Judge Andrew Becroft, Children’s Commissioner / Manaakitia a Tātou Tamariki
The distinctive voices of children
Nothing is more rewarding in my role as Children’s Commissioner than the times I meet with and talk directly to children and young people. They are insightful, empathetic and genuine. And I am not just referring to older teens. Even very young children aged five and six have shared remarkable views on what can change to make things better for themselves or other children.
Historically, we have not taken seriously enough the need to value children’s views in their own right. There are many reasons why this may be so. It could be the continuing influence of our Victorian past. It may reflect the belief that children are merely adults in waiting, people with the potential to hold a view worth considering, but not yet.
Whatever the cause, it is well past time for us to re-prioritise our commitment to hearing from children. Because try as we might, we can never see our children’s lives from the inside.
We can talk about the kind of experience we are trying to give our children and young people. But only they can talk about whether that is what they are actually experiencing. Children and young people are the experts on their own lives.
As one Māori student told our engagement team who were listening for children and young people’s views on education,
“I am a library, quiet but filled with knowledge – it’s dumb [that I’m not asked].”
In my experience, children’s views always add value. Hearing and incorporating the views of children and young people improves the quality of debate and delivers better and more robust decisions. It also confirms and develops their capacity to act independently, make their own choices and actively participate as New Zealand citizens.
The Good Life as children and young people see it
The Child Poverty Reduction Bill, soon to be passed into law, will see the government develop a child and youth wellbeing strategy. For the first time in New Zealand legislation, the bill requires children and young people to be consulted in the development of the strategy.
I am thrilled a wellbeing strategy is being developed. At the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, we are all doing all we can to support it to deliver the best possible results for our country’s children and young people.
Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child reminds us that children have the right to have a say, and have their views heard, in decisions that affect them. As signatories to the Children’s Convention in 1993, New Zealanders made a promise to ensure children and young people of New Zealand have a say and have their voices heard about matters that affect them.
Staff from our Office, in collaboration with Oranga Tamariki’s Voices of Children and Young People team, are currently travelling around Aotearoa to hear what children and young people think about the Government’s child wellbeing strategy. So far the children and young people they have listened to have made it very clear that they want to have a say and have very important things to tell us.
They have described their unique experiences and perspectives. They have shared what they think wellbeing, the good life, is. They have told our teams what helps it and what gets in its way. It is very clear that there are common challenges facing all communities. It is equally apparent that there are distinct challenges facing some specific communities.
In total our teams will meet with over 350 children and young people, and have heard from at least 5,000 more through online surveys from all across the country.
Once we have finished our engagement we will share the insights we have gathered from children and young people, both with the government and more publicly.
One thing is clear. Children and young people want to share their views about what life is like. And they have a lot of great ideas on how to make it better.
Playing your part
We can’t get everywhere and hear from all Aotearoa’s children and young people. That’s where you can play a part. If you are, even indirectly, part of an organisation that engages with children and young people, you might want to run a special session with them to hear their views on wellbeing.
We have developed a toolkit to support you to have that conversation and explore wellbeing with children and young people. You can find the toolkit here:
The toolkit will also tell you how to share the results of your conversations. You can forward them either to us or make your own submission to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC). You can also go directly to DPMC’s Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy website to find our more on the policy and how to have your say:
I hope you will play your part and find an opportunity to truly listen to the children and young people in your community, take action based on their views, and help others to do the same.
Manaakitia A Tātou Tamariki
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner / Manaakitia a Tātou Tamariki is focused on ensuring Aotearoa New Zealand is a place where all children can thrive. The current Children’s Commissioner is Judge Andrew Becroft. Before taking up the position on 1 July 2016 he was New Zealand’s Principal Youth Court Judge.
Photo: Office of the Children’s Commissioner. Used by permission.