Trust is a must – children share their views on what makes an organisation child safe
To mark the 30th anniversary of National Child Protection Week (held 6–12 September, 2020) South Australian Commissioner for Children and Young People, Helen Connolly, has released ‘Trust is a Must’ – what does it take to be child friendly and child safe?’ presenting findings from an online survey in which South Australian children and young people shared their views on what makes an organisation child safe.
The survey followed on from a series of conversations the Commissioner held with more than 80 children who were asked to contribute their ideas on what feedback mechanisms could be put in place to make organisations more child friendly and child safe.
“Doing the right thing and ensuring our systems and services are child friendly and child safe must go beyond funky posters and murals on the walls or suggestion boxes on the counter,” the Commissioner said, saying children and society more broadly must understand that children need to trust adults to believe what they are saying and act in ways that reflect this.
“Children and young people understand intuitively that trust is an essential element of a well functioning society,” the Commissioner said.
“They know their collective trust in civil society is built when they are valued, listened to, and respected for their own views and insights. However, for some time now, children and young people have been vocalising increasing concern about how they are treated, how they are spoken to, and how they are ignored – all issues that negatively affect intergenerational trust.”
It is therefore unsurprising, she continued, that when governments and leaders “dismiss children and young people’s concerns and take limited or no action to address them”, they lose trust in those adults and institutions.
Regardless of the issue, which may be bullying at school, finding support for mental health challenges, or issues at home, children and young people usually only reach out to organisations for support when they have exhausted all other avenues.
“They often need confidentiality and help to find a resolution quickly. Being able to trust the adults to whom they have reached out is therefore of paramount importance,” the Commissioner added.
These urgent interactions with organisations, she said, “are key to determining whether or not the foundations upon which the organisation is built are child friendly and child safe, and therefore worth the child or young person connecting to in the first place.”
Things which may not seem important to adults, such as admitting when a mistake has been made, and keeping the child in the loop with how this is being remedied, make a difference to the children surveyed, who also spoke about the importance of employing friendly staff who are relatable and approachable, and who are interested to get to know them and understand their lives, and makes an effort to keep them informed of progress by updating them via platforms they like to use and feel comfortable with.
Children and young people also want opportunities to have a say in the design and delivery of services before they are introduced, as well as the opportunity to provide feedback when the experience they have does not match with their expectations.
Being able to give continuous feedback was important to children, and those in the later years of childhood and adolescence, especially, said that they will “begin to believe adults are taking them seriously when their complaints, issues and concerns are acted upon in ways children and young people have suggested will work best; not based on assumptions adults have made about a child or young person’s life or situation.”
Basically, the Commissioner said, “it’s a two way street. Children must be able to trust adults and adults must trust children. At what point will we stop and actively listen to what children and young people tell us is happening in their lives including what they would like us to do about it?”
For far too long, she continued, a focus has been placed on sorting “the nuts and bolts” of child safety, rather than taking a more values centred approach.
Such an approach “requires us to walk our talk, matching what we say with what we do. Listening and believing is key to providing the right kind of support at the right time. Only by developing policies and procedures that are informed by experiences and feedback can children and young people be confident we are providing the protection they seek – not placing our own ideas ahead of theirs.”
“Leaders and decision-makers who are committed to creating an organisation that is child friendly and child safe, should reflect on the comments made by children and young people contained in this report. Doing so will provide a deeper understanding of the values, views and positive experiences children and young people have identified as priorities.”
To access Trust is a Must please see here.