Children make up a quarter of our population but their opinions have been rarely canvassed or considered by politicians or policy makers … until now.
A new book: Children as Citizens provides a real life blueprint which details exactly how children, from as young as three years, can and should play a valuable role in helping to shape the world around them.
Authored by Professor Pauline Harris, who holds the Lillian de Lissa Chair in Early Childhood (Research), and Harry Manatakis, Principal Policy Adviser in the Department for Education and Child Development, the book stakes a claim that South Australia is beginning to lead the nation in terms of developing Australia’s first child friendly city accreditation model.
Professor Harris says the importance of engaging children’s views is already enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, with Article 12 stating that children have a right to have a say on decisions affecting their lives.
“Engaging children and enabling them to influence decisions is part of helping them to learn what it is to be an active engaged citizen,” Professor Harris says.
“It develops a child’s sense of belonging and promotes social and emotional well being.”
“When I took up the appointment as the Lillian de Lissa Chair in 2010, the State Government was poised to review its Strategic Plan and was consulting with communities. It wanted to involve young children in this process and sought advice on how to do this.
“This book tells that story, how, through collaboration and engagement with 350 children and their educators across South Australia, we could register what children were telling us and could track how their views have influenced SA’s Strategic Plan.
“The book signals a change of thinking that is happening now about how children, even young children, might influence policy and shape practices that relate to them. Such engagement has to be authentic, not just tokenistic.”
Professor Harris explains how through varied modes of expression, including drawing, art, drama, music and play, young children can express what is important to them.
“Hand a young child a camera and the photos the child takes will literally give a child’s eye view of what’s important for them in their communities. The photos provide an important springboard for having conversations with children about what is important to them.
“When we engaged with children about what mattered to them, we found what children most frequently expressed were their interests and concerns for the natural environment and families and friends.
“The work we have done in this area continues to grow. Through the de Lissa Chair partnership between the University of South Australia and the Department for Education and Child Development, as well as 50 public and private community based education and care services, and in partnership with key organisations, we’ve now engaged with over 3,000 children and young people aged from three to 18 years.
“Children and young people’s views have informed the review of SA’s Strategic Plan and a review of one local government’s social plan. Children’s views have also been used to inform proposed legislation and the SA Government’s Every Chance for Every Child policy.
“Children count and their views absolutely can make a difference. It’s important to listen.”
Children as Citizens: Engaging with the child’s voice in educational settings, by Professor Pauline Harris and Harry Manatakis (DECD), will be launched by Dr Norman Gillespie, CEO of UNICEF Australia and Ms Megan Mitchell, National Children’s Commissioner, on August 8 between 3-5pm at the Amy Wheaton Building, Magill Campus.
The launch will include a Public Seminar on ‘Children as Citizens’ by the book’s authors.
(Source: University of South Australia)