It’s thought that at least half of the children and young people we work with have communications difficulties. This can contribute to feelings of anxiety and frustration that might lead to social isolation, aggression or depression when they can’t understand what others are telling them or express themselves properly.
“Yet, without the participation of experts we won’t be successful. And the expert is the child”
I have recently begun to ask myself the question: how different would out-of-home care look if we truly valued the expertise of the children and young people that live in it? In fact, would so many children, young people and families be so enmeshed in the benevolent web of services that accompany the child protection and out-of-home care systems if those systems routinely and genuinely valued the expertise of children and young people right from the beginning?
My internal dialogue takes the discussion further… Let’s say, for one utopic moment, that we sit as equals at the table with young people who have experienced abuse, neglect and the terrifying complexity of the system set up to serve their ‘best interests’. Let’s imagine that they have proffered arguments and evidence alongside academics, experienced sector professionals and bureaucrats, in support of approaches (for we know without doubt that one size does not fit all) that focus on making their childhood good. What might that look like? And more importantly who would have the courage to make it happen?
We won’t ever know if we don’t ask.
Young people who have lived through abuse and neglect and have subsequently been bounced, powerless, through the pinball machine of court processes, case managers, care placements, care plans and repeated attempts to ‘go home’ – these young people know. They know what it all feels like. Under their skin, in their hearts, they know how it feels.
Countless reforms and ‘system improvements’ will continue to achieve minimal success at best if we continue to prevent the key experts from leading the discussions and shedding light on the impact of decisions made by people so far from the ground that we all look like ants from where they sit.
Maybe childhood would be better for the huge numbers of children and young people in care if we were prepared to let them show us how to make it so. We won’t know unless we try.
Post written by: Lauren Oliver, Youth Engagement Coordinator, Berry Street Childhood Institute
This is a first for me as I join the blogging community!
At Berry Street, we believe that all children should have a good childhood, growing up feeling safe, nurtured and with hope for the future. Sadly, evidence and our experience over 136 years tells us that this is not a reality for far too many children.
I think there is a lot for us to learn and share about what sustains a good childhood and how we best support those who have not had this experience. One of the key ways forward is bringing together parents’ experience, the knowledge of practitioners and different disciplines.
There are a wide range of terrific speakers lined up for our inaugural The Good Childhood Conference, designed to appeal to different audiences. Some will be controversial. That’s part of the intention, because we really want to start a broad conversation about childhood.
We hope to have a large contingent of young people at the Conference – as both presenters and participants.
Like the work of Berry Street, our Conference will appeal to people from many different disciplines. 50 workshops will cover areas such as child protection, education, early years, wellbeing, place-based initiatives, family violence, the impact of technology and Out of Home Care.
We couldn’t be doing this without our Sponsors and Supporting Partners. We are especially grateful to the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, who describe their role as helping to build a strong and fair society for all Australians and developing social policies to:
Increase opportunities for all Australians to participate in our society and work
Promote cohesive and connected society
Support basic living standards
Support individuals, families and communities to build their capacity
So, please spread the word and I look forward to meeting you at the conference.