Finnley: Life’s Lottery Season 2. Backing kids.
Jeni Whalan: Hello and welcome back to Life’s Lottery – a podcast from the Paul Ramsay Foundation – produced on Gadigal Country. I’m Jeni Whalan, the chief strategy officer at the Paul Ramsay Foundation and a long time advocate for better public policy in this country and around the world.
Glyn Davis: And I’m Glyn Davis the chief executive officer at Paul Ramsay Foundation and a public policy academic. In this season we’re putting the spotlight on how Australia can really value children. And it’s great to have you back with us for another series.
Jeni Whalan: We’ll hear directly from children – and from the many others advocating for them – about the need to shake things up. We’re asking – what if we put young people at the centre of our public policy. And crucially, what if we put them at the centre of the funding that follows it?
Glyn Davis: Because while we live in an affluent nation, the wellbeing of Australian children is not where it should be. And even more so after 2 years of pandemic.
Jeni Whalan: We won’t know for some time the real cost to kid’s social, emotional or educational outcomes – especially those who were already falling behind.
Glyn Davis: But there’s never been a better time to talk about how we can back our kids, to improve their odds in life’s lottery
Jeni Whalan: In this episode, we’re talking to Anne Hollonds – the National Children’s Commissioner. Anne has decades’ of experience working with and advocating for children. First as a psychologist and social worker. And more recently as the head of government and NGOs focussed on research, policy and the practice in children and family wellbeing.
Glyn Davis: In this season of Life’s Lottery, we’re not only talking ABOUT young people, we’re also speaking with them. Today, we’ll also hear from Kaytlyn Johnson, a student and musician from Wynyard in north-west Tasmania. Kaytlyn is a Palawa woman and the 2022 Young Tasmanian of the year.
Jeni Whalan: But we’ll start with Anne Hollonds, who is currently doing a national survey of kids aged 9 to 17 and their families – to check in on their wellbeing and their concerns. This survey builds on a series of consultations held in 2021, of course a process that was interrupted by lockdowns and rolling disruptions of Covid.
Glyn Davis: Anne wants to see national coordination – and action – around policies that affect children
Anne Hollonds: I’ve been calling for a national plan for children since last year and pointing this out, and you know, I realised just the other day that no one has denied that children have been an afterthought. And I think that’s an opportunity now as we climb out of COVID to really look at, what have we learnt? How do we not repeat those mistakes, of not having children’s unique needs considered at the table, the top table of decision making, and not just for the next crisis or pandemic, but in fact for every day. If you look at the opportunities arising out of the COVID disruption, that’s one of the key ones that I think we should be leveraging at this time.
Jeni Whalan: So what’s different about that conversation today Anne, than two years ago, perhaps at the start of 2020 before the pandemic had taken hold? What’s different about the need today to put kids at the centre, not only of our COVID recovery plans, but perhaps of a much larger national policy conversation?
Anne Hollonds: Well, one of the other things that’s different, of course, is that COVID has made possible the unimaginable in terms of the role of government. And again, you know, we should be seizing the moment there. We’ve seen the allocation of massive amounts of funding into areas that we didn’t think would ever be done, and that includes free childcare temporarily and raising income support, but also the support for more mental health services and for businesses. I think we should be now really trying to open up that conversation about what is the role of government. And I think we need to open it up broadly to not just be about this narrow lens on protecting children from harm. I think how we talk about this now will be very important. We tend to see children as vulnerable. Firstly, we see them as the responsibility of parents. That’s the first thing in the government’s role is indirect. Secondly, we see them as vulnerable. And to the degree that children are connected to public policy, it’s that we, the government should act in ways to protect them from harm. That is a very narrow lens, and I think we need to move away from just seeing the problems and the need for protection, to shifting the conversation to being much broader about promoting wellbeing and seeing the possibilities across government, across all of the efforts that we put in from the NGO sector as well as government. And all the sort of investments that are made that we now build on that massive weight of evidence that tells us that we need to shift investment upstream. Really this is the moment. I think there is a moment.
Jeni Whalan : You’ve been engaged in some really wide ranging conversations with children and families over the past year. Can you tell us about those consultations and what you’ve heard?
