Supporting children to participate in evaluation

Content type
Event date

3 May 2023, 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm (AEST)


Sharon Sparks, Lauren Thomas, Amanda Paton, Kat Goldsworthy




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About this webinar

This webinar was held on Wednesday, 3 May 2023.

Programs and services that seek to benefit children are increasingly looking at ways to actively involve them in evaluation. Children can provide unique insights as to how programs that affect them work and how they can be improved. Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), children also have a right to participate in decision-making that affects them. Appropriately involving children in evaluations of programs and services that affect them is one way of ensuring children's rights to participate in decision-making.

This webinar:

  • Reflects on practices and beliefs that are barriers to children participating in evaluation
  • Shares practical tips and insights for facilitating child participation in all stages of evaluation
  • Discusses child appropriate data collection methods and how to use them.

This webinar is recommended for practitioners, evaluators and researchers working directly with children and who are interested in, or have responsibility for, undertaking or commissioning evaluation in their organisation.

Audio transcript (edited)

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Welcome, everyone to today’s webinar, Supporting Children to Participate in Evaluation. My name is Kat Goldsworthy and I’m a senior research officer in the evidence and evaluation support team here at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. I’d like to start with an acknowledgement of the Boonwurrung and the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land I’m speaking on today. I’d like to pay my respects to their elders both past, present and emerging, as well as any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders joining us today. So, today we’re talking about a really important topic and one that comes up frequently in the conversation me and my team have with service providers and that’s the topic of involving children in evaluation.

We’re running this webinar in connection with the practice guide that we released earlier today titled Involving Children in Evaluation, What to Know. You’ll find a link to the AIFS website where the guide is available in the handout section in the GoTo Webinar panel. So, after this webinar if you feel like doing some further reading, that practice guide might be a good place for you to start but moving onto today, we’ve pulled together an excellent panel of speakers. You can see all their lovely faces on the screen and they’re here to share some insights from their work with children in various practice, research and evaluation contexts. They’re also going to share some practical tips and ideas for how to meaningfully engage with children and also to respond to children - to what children are telling us.

So, it’s my great pleasure to introduce our panellists. I’ll start with Sharon. Sharon Sparks is the senior manager of children’s programs at the Brotherhood of St Laurence. Sharon has worked in the community sector for over 10 years and is a strong advocate for young children’s voices and participation. She recently led a national children’s voices listening tour with young children participating in HIPPY and you’ll hear a little bit about that today. Welcome, Sharon.

Next, I will introduce Lauren Thomas who is a senior project lead at the Australian Childhood Foundation. Lauren has expertise in international approaches to children’s rights for vulnerable children and has been a counsellor and a teacher. Over the past 20 years, she has worked with vulnerable and traumatised children and young people. Great to have her here. Welcome, Lauren. Last, I’d love to introduce Amanda Paton who’s the deputy director of practice at the Australian Centre for Child Protection at the University of South Australia. Obviously, that title shows that she’s got a range of expertise across child abuse and neglect. She’s also looking at the interface between practice and research and we’re really grateful to have her here. Welcome, Amanda.

Thank you all online for joining us today. So, before we get into the conversation, I just want to do some really basic housekeeping. Please send your questions via the questions box to the [GoTo Webinar] dashboard for the live Q&A station which we’ve got happening at the end of the facilitated discussions, although the webinar is recorded so it will be available on the AIFS website in about two weeks after this broadcast. So, if you subscribe to our newsletter, the link to the recording will be provided in the AIFS news. Obviously, you can sign up to the news if you haven’t already.

In the handout section of your [GoTo Webinar] control panel, you’ll find some of the resources we’ll be discussing today and other resources that relate to this topic. Finally when this webinar finishes or if you leave early, a short feedback survey will open in a new window. We’re talking about evaluation today, so we’d really appreciate you taking some time to complete the survey because your feedback will certainly help us to improve these webinars. That’s it for housekeeping, very excited to start the discussion, the reason that we’re all here.

So, I promise I will get to some of the practical tips very shortly, we’re going to dive into that quite quickly into this discussion but I really do want to start with the discussion around why should we be involving children in evaluation and what does it mean to do it meaningfully? I might go to you first, Sharon, if I can.

SHARON SPARKS: Well, I think - my background is primary school teaching and working in community and I think - it’s funny. We grow up and there’s that statement of, “Children are seen and not heard,” and my generation when I did my degree, it wasn’t really mentioned much with letting children have a voice during my studies and over my time working in community and working in participation and learning about children’s rights and voice, I’ve just noticed how important it is because it’s pretty much like when you go into a bank and they want you to talk about your experience, just hit a button on the wall and everybody gets that opportunity everyday but children don’t and I think the more we get a voice, the more children get a voice, the better things are.

So, that’s probably my ethos around all of it. Children know what they want and have really great things to say so I think that’s why we should be involving them in anything that affects them.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Yeah, absolutely and you’ve obviously done a range of work in actually being able to do that and particularly with young children so I’m really interested in hearing some of the tips and advice and experience that you have with that potentially a little bit later on. Thanks. Lauren, I might throw to you. Why do you think we should be involving children in evaluation and doing it meaningfully? I know that you have some interesting things to say on this point.

LAUREN THOMAS: Thanks. My first answer I suppose about why is because it’s their right. Children have a right to meaningfully participate in the decisions that affect them and the processes that affect them and I suppose one of the reasons it’s important to do that as a right is that a big difference between children’s rights and human rights is that children don’t have the option to vote and as adults, because we vote, we have the ability to have a say on the decision making structures, the powers that make a difference to our day to day lives and because children don’t, it’s really important that we give them a say in participating in those decision making structures, so that’s one of the reasons why participation is such a big deal in terms of our children’s rights process.

So, something I was really interested in, in my research fellowship when I travelled overseas was looking at how this is done in the different countries and different statutory settings, thinking about ways to make it meaningful. What do people do to make it possible? I’ve looked at Laura Lundy’s model as a way of translating children’s right to meaningfully participate and I think it’s a really simple way and just breaking it down into four components that organisations or systems or services can make sure that children’s right to participate is present and that is that we need to make sure that we’ve provided a space so that needs to be safe and inclusive for children, that we’ve provided information and support for them to have their voice and it’s not just that their voice is heard.

Obviously for all children to have a space for a voice, it means that there’s mixed methodology, it’s not just spoken voice but in different ways to express it in a way of voice ways. They also have the right not to speak or not to participate, so that’s part of voice as well but also that we’ve provided the information they need to form their views to express as well and sometimes we can be a bit guilty of not giving children the information they need to form views as well. The third area in Lundy’s model that’s really important is that we- and I think the third and fourth areas are the ones that maybe we don’t always get right, is influence and audience.

