by Helen Connolly
“Listening to kids, it’s the law!”
As SA’s Commissioner for Children and Young People I think I have hands down, the best job. I get to listen to kids across our beautiful state from the city to small country towns and hear their amazing insights into what is happening in their lives and the wisdom of the solutions they have to things that perhaps aren’t working so well. Every day is different but a typical week involves having conversations with children, writing speeches, presenting at conferences, letter writing, meetings and speaking with my staff and administration.
Since taking up the position in 2017 I have focused on getting out and meeting as many of our children and young people as I can. Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) recognises that all children and young people have rights and should respect the rights of others. It is one of my favourites as it highlights children have the right to have a say in their own lives. I take this seriously and make every effort to listen to as many young people as possible. I meet them in settings they are most comfortable in, where they feel they can share their views and thoughts honestly and openly. I also try to reach those who may not always get a say or who are not used to having their voices heard due to their personal situations or geographical locations. Whilst I’m obviously not the only person who regularly consults directly with children, it’s fair to say that I’m the only person with a law that says I should. When young children ask me why I go out and talk to them, I tell them it’s not only because I like doing it but because they are my boss so I need to ask them what they need. This usually leads to requests for later bed time or no chores, but it does make them think about my role.
Meeting face-to-face and listening is an important part of what I do, it’s what SA children said they wanted their Commissioner to do; take them seriously, stand up for them and educate adults about their rights and needs. The general consensus is that they’re happy, active and feel respected by adults, they value learning, their family, pets, friends and participating in their communities. However, the main struggles facing young people in this state, centre around mental health concerns, not feeling included, financially secure or prepared for the future.
Parents and caregivers have a huge part to play in raising strong, resilient children and this starts by being present and listening. A consistent takeaway from my interactions is that family relationships have enormous impact on their lives; they want parents to listen, be role models, talk to them, show interest in their lives and realise that life is different for kids today.
My vision is for SA to be a place where the wellbeing and development of our children is a community priority with their best interests front and centre in our thoughts and actions. SA children have informed my strategic agenda for the next four years, they are the reason I have completed a report into bullying which came about because children told me (on my Listening Tour) they wanted me to do something about it. Next year I will embark on a major study and report into what children think about poverty – again, the direction my work takes has been informed and influenced by children.
I will be reporting back to the children of SA in my annual report. I’m sending a poster report to all schools in SA, so they know what I’ve been doing in their name.
Helen Connolly became South Australia’s first Commissioner for Children and Young People in April 2017. Throughout her career, Helen has taken an active advocacy role on the main policy issues that impact the wellbeing of Australian families and children, with a strong focus on early intervention and prevention strategies. Helen lives in Adelaide and has five adult children.
If you’re a child, young person or parent and there’s something you think I should be doing to make things better for the lives of kids in SA, please get in touch!