The Diocese of Parramatta is looking forward to a future partnering with Child Wise, a social enterprise of Save the Children Australia. Children’s safety is a community issue and we can learn from the Child Wise Community Practice Model of Child Safety. Child Wise is committed to the safety and well being of all children, and they work with organisations of all sizes across a range of different industries.
For National Child Protection Week, we asked Michael MacKay, Director of Quality at Child Wise to outline the services they offer, and the important role that faith-based organisations can play in empowering and protecting young people.
In 1989, something important happened. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) was published, enshrining children’s rights into a foundational document that to date has been adopted by 200 countries around the world, including Australia. It sets out a broad range of children’s rights including the right to safety, basic needs, identity, education, language, family life and participation in decision-making. In Australia, the Convention has provided a framework for strengthening children’s rights and ensuring a genuine focus on hearing the voices of children. In 2019, the Council of Australian Governments endorsed the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations; principle two states that child-focused organisations must ensure that: Children and young people are informed about their rights, participate in decisions affecting them and are taken seriously. The National Principles were shaped by the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which, among other findings, determined that organisations have not consistently sought out and listened to the voices of children and young people.
So what does all this mean for organisations working with children and young people?
Well, for a start, it means that there is a strong foundation from which to build organisational cultures focused upon children’s rights. Decades of research have led us to this place, where we now have unequivocal guiding principles which are aligned to the UNCROC and recognise children and young people as active participants in organisations.
It also means that this is an exciting time to be working in child-focused organisations. There is a collective energy and focus on children’s rights and at Child Wise, we are seeing inspiring shifts in how organisations are stepping up to the challenge and meaningfully engaging children and young people as collaborators in decision making.
In our nearly 30 years in the child safeguarding sector, Child Wise has learned that safety and children’s rights go hand in hand. We don’t think it is possible to have a genuinely child-safe environment if children’s rights aren’t understood, promoted and protected. We have worked with thousands of organisations over the years and have seen the protective changes that can happen when children’s rights are at the centre of organisational leadership, governance and culture.
Do we really create opportunities for children to be heard with a genuine ear? Children’s brains are different to 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.
Children’s Rights in Faith-Based Organisations
At Child Wise, we have had the privilege of working with a broad and diverse range of faith-based organisations and see huge opportunity in how faith communities can promote children’s rights. We understand that for most faith communities, community, safety and the protection of the most vulnerable are guiding values. In promoting children’s rights, faith-based organisations can highlight this alignment of values, making it clear that a commitment to hearing the voices of children is part and parcel of the organisational culture.
In our work with faith-based organisations, we have also seen the significant impact that youth ministries can have on both the fabric of the community and on the lives of children and young people. Faith-based organisations can utilise youth programming as a way of engaging and empowering children and young people, ensuring they are aware of their rights and can enact them.
What else can faith-based organisations do to promote children’s rights?
- Foster environments where children and young people feel safe and are encouraged to voice their opinions and concerns;
- Create regular and meaningful opportunities to engage with children and young people in decisions affecting them, ensuring a children’s rights lens is integrated throughout the organisation;
- Ensure policies, procedures and communication materials reflect the organisation’s commitment to children’s rights, and;
- Provide staff, volunteers, families and communities with learning opportunities focused on promoting children’s rights.
These are just some of the ways in which faith communities can promote children’s rights.
For more information about the work of Child Wise and how we may be able to support your organisation to strengthen its child safeguarding practice, visit www.childwise.org.au.
With thanks to Michael MacKay – Director of Quality at Child Wise
Child Wise supports public, private and non-profit organisations to build environments that are child safe.