So, not just the space and the voices areas but influence, that we have made sure that we’ve taken children’s views seriously and we’ve acted on them where it’s appropriate to do that. So, we don’t just check in. We don’t just ask for feedback but we’ve taken them seriously and we’ve acted on them and lastly, audience, that we’ve made sure that children’s views, we’ve provided them an audience, someone to take them seriously. The audience that we’ve given children’s views have the responsibility to listen to it and I think particularly in my area of work, I work with children and young people who have experienced abuse and violence, people who have got statutory involvement.

So often, these are children who have not yet had many experiences of having their voice listened to or taken seriously and that has all sorts of developmental effects, but particularly if you’re involved of statutory systems and then you age out, if you age out of that system having not had that experience, you can begin to imagine the impact that that has on your identity formation and I think it’s just a really, really important part of their rights that we need to start getting right and it’s for good reason that it’s now legislatively being looked at in states around Australia and is part of our legislation here in Victoria too. So, that’s my answer, Kat, on why I think it’s important.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: That’s a brilliant answer. There’s so many things that I picked up from that as well and I was thinking about there’s four components around the rights, Lundy’s model and I was just wondering, there’s the influence and the audience but do we also have a responsibility to communicate what we do with those things back to children? Does that form part of that model? I was also just wondering, have you seen that model implemented anywhere really well where people are - are there examples of that happening?

LAUREN THOMAS: 100%, yes. So, closing the feedback loop is incredibly important. It’s one way that we can ensure to children that we do take their views seriously, that it is worth them sharing it. There is a thing that’s well documented in research that’s called consultation fatigue that children and young people, particularly those in statutory involvement, do get very tired of being consulted and then it going nowhere and nothing being done with it. I think as adults, we can probably sympathise with that. If we get asked by somebody in our organisation what we think or our opinion on something and then they do nothing on it, nothing ever changes, you pretty quickly get annoyed by that and if that happens a whole lot, there’s a reason that young people would see through it pretty quickly.

So, I think it’s for good reason that we need to close that feedback loop. The second question of have I seen Lundy’s model being used around the world in different ways, yes, 100%. It’s being used - there’s lots of examples but probably the major one that I can give you is in Ireland. The family services for - I don’t know if it’s pronounced Tusla or Toola, it’s T-U-S-L-A. Their family services have designed their children’s participation around Lundy’s model and were also evaluated using Lundy’s model as part of their processes and it’s a really interesting process of being able to see the effectiveness of how children in the service have been able to meaningfully participate in all four quadrants. So, I really recommend that. It’s published online, freely downloadable for anybody that wants to have a look at it.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Wonderful. Thanks, Lauren. Really interesting. Amanda, I really want to hear from you but I might just move into our next question and you can absolutely touch on in that question why you think we should be doing some of this work and I’m sure it’ll come out as you’re speaking to some of the other questions I have. I just want to - I said earlier that we will get into the practice, the tips, the ideas fairly quickly so I do want to get there. I guess I’m just wondering, it is that question of how, how can we actually start doing this work?

Lauren provided an example of people that have been implementing Lundy’s model. You’re very experienced, Amanda, in this space. I’m just wondering, do you have some tips, some things that you can share and how do we actually start listening to children, talking to them about their experiences, getting them involved in evaluation and particularly across different age groups and maturity levels? You don’t necessarily have to touch on that but I just thought you might have some things to share on that.

AMANDA PATON: Sure. I think first of all from a system or organisational level, we actually need to take a step back for a moment and in the first instance, you need to understand and acknowledge the significant value of the voice and views of children. It’s enshrined in our National Child Safe Principles now and other standards. I’m involved in a national project where it’s going to be included in the standards as well that we actually continuously canvas the views of children that we’re working with and integrate that back in a seamless feedback loop into our practices and processes but I think there’s still a culture in some areas that question the value of children’s thoughts and probably what’s historically been a world of systems designed by adults with an old mentality of, “Adults know best,” so I think that’s really the first thing.

We need to really acknowledge the value of the voice and views of children and young people and then secondly, we need to consider upfront what we’re going to use the information for. Lauren mentioned there, the kind of participation fatigue and we as adults get really fed up if we continuously participate in providing our commentary and it’s not taken into account and there’s no change. So, I think before we undertake to actually canvas the views of children and capture their voice, we need to actually have an established mechanism within an agency or a system where we consider how we’re actually going to integrate the information that we receive and that may actually be about implementing change and we have to be really up for that and we have to be open to that possibility.

And then thirdly, I think we have to be open and willing and really ready to actually hear some hard truths. It’s not all going to be beautiful, lovely rainbows and feedback and I think we actually have to be realistic about that and that we might hear some things about our practice or our services or our systems that might be really confronting and that might indicate a need for change and that also includes hearing disclosures of abuse and harm and really recognising that it’s not a barrier to engaging children in evaluations and even in very vulnerable populations but it’s a consideration, so we need to create safety and have protocols in place.

From a - so, they’re the first three things that I think as a system, we really need to ask ourselves, particularly as decision makers and managers when we put these kinds of evaluations in place. Then I think once we’ve done that, we can then - we look at the level or the point at which we want to canvas the voice of children, so I think it’s - we can recognise that we can actually do this at all levels.

It’ll look a bit different for different settings and for different age children but if we think of a service if you like, so there’s that individual one-on-one practice level so we can regularly seek feedback from children about their experiences of intervention, what they liked, what they didn’t like, what was helpful, what wasn’t, what their experience was of the style of interaction or the environment or context, we can generally inquire around, “Does it feel safe? How can we improve?” and so we can have these really practice level discussions which we can do in a really game-based or through stories or through drawing or simply asking a child for their thoughts but that can be done from a really young age as well so we can start to have those conversations really young in those relationships at a practice level.

Then I think there’s that service level and this is where I think people’s minds naturally go to when we talk about evaluations and we had the example before, you go into a bank and you get to click on the button and say, “Yep, that experience was good,” or, “It wasn’t quick enough,” or whatever, they’re kind of those canvassing consumer-level feedback and quite often in this kind of space, we might canvas the feedback of parents and carers but we can do that for kids as well. There’s great apps you can do that with now. They can have iPads at the front desk too where they go, “Yep, it was good today,” or, “No, no one said hello to me or greeted me really friendly today so I’m going to put a sad face for today,” which you might use as a really simple rating system for young children.