Anne Hollonds: It was such an interesting exercise, Jeni, and such a privilege to be able to speak one on one with, you know, kids who don’t get to be on these youth advisory groups. These were the ones who didn’t have breakfast that morning or in fact, who were homeless. And were dealing with multiple complex issues in their families, and we asked them two very broad questions. One was who or what is it that helps to keep children safe and well? And we asked what gets in the way? What are the barriers? What needs to change? It was remarkable the consistency around Australia, actually. We heard about housing. Lack of housing, a huge issue. And of course, we know that housing is a key driver of child removals and conversely stable housing is a protective factor. But right across Australia, housing currently is a massive, massive issue. We heard about violence, violence in the homes, violence in the streets and the community, and indeed violence in the schools. And this was probably the biggest shock for me was the fact that many of these young people and children didn’t feel safe at school. And again, a resounding sort of response around the country was that they really value the support of service providers who treat them with respect, who maybe understand them, perhaps come from a similar cultural background. And this of course, was very important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids and their families who get them, who don’t judge them in a negative way. They really value service provision to be as much as possible, you know, in the one place. Where the adults can get help in a variety of ways as well as the children. Wraparound services came up as a very important way to help people. And I’ve thought a lot about that since then and really started to now call for much better integration at a systemic level across education and health, in particular those if you like universal platforms. You know, we can be doing a lot more at the macro level, as well as sort of at the local level.
Glyn Davis: Presumably a major challenge Anne, for policy makers is Federalism, given these systems are scattered across states and territories and the Commonwealth and are often inconsistent. I’m just wondering how we reconcile a universal aspiration with a very specific, different local delivery.
Anne Hollonds: Yeah look, it’s a challenge, but it’s not an insurmountable challenge, is what I say, and I’m really looking for the adults in the room who can help us stand up for what what we know will actually make a difference to people’s lives, as well as help help the economy. Again, COVID has allowed us to talk about sort of national efforts. it hasn’t been perfect, but it’s a start. For a long time now, I’ve believed that those investments that we make into health and education in particular, we should be trying to do much more through those investments. We should be integrating across those investments in ways that they do in places like the Nordic countries where schools and health services make it easy for people, all people, everyone to get the help they need. But on top of that, you can then really target your extra help to those who might need it, you know, from time to time.
So unfortunately, we seem to have a disconnect between those universal platforms and then the targeted programmes, it’s a very programmatic approach that we take.
There’s strong evidence to suggest that it’s very hard to get people who need help to get the help that they need, often there’s a great stigma and shame associated with reaching out for ‘services’, I’m sort of making quotation marks here. It’s extreme. There are so many barriers, so many barriers to connecting the people with these specialised help services. That evidence should inform our approach to thinking about the places where there is no stigma or shame associated with going. I mean,
there’s no actual stigma associated with sending your child to school. It’s the law you’re meant to do it and everybody does it. And schools, I think, are well placed to really be a welcoming environment, if you like that soft entry that we often talk about where there is, you know, hopefully minimal barriers to engaging. It upsets me when I hear that primary schools are still being built, new ones where we’re not providing space for health services, for example, to operate out of the same facility, and I think that the there are great possibilities there to get more value out of existing investments that we’re making in those health and education systems.
Glyn Davis: So Anne there is an important national conversation at the moment about the age of criminal responsibility and arguments about an extraordinary 10, 12 or 14 the right number. Can you tell us a bit about what you think is a reasonable settlement here?
Anne Hollonds: Well, I have to be honest and say I’m baffled as to why we’re still kicking the can down the road on this issue when there is actually no evidence that locking up 10 year olds will stop crime. And I really am calling for our political leaders, to be honest with the public about this, that, you know, when they come out and they say, we’re building new detention centres. You know, we’re locking up kids. This will stop crime. It actually doesn’t. There is strong evidence that kids who do end up in detention at those young ages are the ones who will become criminals when they are adults. And I think the community has been misled. So I think we need to sort of really step this one up. You know, I visited the kids at Don Dale when I was in the Northern Territory. We know that really a lot of the commitments that were made after the Royal Commission into detention in the Northern Territory, they have not been fulfilled. So the Northern Territory government committed to raising the age, unfortunately only to 12. But even that hasn’t happened. They committed to closing Don Dale. It was the most heartbreaking of my visits during those consultations. These are these are kids in need of care and protection. That’s what we know. They’re from the the child protection system. They end up in youth justice. Then they end up in adult crime. We have to be honest with the public about this. This is the truth. And they don’t know. On top of that, of course, it’s systemic racism. That’s the really dark side of this problem. We have to be honest about that as well.
