in how we recruit, support and monitor staff is really important. They also stressed the value of having others outside of their organisations coming in to, not only monitor, but to help kids express some of their concerns, needs and wishes at the same time. So, we've included a number of resources at the end of this presentation, which again, will be available both on the AIFS website but also in the paper coming out in January. I highlight the kids central toolkit there too which has got a whole section on how we can best talk to kids about their safety and safety needs. And how to do so, particularly for kids in you know the seven to ten year old age group. While a lot of things we talked about today was for the older groups. So that's me. Thank you so much for listening in. Hopefully today starts the beginning of an ongoing conversation about participation and how we can embed that in child safe organisations. Thanks.
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