We can then do it at a whole range of different ages. Then the next stage up is really the system level and I think evaluations here can be a lot trickier and sometimes people are really cautious about asking children what they think of a system or a process and they maybe assume that children don’t quite understand the complexities of a system or why policies or processes are done or designed in a certain way and how could they possibly understand because they’re children?

So, they might shy away from that because they might think that children might unfairly or harshly be critical of a system if we ask them about it but we’ve seen some really excellent examples of where this has been done in Australia with really vulnerable populations where they’ve been able to actually put forward some really innovative ideas through inclusion. “What’s your experience like and how did you find that process of going to Centrelink or engaging with employment services as a young person?” or whatever the system might be.

So, I think it’s really - we just have to listen and I think we can make it really, really complicated sometimes but actually just simply asking the question of young people, “What do you think?” and, “How was that today?” and, “How has your experience been?” can be some really basic ways to actually engage.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Thank you. There’s so many things that you said that I want to pick up on and delve further into but I’ll just pick a couple of things. The first thing is linking back to I think something that Lauren said earlier which is around talking about establishing some quiet, simple and easy ways to just hear from children about various different things at system and practice level but I’m thinking about some of the children maybe that have been over consulted or they’ve been excluded from processes for long periods of time.

I’m just wondering, is there an element where you would have to start working to build the confidence of children or helping them to have a voice where they feel safe and able to participate without any consequences, does that come into it at all?

AMANDA PATON: Yeah, absolutely and I think this is where like with anything, they need to see that action is being taken. So, they need to see that feedback loop if you like. They need to know that if they’ve shared a concern with you - you can even draw on some of the really, really basic protective behaviours literature, they need adults to listen to them and take action and respond. So, if a kid tells you that the thing that’s going on in their service system or service experience makes them feel unsafe and isn’t really doing any good and it’s not really helping, then they need to be able to see action that the adults that they’ve told that to have actually done something about it so they can see change.

So, I think that’s one really basic thing where we need to give kids feedback when they give feedback to us. So, if we are asking for their thoughts and for their views, we need to go, “We really clearly heard you and this is what we’re dong about it.” So, I think that’s one really critical thing. We can’t diminish the power of that kind of feedback and sometimes it might be very hard and it might be, “We heard you and we understand and we can’t change that thing. We can’t take away the need for that form or for that particular process but how about we can help you navigate through it or what would make it easier if we can’t change the structure of that thing but what other supports can we put in place?”

So, it’s not always about -sometimes you might not be able to fix it or we might not be able to change it but we can support the young person to actually have their experience improved as well and I think that’s important.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Yeah, absolutely. There’s something else that you raised earlier that I might touch on a little bit later. So many areas that we could delve into. Just want to live Lauren and Sharon - want to add anything to that particular discussion? I’m going to ask you about any tools or tips or guidance that you might be able to share with people but just wondering if you had anything to add around building up children’s confidence or skillset or whatever it might be to participate in some of these activities.

Pointing, is that to Sharon?

SHARON SPARKS: From my experience, what we did - because we were working with quite young children, so four and five-year-olds - is making sure that there’s somebody there that they know.

So, we were coming in and we’d met the children once or twice if we were lucky but they had their parents there and their tutors there who worked with them all the time and did activities all the time, so that helped with safety and I think also being really transparent about everything, being really clear about, “We want to talk about this and this but if you don’t want to, that’s okay,” always having options for the child to make a decision whether they want to engage or not and I think being really clear with parents as well and making sure that you’re communicating everything to everybody as transparently as possible to make it as safe as possible and that includes language and translators and anything you need for people with disabilities to help read or those sort of things.

So, I think having all of the supports in place establishes some safety and I know Lauren has got some good stuff on this too.

LAUREN THOMAS: Thanks. I would add I think from my own experience, I think it can be helpful to have a little tool or a resource, something that you’ve got ready to use. I know when I was travelling, and this is worldwide, no matter how much you’ve been trained, there are - one of the big barriers for people in terms of doing participatory work with children is nervousness about how to talk to children and it seems to be the case for people who are workers with children. It doesn’t seem to matter that we are all perhaps well experienced. It’s still something that people are nervous about and it is additionally there when people are working with children on or around sensitive topics, so topics around child abuse or topics around harm.

So, I thought maybe I would just mention a couple of the tools that perhaps could be helpful because they maybe give us a boost of confidence. So, as well as Sharon has developed which I know is in the resources that you’ve sent out for everybody or put up for everybody, Kat, one tool that I’ve used a lot is the one that the Australian Childhood Foundation did develop and we - it’s on our website if people want to check it out.

It’s called the feedback tool, children’s feedback tool and it’s a toolkit, it’s a box and you can use - there’s all sorts of different sensory that you can use with children and cards that explore different things to do with service feedback or dyadic work feedback, things that - you can explore the environment that you’ve been working with the child in, the child’s experience of their culture being supported, therapeutic work that’s been done. We developed it in partnership with the Regional Family Violence Partnership Service in Victoria. It’s a beautiful tool.

They’ve got squishy basketballs that you can do scaling with, you’ve got rocks, you’ve got all sorts of different bits and pieces and for me, I’ve used that with children in the early years. I’ve used it with nonverbal children because you’ve got the visual scaling tools. You can use it for that and I’ve used it for children through to about 13 or 14 years of age. They’ve also got some body mapping visual tools that you can use in there as well. Another one that I would say that I think is really helpful if you’re doing group work particularly, the CCYP in Victoria published a children’s participation and empowerment guide that’s free and downloadable off the website.

Tim Moore was involved in that and it’s got loads of ideas in there, all sorts of activities, things that you can do, recommendations and ideas. So, I recommend that. That’s really, really great. One that I haven’t used but that has been recommended to me, I know there’s a link that I provided to AIFS beforehand that’s in there as one that was published for researchers working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations called the Dillybag. It’s a research paper published by Queensland University and it was a series of different tools that can be used for participatory practice and research and I think they look really interesting as well.

So, if you’re looking for something you can have in your hand that will help you feel more confident in that way, then those are some things that I would say are examples. I do just want to remind you, it is as simple as a conversation as Amanda was saying before, just asking the question, checking in, “What did you think of that? How did that go?” Those are your starting points and in a way, it is that simple. It doesn’t necessarily have to be super complicated because those questions human to human are a decent starting point and they, sometimes surprisingly, can elicit really amazing conversations.