Jeni Whalan: So the problems of incarcerating children are very much more acute for First Nations children. Child removals of First Nations children are actually growing. What does this say about our lack of progress around child well-being for First Nations children and their families?
Anne Hollonds: There’s no other way of saying this other than we have a serious human rights crisis on our hands when it comes to First Nations children. We have dropped the ball on this. Of course, we’re hopeful that the new Closing the Gap National Agreement and the new ways of working that more empowering for First Nations communities to be able to design their own early intervention prevention services so that we can stem the flow into youth crime, that they can be in control of those those efforts to promote the well-being of children, which is what they and everyone wants to happen. There’s hope that will make a difference. But I just don’t understand why, and how this issue can have been, I guess, put on the back burner for so long.
Music: WEREWOLVES by Kaytlyn Johnson
Kaytlyn Johnson: I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that I’m speaking from today, I’m on the land at Palawa and people in Northwest Tassie and I pay respects to anyone listening who is an Aboriginal person. My name is Kaytlyn Johnson. I am 20 years old and I am from the north west coast of Tasmania. I grew up in Wynyard, a very small, tight-knit community, but a really beautiful place to live. There’s gorgeous beaches all along the coast. This year, I’m proud to introduce myself as the 2022 Tasmanian young Australian of the year, and I’m also a proud Palawa woman.
As a Palawa woman growing up in Tasmania, my experience was very unique to any other indigenous person living in Tasmania or elsewhere, so I don’t want to speak on behalf of of anyone else, any individual or collective. But for me, obviously a pale skinned Aboriginal woman growing up in a conservative white Tasmanian community, I found it incredibly difficult to connect at all with my country, with my culture or anything close to that which was really hurtful and painful for me. Felt like it was a journey that I was taking by myself. It’s really hard to talk with older generations who are still living in that sense of, Oh, we don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want to recognise our history. The intergenerational lack of conversation and lack of education definitely has a huge impact on the generations coming through, but that’s definitely something that I want to take the responsibility of changing. That’s been a journey that I’m still on, and I’m really excited to learn more about who I am as a Palawa woman and my country and my people.
I really want to challenge those mindsets and those attitudes of intergenerational disadvantage for Aboriginal people in Tasmania. We are here and we are strong and we have a voice.
Kaytlyn Johnson: I went through the public education system, and I’m super proud of that, it has definitely shaped the person I am today because you’re learning about different people and different experiences and everyone has a different upbringing. And so you’re really learning about what the real world would be like through that system. And then all the teachers go above and beyond. And I think that that’s something really special and it encapsulates how much people in our community really care. Early on, I felt really supported. I experienced a few different hardships through financial instability or problems at home and then being able to come to school where you’re able to clear the slate and focus on what you’re doing or who you want to socialise with that day or just developing yourself as an individual, it’s super important to be able to have that outlet away from your family situation. Heading into college year 11 and 12, I knew that I really wanted to study on the mainland. For me, it wasn’t always as easy getting those funds to go off to university. And it wasn’t just a simple path into starting university. I had to study as hard as I could and really, really aim for those high scholarships to give me that support. So it’s these little extra leg ups that help students in rural areas in a rural area or an isolated community like Wynyard.
We aren’t as young people taught to dream beyond our postcode or think about opportunities that are beyond what has been done before in our community. A specific moment for me that made me realise that sort of feeling amongst the group was when we had a work experience workshop and we were taken to businesses within about a one kilometre radius of our high school and we should be encouraging our students to dream beyond a one kilometre radius of their high school. There’s much more out there to see, and although we do have such a beautiful community with beautiful people. I think that our young people do have a lot more potential to make change, not just within our local community, but within the country and across the world. And that’s something that I’d love to see more of.
