National Child Protection Week, which takes place in Australia between 5-11 September this year, highlights the need for organisations to put in place processes, leadership and policies to safeguard and protect young people.
Listening to kids is easy, right? They speak, you listen. Well, that’s not quite how it works. We think of listening to children as something that happens when children come to us with a problem, or when we ask them a question and expect an answer. But in the words of Robert Fitzgerald, Commissioner in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, listening to kids is “completely different to what you think”.
This year’s theme for National Child Protection week is, “Every child, in every community, needs a fair go.” I am holding out the challenge to you: if you work in an organisation that has any interaction with children at all, does it really listen to them? Does it create opportunities for them to be heard with a really genuine ear? Do you have processes in place to safeguard and protect these children?
Children’s brains are different to those of adults. They hear differently and communicate differently, depending on their stage of development. You need to watch for dissociation or particular reactions that children have to particular people in your organisation which may alert you to other factors at play. These are all forms of communication – albeit non-verbal – about what makes kids feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Children also pick up on the tacit behaviours of adults, such as behaviour which might indicate what they have to say will be shut down or ignored.
If we are genuinely listening to the voices of children first, we must have a genuine desire to actively listen and observe, not just take a passive, lip-service style approach.
Policies are important, but leadership is key. Leadership needs to demand opportunities and mechanisms for children to be involved in any business that serves or impact them. The leadership of any organisation needs to ask itself if its work pays lip service to generating opportunities for children to say what they think and be treated as equals. Children quickly pick up on organisational cultures that silence them, or don’t want to hear them, and these are the environments where abuse thrives.
If the children and young people in your organisation aren’t enabled to speak up, challenge and contribute, then the oxygen devoted to deciding “what’s best for children'' will be completely consumed by adults talking to other adults. At best it will be inaccurate, at worst it will damage children’s rights and wellbeing.
New legislation for child-safe environments
Empowering children and young people to be active, vocal and confident participants in organisations is essential if they are to become genuinely ‘child safe’. Listening to children is critical for organisations to understand what they perceive to be a safe environment and who they trust in communicating key messages to them.
The Royal Commission was flooded with cases where children tried to communicate horrific things but were silenced. Silenced not just by a refusal to listen, but by the subtle actions of adults that indicated to them that a culture existed where no-one wanted to hear them.
Never again can we allow this.
Thankfully, the Australian Government has answered the call of the Royal Commission. They have introduced legislation that directs organisations which interface with children to create child-safe organisational environments and cultures. However, too few understand that the child’s voice is the bedrock of this. We need kids not just to feel safe – but to feel heard.
These two concepts often play in the same sandpit, but a real culture of listening to kids can change a whole lot more than just safety. It has an impact on all their relationships with adults and directly influences their self-esteem. From an organisation’s perspective, it can revolutionise operations in a way you may not have imagined.
Heading up an organisation that has spent 30 years transforming hundreds of organisations to safeguard and listen to children, it amazes me how much decision-making is ‘adults talking to other adults about what makes children feel safe’.
How often do people ask kids what would make them feel safe and heard?
Most often, the decisions about what is needed to make children feel safe are made as part of a risk or audit framework, decided by adults who govern these areas in an organisation.
Listening to kids now during COVID-19 is more important than ever. The airwaves have been crowded by adult voices about what we must do. But how much have you heard in the media about what children need or want?
Most people will respond to the theme of National Child Protection Week with “of course I think children should have a fair go”. But if we look around us, how many discussions about what’s best for kids are still adult conversations, instead of with the children and young people at the centre of those decisions?
Governance and practical advice for child safeguarding in your organisation
Most people know that policies, procedures and strategies are a critical way for organisations to communicate their commitment to child safety to their stakeholders – children, young people, families, staff, volunteers and communities. However, for a suite of child safeguarding documents to be more than just ‘documents’, they need to be lived throughout the organisation. For this to happen, they must be accessible to all stakeholders, well understood, inclusive and relevant to an organisation’s context.
'One-size fits all' models do not work. At Child Wise, we invest time in understanding the operational context of organisations to ensure that advice and processes are practical and fit-for-purpose.
Any organisation that works with children or impacts children needs strong child safeguarding policies, procedures and strategies and the development of systems to implement these well. No matter where you are on your child safeguarding journey, a child safeguarding review can help you develop a comprehensive picture of child safeguarding across your organisation, including strengths and areas for improvement.
If you work for an organisation whose work impacts children and young people, you must ensure that your organisation is not only compliant with legislation and the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations, but that you have a framework of policies, procedures and strategies which provide a foundation for building a genuinely child safe culture.
Some of the requirements include, but are not limited to:
- Developing policies, procedures, strategies and systems tailored to your context.
- Reviewing child safeguarding policies, procedures and other relevant documentation against legislative requirements and the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations. (Documents include, but are not limited to: statement of commitment to child safety, child safeguarding policy, code of conduct, and policies and procedures related to children’s participation and empowerment, people management, child-focused complaints handling, child safety, and risk assessment and management).
- Reviewing digital safeguarding policies and procedures against internationally recognised standards.
- Engaging with children, young people and families in the process of review and development of policies, procedures, strategies and systems.
- Developing a Child Safeguarding Organisational Framework which integrates all child safeguarding policy and legislative requirements in a single, easily-accessible hub.
About Child Wise
Child Wise provides consulting, coaching, training and accreditation services to help organisations create a child-first culture. Our work involves keeping our young people physically and emotionally safe - as well as establishing opportunities to contribute to workplace decisions.
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