So, I think if we start with the idea that for these children and young people, it is their right to participate and it’s my job to help work that out. “How do I make that happen?” That’s the starting point for the next part. We can sometimes have to be quite creative but it is sometimes very simple as well. So, that’s my two cents for that bit I guess.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Thanks, Lauren. I think that’s right. In the practice guides that are put together, we talk - I try to summarise some of the data collection methods that do use children and a lot of it does come down to, “Here are some different ways that you can engage with children and build a relationship and have fun doing these creative things,” but it often does come back to conversations. There’s the tool but there’s always conversations that happen around that. So, I think that’s a really good point. Sharon, I just wanted to come back to you for a second if I could.

I was thinking before about what Amanda was talking about the systems level and this is something that comes up in evaluation a lot which really is around culture, organisational culture around taking this stuff seriously, committing to actually respond to the information that we’re getting and building in different mechanisms across the organisation. It can’t often just happen in practice. It needs to be supported at all levels and I just was wondering with your experience in the listening tour with the HIPPY program, was that your experience? Is that how that got off the ground? Was there a supportive culture? Was there an element of that?

SHARON SPARKS: Yeah. It’s a really interesting story and I think my manager at the time would totally back me on this. We weren’t even thinking about the children and it’s a children’s program. When I came into HIPPY, I started talking about - they were looking at a new curriculum and I said, “That’s excellent. I love working on curriculum. Have we asked the children what they think about it? Have we asked the children if they’re enjoying it? Have we asked the children if anything needs to be changed?” and she went, “Oh, no.”

So, then she really backed me in this and I was lucky enough to win a grant to go overseas which she backed me in as well and to do some research. So, we did a listening tour around HIPPY - HIPPY is a program if people don’t know, most people know, it’s a program for four and five-year-olds that’s free and there’s 100 sites across Australia. So, they have 50 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander focused sites and 50 - they’re not indigenous focused but they’re very, very diverse and they’re in rural and remote and urban. So, we got a good snapshot across all of the sites and we went to - we spoke to 400 kids and we did this twice about what they thought about the curriculum.

So, I was really lucky in the fact that HIPPY really supported this and I think it is a challenge for a lot of organisations sometimes when the management don’t see that as important because, “We can make the better decisions. The kids don’t really know.” So, out of what we did, we got fantastic feedback and changed our curriculum with the majority of their feedback and like Lauren and Amanda was saying how important feedback is, we took it back to them and showed them what we had done and I think it’s hugely important to get your service or your program onboard with how important it is.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Yep, that’s so fantastic and it’s - just for everyone joining us, you created some practice guidelines on the back of that tour and so we’ve linked to that if people want to read into it about the process that you went through because it was really interesting and I’m sure it will resonate with a lot of people who just want to get started doing some of this work. Thanks. Okay, I might move on now just to the next question because we’ve probably only got about 10 more minutes before we get into the Q&A aspect where we respond to some questions from our audience.

Probably the only thing that we haven’t spoken about so much, Lauren mentioned a little bit some challenges in what you were talking about earlier, Lauren, but we haven’t really spoken too much about the challenges and barriers involved in supporting children to participate in evaluations.

Certainly, some of the things that came up in the literature that I reviewed for my practice guide were the usual things around how it can take a lot more time to think about how you might try engaging children and, that can be a factor. Sometimes the cost, people think that they need special approval or certain people involved and a skillset, all of those things always come up in anything you do in evaluation, let alone children but there were other more surprising things too like the unconscious and the unchallenged beliefs that some of us can hold around children’s vulnerability and their capabilities.

So, I wasn’t really aware of that so I found that really interesting. Amanda, you have done a lot of work working with vulnerable children as you’ve spoken about earlier. I was just wondering, did you come across any barriers in doing that work or challenges? Are there things that you can share from your work with others in similar contexts?

AMANDA PATON: I think there’s three main barriers that - why people sometimes shy away from involving children in evaluations for particularly vulnerable children or vulnerable cohorts as well. The first I think is we’re always really fearful of causing additional harm to children by asking about their experiences and that if we ask and bring it up, that’s somehow going to cause more harm and I think to that, I say children who have experienced harm and neglect and abuse and those type of things, they think about it all the time and it’s their experience and it’s in their world and they’re living it and they often want to share and they want to talk about it and they want to tell you what went right and what didn’t go right, so I think they’re thinking about it and talking about it, whether we ask them and whether we’re there to listen or not.

So, I think that’s the first thing. The second one is often people see managing disclosures as a barrier so they shy away from it, so hearing and managing disclosures of abuse and the last one is really the managing consent of minors and I think to talk about the issue of receiving disclosures and managing disclosures, I think as I’ve touched on before, we have to be prepared to hear the negative things along with the positive things when we do evaluations with anyone, whether that’s adults or children but it’s particularly more sensitive for children.

And I think we do and we should struggle with hearing the bad things that often happen to children and in my area, working with children who they’ve experienced harm and quite often, they’ve experienced really horrific sexual abuse and what we call complex trauma and multiple experiences over many, many years, those who have experienced abuse and those maybe living in out of home care or in residential care settings and those types of things, they’re an extremely vulnerable population and we know that they’ve already experienced some form of harm which is a known factor that we can account for but often, they’ve also experienced significant unknown harm and harm that they haven’t maybe shared with anyone before.

So, what happens is when we begin talking to those children and asking them what their views are or their thoughts on various things and we’re there to listen and really, genuinely start listening to them and taking an interest in their world view, that will often build that connection where they’ll share their experiences and it can lead to abuse disclosures. So, I think we have a huge responsibility to actually be aware of how to respond in those moments, not shy away from it and not avoid the evaluation because we’re scared of it but actually do our due diligence, have the protocols in place to support children as well as the staff who receive disclosures because not everyone is well versed in it.

Not everyone has had years of experience of listening to stories of children who have been abused. It absolutely takes its toll and we can’t underestimate that. So, we have to have reporting mechanisms in place. You have to know your legislation and the reporting requirements within your jurisdiction or within your particular role or your professional affiliation and above all, if you’re undertaking evaluations with children, regardless of whether it’s one-on-one or service level or system level, you have to know how to respond to ensure the safety of the child in front of you.

So, you have to be prepared to receive disclosures, not shy away from it because you might and be really clear about what you’re going to do to actually ensure safety and that will absolutely require organisational mechanisms and protocols and processes to be in place. Many of the people I think listening today are probably in organisations where they’re expected to follow the National Child Safe Principles and as a part of that, there’s a responsibility to have reporting mechanisms and be really clear on things like mandatory reporting and managing disclosures and things. The other really interesting - not interesting, problematic barrier I think is consent and it can be really, really tricky.

