In Children’s Voices: Supporting children as agents of positive change
There are currently ten TeEACH projects that form a body of work focused on supporting children to be active in the design and decision-making of tools and initiatives that are intended to support their wellbeing, growth and development. They include:
1.Upholding the right to cultural connection for children in out-of-home care (2021 – 2025);
2.The ReSPECT Project (2019 – 2022);
3.Responsible innovation with technology and ethics for children (2021 – September 2021);
4. The Acknowledgement Project (2020 – 2021);
5.Improving children’s early school outcomes (2019 – 2021);
6.Designing a model of intergenerational care (2020 – 2024);
7.Subjective wellbeing in the early years (2021 – 2021);
8.International wellbeing project (2019 – 2021);
9.Children as health ambassadors (2019 – 2022);
10.Children and young people’s experiences of COVID (2020 – 2021).
Industry Partners and End-Users
These projects are characterised by their engagement with end-users, the children. They are all being conducted with Industry partners, including NGO’s, early childhood education and care centres, peak bodies and corporate entities. A list of the partners associated with each project can be found in Appendix B.
Summary of the Impact
While the specific impact of each project is different, they all demonstrate the value of including children’s voices in understanding issues and thinking about how challenges could be addressed. Because we are a new centre and these are new projects, the full impact will reveal itself over the coming years. As an example, the ReSPECT project has involved working with groups of children and young people to identify and develop their ideas on how services could be improved for children in the local area. The children presented their ideas to a forum of local service providers at the end of last year. Already, two of these ideas have been taken up. The first will be in partnership with Uniting and is about the development of a training program for case workers, designed and delivered by children and focused on how professionals should talk to and engage with children who are vulnerable. The other idea has been taken up by a local school and is focused on how information about mental health and the support available to children can be better communicated to children. The ReSPECT child participants are now involved in the governance groups responsible for the further development and implementation of these initiatives, with the support of the research team. It is the first project we are aware of that tracks child-led initiatives from conception through to development, implementation, and potentially scale-up.
Another example is the ‘Improving children’s early school outcomes’ project. This project was initiated by children at a primary school in a disadvantaged area. Children in years 5 and 6 formed a “Change Makers” group, motivated by concern about the low levels of school readiness for children starting at their school. This group developed an individualised take home kit with activities designed to support the development of early literacy and numeracy. The kits were distributed to every child who would start at their school the next year. The “Change Makers” also ran parenting sessions to show the parents how to support their children to use the kit at home. They asked the research team to partner with them in measuring outcomes. We were able to support them to document significant outcomes for the kindergarten children, positive changes in the level of parent engagement with the school, and positive outcomes for the children in the “Change Makers group.” We are currently negotiating the scale up of this program to other schools.
Approaches to Impact
TeEACH researchers are highly skilled in participatory methods. We are experienced in engaging children in research, including very young children and children who are vulnerable. We use creative methods to support their participation, including art activities, story-telling activities, and photography. We are very conscious of ethical issues and in doing all we can to address the power imbalance and to safeguard their confidentiality and dignity. These are skills that are highly valued by our partner organisations. Influenced by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says that all children have a right to be heard on issues that affect them, the importance of child voice appears in several Australian policy documents. Service organisations understand the need to engage with children and young people, but struggle with knowing how to do this well. TeEACH researchers are able to provide this expertise. We see that an important part of our role is to build this capacity inside of service organisations, and we have run many training sessions for service professionals, as well as provided ongoing mentoring and support. We are in the process of finalising an online training program specifically to support practitioners in how to engage children and young people in service decision-making.