Empowering children and young people to be active, vocal and confident participants in organisations is essential if those organisations are to become genuinely 'child safe'. It is critical that organisations invest in seeking and understanding children's views about safety, and who they trust to communicate key messages to them.
"it’s completely different to what you think." – Robert Fitzgerald, Former Commissioner with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Policies are important, leadership is key, but if the children and young people in your organisation aren’t enabled to speak up, challenge and contribute, then adults continue to speak to adults about issues that affect children, their safety and wellbeing.
So, what’s involved in creating a culture that meaningfully responds to Principle 2 of the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations, i.e.: Children and young people are informed about their rights, participate in decisions affecting them and are taken seriously.
The answers are certainly more complex than can be distilled into a single blog, but the following points may help you to consider the next steps your organisation needs to take.
1. Think of children and young people as genuine stakeholders in your organisation.
Seek children’s views about organisational development as readily as you would seek the views of a board member, staff member or a parent. Shift the balance so that children and young people have a greater say in how your organisation operates, and provide more opportunity for them to feel invested, engaged and valued.
This includes regularly and actively seeking out the voices of children and young people about a range of issues, including but not limited to responding to complaints or problems.
2. Let children and young people know that their voices matter.
It is important that leaders regularly and meaningfully let children and young people know that their voices matter. Organisations should have systems in place which flag if feedback and complaints processes may be ineffective. For example, are there certain parts of the organisation which rarely receive any complaints or feedback from children and young people? Have children and young people expressed a lack of confidence in complaints and/or feedback processes? Has there been an unexplained decline in feedback received from children and young people?
3. Explain to children and young people what actions will be taken.
To ensure that processes of engagement and consultation have integrity, then there must be a commitment to act upon the views of children and young people where this is possible, and to explain why certain things may not be possible. Confirm what you’ve heard, express gratitude for the contributions of children and young people, say what is possible and when it will happen, explain why certain things are not possible and commit to future action.
4. Ensure that your organisation is accessible and inclusive.
A child safe organisation further recognises that due to health and social inequalities, some children and young people may be more vulnerable to abuse and neglect, and as such ensures its policies and practices facilitate equal participation. This may involve developing accessible resources, building the skills and knowledge of the workforce to respond to the diverse needs of children and young people and/or collaborating with other specialist community organisations which can support the development of cultural safety.
5. Build your infrastructure and strengthen your organisational capacity to be child safe.
Commitment to the empowerment of children and young people is vital, and understanding how this can be done effectively is key. However, commitment and understanding aren’t enough. Organisations aspiring to be truly child safe must invest in developing an infrastructure that enables genuine, sustained change in culture and practice. This includes investment in policy and procedure, recruitment and selection, and training and development, in order to ensure that organisations and their representatives are equipped to develop a truly child-focused environment.
Learn how to facilitate consultation and meaningful engagement with children and young people at your workplace.
The above ideas are just some of the many ways in which organisations can assess whether they are effectively empowering children and young people and facilitating their meaningful participation. If you would like to improve your skills in engaging with children and young people, as well as gain a deeper insight into developing meaningful strategies for planning, facilitating and evaluating consultation with children and young people, check out our new virtual classroom training program, Meaningful Engagement with Children and Young People.
We are here to support your organisation to strengthen its child safety practices
Child Wise is here to support organisations to better understand and strengthen their child safety practice. If you’d like to know more about how we can help, contact us to discuss our child safety and protection training, consulting, coaching and accreditation services.