I think it’s very clear when you do formal research, certain things will get approved through ethics and certain things won’t, although that can be a really lengthy process when we’re wanting to talk to children but consent protocols can be less clear when we’re looking at service level feedback type arrangements. So, canvassing how safe a child feels in a therapy session or working with a particular case worker or whatever it might be or how they liked the service can be a lot trickier when we think about consent. We - obviously, we’re all well aware that children can’t legally consent and we need to include consent of parents or guardians but that becomes far more complicated if a child is in out of home care for example where essentially, the state is actually the guardian.

So, we have to get consent from a case manager or a team leader or whatever it might be in your jurisdiction but then if the parent is actually a biological parent or kin are actively involved, do they - they have a right to provide their consent and support for that child as well and if the child is actually a young person, they can be considered a mature minor and we need to consider that, particularly when we’re working in the homelessness or family violence or peer on peer sexual violence space where we’re talking to young people about really critical issues, they might be living independently or homeless but they’re still below the legal age of consent but how can we work with them to actually gain really informed consent and what does that really mean?

Even if the parent consents, how do we ensure that the child understands what’s being asked of them and how their information will be used? It then raises the question I think, what about if you’re doing an evaluation and a parent says, “Yes, my child can participate,” and then the child says, “I’ll tell you this but I don’t want you to use it,” or, “I don’t want you to tell Mum and Dad or my carer or my gran,” whoever it might be? So, we get into this really murky area. There’s a - I think Lauren mentioned Associate Professor Tim Moore before but there’s a really nice piece that’s recently been released onto the Tasmanian Royal Commission and it’s called Take Notice, Believe Us and Act.

So, it was Associate Professor Tim Moore and Professor Morag McArthur and it’s - and I think we’ve put the link on the page as well but they actually explain the process in their methodology which was really, really nice, where they spent time with children and they went through - and they did it actually with kids as young as 10 up to 18 I think it was and they explained first of all what research was and why we do research, what’s the purpose of that, then they went through and explained the purpose of that particular piece that they were doing and how their comments would be used and so on.

So, we see this really nice description of actually how they got informed consent with these young people as young as 10 up to what we could consider mature minors and then they also framed the questions in a way that children of all ages could understand and contribute and they were able to provide huge variability without compromising the standardisation of the research. So, the provide a huge variability to the kids on how they wanted to engage. So, some did it one-on-one, some did it in small groups or larger workshops. Some said, “I want to bring a friend,” or, “I want to bring a sibling or a parent or a teacher,” or some other support person or they wanted to do it alone.

So, I think that’s a great recent example within Australia where the voice and views of children in a very vulnerable population were able to be captured and done in a way where the barriers weren’t - it didn’t deter them and it didn’t stop the research but they were able to put stuff in place which really empowered these young people to have their views and their voices shared on a very national level platform with the opportunity to influence real change in a system that’s quite fraught. I hope that answers your question. I think you’re on

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Thank you. Someone had to do it. I was just going to say, it’s good that you touched on consent because we are getting a lot of questions through about consent but there’s obviously a lot of people grappling with that as a potential barrier and a challenge and navigating that, so hopefully that clarifies things a little bit for people. I am going to - I did want to hear from Lauren and Sharon but maybe there’ll be an opportunity to in the question part of the webinar but I am going to now move over to answer some audience questions because we’ve got a few coming through. So, I’m just having a look at the list that’s coming through here.

This isn’t surprising based on a lot of the conversations I’ve been having with service providers, there’s a few questions in here around engaging young people, so under six. I should actually just pause before I go into that and say, someone did ask what do we mean by ‘children?’ I probably should’ve started with that and defining what we mean by ‘children.’ In my practice guide, I’m talking about children under 12 but just quickly gauge from Lauren, Sharon and Amanda, you have working definitions while you’re talking in this space for ages even. Lauren, we’ll start with you.

LAUREN THOMAS: I just muted myself. Yeah, I would agree. I think children under 12, young people, 12 to 18 and - or up if you really go with the neurobiological, developmental age, you could go up to 24 or 25 years of age for the prefrontal cortical development.

SHARON SPARKS: I second that, yeah.


KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Wonderful. So, that’s what we’re talking about, children under 12. Thank you. So, someone’s asking, can we include the voice of children under six in surveys and is there a way of getting quantitative data from very young children? I’ll hand that over to you. What do you think? Sharon is saying definitely yes.

SHARON SPARKS: Yeah. I think from my experience, you use - like Lauren was referring to - toolkits with activities and visual activities and games and those sort of things and it can still be quantitative because you can count up if they’re voting on something or putting stickers on things or writing something. You can still collate all of that as data but I’ll hand over to Lauren and Amanda.

LAUREN THOMAS: I agree, I think the same thing. I think it sometimes means you need to be a little bit more creative. If you’re normally relying on a SurveyMonkey, you will need to do more hands-on work. It does mean that you need to do a little bit more in terms of gathering that data but absolutely, you can use children under six. I think this is one of those areas where quite often, people have maybe relied on written tools to be able to do feedback and because children under six maybe can’t always read, they get excluded from this and I think this is one time where I often find myself saying to practitioners, “This is their right to participate and it’s our job to work out how,” and so we just need to have a think about, ‘How do I make it possible?’ If we’ve got some creative tools and ways for kids to be able to do it, that makes it possible.

SHARON SPARKS: And it’s really fun.

LAUREN THOMAS: Yeah, it is.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Yeah, thank you, Sharon. We should be reminded of that one often, shouldn’t we?

Amanda Paton 
I think you can also ask kids of that age how to do it. So, they have some great, creative ideas where they can share how other kids like to share what’s going on for them, so asking them I think as well in terms of, “How would I create this? How would you ask your school friends about this stuff?” and they’ll probably come up with some really great ideas as well. Involve them in even that design process, it’s really important.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: That’s a brilliant idea. What do you think about how often should we be seeking feedback from children? Maybe in a formal evaluation, there are certain timepoints that you go out and you collect data from children and you kind of build that into your schedule but in terms of ongoing monitoring or collecting feedback for decision making or keeping an eye on - keeping children engaged, do you have any recommendation or thoughts about how often we should be going out and seeking feedback? Lauren, I feel like maybe you’ve got thoughts.

LAUREN THOMAS: All the time. I think every session, every time you speak with young people, having options or possibilities for how young people can let you know what they’re thinking or how they’re feeling between sessions is a great idea too. There are apps for that now. As Amanda mentioned before, an iPad at the door on the way out is great too. I think having your once a year feedback survey is an okay option but it doesn’t give them their right. It doesn’t give them those four aspects of the article, article 12 of the UNCRC.

We’re not actually giving them those four aspects if we do that, so it is about thinking, ‘How have we made sure they’ve got their information? How have we made sure they’ve been given the right space? How have we made sure that we’ve given them audience and how can have we made sure it’s had impact?’ We need to be checking in all the time. That’s what creates an environment where young people know that they’re listened to, they’re given an audience and impact. All the time, just as you would with your partner, just as you would with a friend. Check in, ask them, give them feedback all the time.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Lots of nodding. Okay, I’m going to - as you would expect, there’s quite a few questions coming through so I’ll try and get through as many as I can. I think this is a really interesting question and it’s how do you deal with an organisation or culture that adults know best? I suspect obviously there’s quite a few people operating in those spaces and it’s a huge shift I think to be thinking about children and the fact that they do have a huge amount to offer and they can contribute really meaningfully and I think that is a big shift for a lot of organisations to make. Do you have any advice about how to manage that situation? Amanda, do you have things that -

AMANDA PATON: I think, don’t be afraid to challenge it. one is don’t be afraid to challenge it. The other thing is we actually have mechanisms that people can use as a bit of a carrot or a stick, whichever one you want. The National Child Safe Principles, that’s one. It’s embedded particularly in a couple of the principles and there’s an overarching theme of child participation and hearing the voice of children but it’s also a part of a lot of business as usual now in terms of contracting. So, to maintain your funding at a state or federal level, whatever it is in this child welfare space, you’re required to seek feedback from your clients and that’s children as well as your caregivers. So, I think if you’re in an organisation where maybe you’re butting up against that notion of adults know best, use those.

That’s a really clear challenge of, “Actually, we’re required to do this and here’s the reasons why. We’re required to do this for our contracting and here’s the reason why,” and often now we’re seeing a trend I think in contracting where if we can’t provide evidence of engagement and evidence where we’ve actually not just sought feedback but we’ve actually done something with that feedback, then you’re not competitive in the market of contracting and you’re not compliant with your grants and requirements and things.

So, I would use those real carrots and sticks if you’re a manager and butting up against it or a practitioner but then also there’s a lot of literature that accompanies those, particularly with child safe standards and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There’s a lot of literature that’s there that actually supports it as well that has that evidence base behind it.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Brilliant advice, thanks Amanda. Does anyone have anything else they want to add to that?

LAUREN THOMAS: I’d just add that if you’re in Victoria, there’s a legislative mandate for organisations that are working with children as well but I think something that we’ve done to some effect at ACF is having working groups that are multilevel.

So, if you’re looking to try and create organisational change, you could potentially propose given that there are child safe standards and there are requirements on an organisation to create a change like this, you could potentially propose a working group that has people from different parts of the organisation, so representatives from different parts of the organisation on that working group that are going to do some - they exist for - predated terms of reference, “Six or 12 months, we’re going to work on this. Once a month, we’re going to meet and we’re going to start thinking about how to make this change. We’re going to set a goal and we’re going to work together across the organisation and make a change on that.”

So, it does create the steps out to make that change because I think it can be really challenging if you’re one person, thinking, ‘I’m frustrated and I can’t work out how to do this,’ but if you get a representative from each area within an organisation and a bunch of heads together with a goal that is required, you might find you get better traction over the time.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Yep, absolutely. We’ve got one of those working groups at AIFS so we’re doing that kind of work and it’s been really valuable.

LAUREN THOMAS: Yeah, I find they work.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Yeah, really good advice. We’ve only got a couple minutes so I’m just going to try and get to one more question. Maybe I’ll ask this one. Have you had experience presenting findings or feedback back to children once their voice has been heard? Has anyone had any experience of doing that and has it led to changes? I guess that’s another question. Do you have examples of where that’s actually led to change? I know you had the example before, Sharon, of the HIPPY program and you’re actually changing the curriculum. What about Amanda and Lauren, do you have anything? Got two minutes.

AMANDA PATON: Lauren, do you want to go first?

LAUREN THOMAS: Sure, yeah. I’ve got a few different examples but one I’m thinking of at the moment, I’m working on a project at the moment with the National Centre for Action on Child Sexual Abuse and we’re doing - it’s still in process so it’s an ongoing project but we’re doing a series of focus groups to help the Centre to design its - or codesign its framework for working with children and young people in an ongoing way.

So, the focus groups already have been creating change for the Centre and the CEO has been able to address with the young people how their feedback is shaking things and I find that it’s using the Lundy model as its design process which is why there’s already those cycles of feedback and I’m finding it really rewarding to see the young peoples’ surprise at not just meeting the CEO but getting the feedback in that iterative manner. I think it’s just really exciting to see it working in that way.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: I love just seeing your face light up when you tell that story. I feel like it just makes me want to go out and do this work.

AMANDA PATON: Another one that’s much simpler, when we’re using the children’s feedback tool, one of the first times we used it at ACF, the feedback - the card about talking about your experience of the environment and one of the kids talked about the front gate, they didn’t like the environment because the front gate had cobwebs on it and it was funny because we didn’t realise at the kids’ height - when we as adults, go through the gate into the counselling centre, you just don’t see the cobwebs. It’s so much lower than the height of the child so of course, we immediately went out and got all the cobwebs gone.

The other one was somebody said it would be improved if we had water available in the waiting area. It’s those simple things about the environment that if you don’t ask, you just - not one of us is ever sitting in the waiting area, right? So, the next week, we had one of the bubbling fountain things in the waiting area but it was a beautiful way of being able to say, “We’ve heard you and we dusted the cobwebs off the gate and we put some water in the waiting area.”

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: They’re really, really great examples.

AMANDA PATON: “Buy some art.”

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Getting a different perspective, really valuable. We’ve got to wrap up, I’m sorry. I know we could talk forever about this stuff. I’ve said that before but we’ve really only just scratched the surface but thank you so much for sharing your insights. It’s so appreciated and thanks for everyone in the audience for your great questions. We are going to stay on a little bit longer to answer some of the questions that we didn’t get through after the webinar ends and if you aren’t already, please subscribe to AIFS newsletters so you can be notified about when the webinar recording becomes available and hopefully if you’ve got some time, please complete the survey that pops up at the end of the webinar.

The first one I’m going to start with, we’re having a lot of questions around ethics and consent, I know Amanda touched on this earlier but there were some other aspects that I think would be worth talking through. So, there’s a question here around on a practical level, including children in evaluation can significantly increase the time needed to obtain ethics approval and many evaluations have to be conducted in relatively short periods of time. Just wondering, what advice can you provide about overcoming some of these barriers and some of the other barriers associated with getting ethics approval for these kinds of evaluation? Lauren, I might just throw to you because you’ve had some recent experience in this space.

LAUREN THOMAS: Yeah. I would start by saying I agree, ethics processes do add time to the process of evaluation, especially when you’re thinking about research oriented participatory evaluation and I think that philosophically, I have some concerns often because I think that ethics processes by nature are risk averse and they exist because they are trying to think about, ‘What are the risks to participants of the research and how are we making sure that we’ve considered those?’ One of the challenges of the risk averse nature of ethics processes is when it comes to children, sometimes weighing up those risks, maybe the bar is at a level that it has become its own barrier to children’s participation in research.

Quite often when I’ve looked at some of the projects I’ve looked at around the world, including actually that Tusla Services, the family services project that I mentioned earlier in the webinar, the team that did the evaluation did the same thing actually. They had trouble getting the ethics approval clearance to do the evaluation of the family services and to speak to the children in the family services about their experience of being in the family services. I think this is a real challenge. It does represent a significant barrier for kids, especially kids in statutory settings.

The second thing I’m thinking about with regard to that ethics process is another barrier that it represents and that is that earlier, Amanda mentioned that for children in statutory services, so maybe they’re in out of home care, foster care settings, maybe they’re in juvenile justice settings, there are additional layers to ethics processes too. So, I know the project that I’m working on at the moment, we have a university ethics approval but that actually isn’t enough for children who are in out of home care. So, if we want to engage young people who are in out of home care in our project, we also then need department - a separate department ethics process approval.

So, the ethics process that we went through for the university, that took us several months but we need an additional department ethics process so that’s going to be another several months and then if we’re doing a nationwide project which is what we’re doing at the moment, I need to do that, replicate that process in each state or territory government just to be able to consult - and when I say just, it’s not to minimise the involvement of those young people but it gives you an idea of the amount of work that’s added to the team to be able to make this project engage with this group of young people.

In the end, that can become time and cost prohibitive if you’ve got a project on a timeline or on a budget. I do have some concerns about what that means long-term and how from a rights based perspective, that does actually limit their participation in decisions that are being made about them because as we know, decisions at a government level are made and impacted by research and service level decisions are made about programs that are research based. So, we tend to use programs that are given the research base tick of approval and our research is given a tick because it’s using evaluations and our evaluations are informed by these ethics processes.

So, it does have a bit of a cyclical nature to it and so I think the question about what advice I can give you, at the moment I don’t really have a magic wand for it. I don’t think that I can give you a quick solution for it, unless you can avoid the ethics process. Sometimes there are consultative processes that you can do without having to go through an ethics process.

Our commissions can do these listening tours. Some organisations are able to go through some of these really great participatory processes without needing ethics approval and in that case, that’s great. If you can avoid having to do that, that’s probably in your interests but if you do have to go through it, then I think you really need to advocate for the time and the budget and ask for that upfront knowing that you will need it because that’s really what is going to be involved in order to get it done.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Yep, thanks Lauren. I think that’s probably just validating to that person’s experience and other people’s experiences of going through these ethics processes. It’s probably also worth mentioning that there is the - there are ethical guidelines out there as well that people can look at and follow, particularly around doing the session evaluation with children so the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research is a good one to look at for people who aren’t sure what kinds of ethics processes they need to go through. That’s worth referring to.

LAUREN THOMAS: I would like to add, I should say, I’m certainly not against the ticks and the checks and balances that ethics does bring. It’s very important of course when you’re working with vulnerable populations to make sure that you do consider the needs of the vulnerable populations, that you make sure you’ve got the supports and balances that are there. I don’t want to come across as though I’m anti those checks and balances. It’s just thinking about the barriers it can also create in process.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: No, not at all. You started the webinar talking about the ethics and the rights of children and ethics around that so I think that comes across quite clearly.

LAUREN THOMAS: That’s good.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Thank you. There’s a similar question that’s come through around not ethics necessarily but consent and I know Amanda, you touched on this earlier but I thought it might be worth adding a bit more detail around this particular question. So, if someone working in a domestic violence shelter is wondering what kind of language they could use in a consent form when they’re working with children to inform them that they are a mandatory reporter. Do you have any advice around that?

AMANDA PATON: I think there’s two bits here. One is seeking informed consent and then there’s how you document that informed consent and I think they’re actually - they’re two different things. So, if I’m working with a child, so under the age of 12, the parent is actually the one that gives that written kind of consent but we still do have to be really mindful around the information that’s contained within - the language, sorry, that’s used within the consent form.

Sometimes I’ve seen really nice examples of really illustrative, basic, really clean, simple language in a brochure or a fact sheet that’s then accompanied by a, “I’ve read and understood this fact sheet or this brochure,” so it simplifies it and I think that’s important sometimes because then parents or caregivers can take that information home and refer to it later and it’s really important to have things there like, “If your child shares with me that they’re feeling unsafe or that they’re being harmed, these are the steps that I would take and these are my responsibilities,” but on that also, ”If you have concerns about the service that you’re receiving, here’s how you can actually provide your commentary or your feedback or your complaints and here’s what we’ll do about it,” and also things like what we do with your information, so where we hold your information and what we do with it.

So, there’s a whole range of legislation around that. Often, I think consent forms for someone participating in a service, there’s actually a whole bunch of information that a parent or guardian actually needs to be aware of to give their proper, informed consent to engage. One of them is around reporting requirements and what happens. The other is around their information and what you’re going to do with it and then the third is that really - what treatment or interaction they’re going to receive. They have to have a right to actually withdraw and acknowledge that they can withdraw their consent at any time.

So, there’s a whole range of bits. That is a bit different I think when we’re talking with kids. So, when I’m working with children particularly in a clinical setting, I’ll go through all those things with a child, even a really young child, just in a very child friendly way and a verbal way and then I’ll write that in my notes that I’ve actually had that conversation. So, even working with a child and this can extend into evaluative type processes but on first meeting a child, talk to them about, “My job as an adult is I think if you’re going to hurt yourself or hurt someone else or someone else has hurt you or you’re feeling unsafe and you share that with me, this is what I’m going to do and I’m going to try and make you feel safe again.

I might report it to another adult,” so I go through that. I talk about, “Sometimes I write some stuff in a file and I keep it in this cabinet or I put it there and no one else sees it. That’s just between us and I keep it here.” So, we talk about that information and so cover off on the same pieces of information but just in a very child friendly way and I would then maybe write it in my notes. When kids get a bit older, kids really like being able to actually sign their own forms and sign their own names.

A 10, 11, 12-year-old, they’re like, “Well, I’ve got a signature and I’d really like to put that on,” so you can actually do a bit of a picture poster as you’re talking to the young person, kind of going - you’re talking about a file and you can draw a picture of a file and you’re talking about sharing information with Mum or Dad or your carer or whoever it might be, you can put all that on an interactive poster as you’re going and having that conversation and the child can then sign their name on the bottom and you can show it to Mum and Dad or whatever it might be. So, I think there’s two parts to that.

There’s the very formal kind of approach and consent and there’s a whole bunch of stuff that actually needs to be included and there’s also guidelines and tip sheets, particularly on websites like your professional bodies or accreditation bodies often have quite a lot of guidelines and fact sheets and examples actually as well. In this industry, we might like to pair it with a very - a really clear kind of brochure or fact sheet that goes along with it that we can add to it and then have the conversation with the child as well.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: That was very, very comprehensive. Thanks, Amanda. I love those little tips, the script that you can use as well. I’ll also just give a cheeky plug for the practice guide that was just released today because there is a whole section on there just around consent and ethics and how you might follow a process that is child friendly. So, if people are looking for information, by all means, go there as well. Thank you. This is going to be my last question.

I’m going to direct it to you, Sharon. There’s still a lot of questions coming in around some of the methods or the tools or the techniques that we can use in evaluation when we’re talking - engaging with young children. Some young children might not necessarily be verbal and young children have maybe some diverse communication needs. So, I’m just curious to hear in your experience, what’s some advice that you might be able to share on working with young children under six, under five?

SHARON SPARKS: Yeah, sure. There’s heaps of fun activities you can do with children to get their feedback, their opinion, how they’re feeling about things. Some of the activities we used in our evaluation, we used a magic wand activity where the children sat in a circle and they got to hold the magic wand and only the person with the magic wand could talk and the questions were, “If you could change anything about this program right now magically, what would you do? And if you could make anything better, what would you do?” and they all came up with great ideas.

We also had little Instamatic cameras where we got the children to take photos of their favourite things they like doing during the program so they would then take their photo and tell us about it and we would write down word for word, why that was important to them. That’s a huge thing we didn’t really touch on today, is when you’re capturing a child’s voice, word for word, write it down verbatim. We can’t interpret anything, it’s not up to us. Another activity we did was we got children to talk to a puppet. So, this was really great for anxious children or shy children, even children with difficulties with seeing.

They can - some of them could vaguely see a puppet and it was still fun to have a chat with a puppet. What else did we do? We got them to do drawings, so drawings really work particularly for nonverbal, developmental delay. Children can draw anything and because they have their head down as well, it takes away from that you might be a stranger or I’m a bit shy or this is a lot, so they would just sit there and draw and we would just have a chat while they were drawing about, “What are you drawing?” and, “Why is this important?”

So, there’s lots of great, little activities you can do and Lauren referenced before the ACF toolkit with squishy balls that have - I think, Lauren, is it yes or no or, “I like this.” They’ve got words on them so having that, you can do that in any form. We use smiley faces and frowns for, “Do you like this? You don’t like this,” and then we’d ask them why. So, there’s heaps of things you can do and I really like using Alison Clark, her approaches for young children. It’s called the Mosaic approach and she has heaps of ideas if people are looking for those but that’s just a little, couple of ideas for people.

KATHRYN GOLDSWORTHY: Brilliant, thanks Sharon. I think you can buy her whole book, can’t you? Something that I’m sure would resonate with a lot of people. So, thank you, those are really great tips to share. I think we’re going to leave it there. We’ve taken up enough of your time. Thanks once again to Sharon, Lauren and Amanda for joining us and sharing all your experience and insight and thank you for taking the time to join and share questions with the presenters.


Sharon Sparks | Senior Manager Children’s Programs, Brotherhood of St Laurence

Senior Manager of Children’s programs at the Brotherhood of St Laurence
Sharon's work focuses on advocating for young children’s voices, children’s participation and training and support for services. Sharon has worked as a primary school teacher for 10 years and has been part of the community sector for the last 11 years.  Highlights include collaborating with children to run a large children’s conference, working with local school children to promote children’s rights leading a national children’s voices listening tour with 180 four and five year olds participating in HIPPY and winning a research grant to UK /Sweden, from which she developed a practice guide for engaging young children’s voices in programs and services. 

Lauren Thomas | Senior Project Lead Child and Youth Participation and Engagement, Australian Childhood Foundation

Senior Project Lead, Child and Youth Participation and Engagement at the Australian Childhood Foundation
Lauren was awarded a Fellowship with the Creswick Foundation researching international approaches to children’s rights for vulnerable children. Over the past 20 years, she has worked with vulnerable and traumatised children, young people and their network of relationships. A counsellor, teacher and trainer, her roles have focussed on empowerment as the basis for achieving change in a wide variety of helping professions; from legal settings to volunteer workers, teaching staff to private practitioners.  

Lauren has worked in metropolitan cities and remote Aboriginal communities and is currently working on the development of meaningful participation frameworks for children in multiple service delivery areas. She is interested in co-creating platforms with children in which they can become actors in transforming society, and is currently working on a variety of projects with children, young people and adults with a lived experience of abuse and violence. She can be contacted by email at [email protected].

Deputy Director, Practice at the Australian Centre for Child Protection, University of South Australia. 
Amanda Paton is an executive leader and Clinical Psychologist specialising in child abuse, complex trauma, child sexual abuse, harmful sexual behaviours and child advocacy centre methodology and multidisciplinary team responses. Amanda is Co-Chair of Australia’s National Clinical Reference Group for child sexual abuse and harmful sexual behaviours. She is responsible for leading the Australian Centre for Child Protection’s policy and practice solutions projects and the Centre’s practice skills focussed micro-credentialled short courses and responding to childhood trauma graduate certificate.


Kathryn Goldsworthy | Senior Research Officer, Evidence and Evaluation Support

Senior Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies
Kat currently works in the AIFS Evidence and Evaluation Support team which specialises in strengthening evaluation capability across child and family support services. Kathryn is knowledgeable and skilled in designing and preparing program evaluations, developing program theory and logic models, collecting and analyzing qualitative data, communicating evaluation results, research synthesis, knowledge translation and group facilitation and training.  

Kat has worked in government and not-for-profit organisations for 15 years in roles related to employment, health and community services. She has also worked across a range of research areas at AIFS and is knowledgeable on a range of subject matters including child protection, out of home care, parenting, early childhood education and disability.  

Kat is passionate about creating and sharing knowledge about programs and practices that can positively benefit Australian families.