MUSIC: YOU + YOUR TOWER by Kaytlyn Johnson:
Jeni Whalan: So if I connect a few of the dots here and we’ve said that children’s well-being was for most of our pandemic response so far and after thought, there were some things that happened like increasing income support or free childcare that had a flow on benefit to child well-being, but that wasn’t the central purpose of them. And then in some of the systems that we look to that should be safeguarding children’s well-being. The issues on the table are kind of outside their reach, around housing, around violence, outside the home, in schools, on streets, around the integration of different types of public services that we should be able to take for granted. Ah there’s a larger story here about what our public services provide and can provide. Glyn, I’m interested in your thoughts about government’s capacity to respond to some of these observations. If we need a different type of integration, different type of wraparound, we need a different type of policy making. How confident are you that we’ve got governments in place that can respond?
Glyn Davis: We’re lucky we’ve got people like Anne who have to worry about this, and we’re thinking hard about how to respond because it is a it is a very challenging issue made more challenging by the trend in recent decades to contract out so many services, which adds to the complexity of coordination and possibly also introduces different incentives into the system that are not easy to reconcile. So I’m really interested to hear from Anne about how we can think about a universal platform in a fragmented delivery system, how you bring these services together, and how you would put children right in the centre of what you’re trying to do and you design the systems around them. Whereas Anne’s given us, I think, a very clear sense. And you’ve just articulated it nicely, a very clear sense of how fragmented these systems – system is the wrong word because that implies a coherence and a group of people who share an understanding of what they’re doing and actually what we’re hearing is something quite different. So Anne, how challenging will this be?
Anne Hollonds: Well, I agree often don’t like to talk about the systems here because they’re not- there’s nothing much systematic about it. It’s very hit and miss. It’s, you know, as we saw from the consultations last year, that it is often a particular service provider that, you know, a family stumbles across who has a takes a holistic view of how they can help and does whatever they can to connect someone to to the various services that what they might need. I mean, we have to understand the complexity of the lives of the most disadvantaged in our community and the way that our institutions and our service delivery is set up is not fit for purpose. I think it’s important, though, that we don’t dwell on the broken systems as the sort of narrative. I think we need to start to think about the possibilities here. And to have a much more optimistic and hopeful way of talking about how it can be. We need to, though, understand the barriers within government, and it goes to Jeni’s question. I mean, there are massive barriers. I mean, we there have to be because it doesn’t make sense that we would have decades of overwhelming research that says it’s better to invest up upstream than to build more prisons. Or, you know, to pick up ambulances at the bottom of the cliff in child protection .
There is no debate about that. There’s been no end of economic analysis of these things. And yet we seem to be unable to create that shift. We need to address those barriers. We need to also, I think, look at the unintended ways that we ourselves might be operating because, you know, as someone whose whole career has been to try to help child and family well-being, all I can look back on it really is quite a lot of failure in that regard.
It’s not that people don’t want to see this, but in some ways, I think that the way that we’ve set up the way things get done works against that change being achieved. And some of it is ourselves. We could look at the fact that whole industries have been set up. You know, the purposes of organisations that I’ve run in the past, you know, were dependent on their being disadvantaged in a way, it may sound harsh to say this. I don’t mean to be critical of anybody. But I think there is a place for us to look, look, look at ourselves, as well as try to then help government to find ways of addressing their processes so they can actually shift the investment upstream.
Glyn Davis: So do we need a cabinet minister for children?
Anne Hollonds: Well, yes, I think we do need a cabinet minister for children, and I’ve certainly been calling for one since I started. But as well as that, I think we need more than that. We need just like, you know, we had a Women’s Safety Taskforce set up last year with several cabinet ministers responsible for women’s safety and economic security. We need to also have all of the ministers responsible for portfolios that affect the lives of children in their families to be working together. So I have been also calling for a Child and Family Well-Being Taskforce.
Jeni Whalan: What would a Children’s Minister change Anne? What would it do? What practical effect might it have?
Anne Hollonds: Well, there would be at least a point of accountability for whose job it would be to be measuring how we’re doing in terms of the well-being of children. We are recognising the need to be talking directly with the people who these policies are meant to be helping, there’s recognition that it is part of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, that children and young people themselves should have a say on these matters. There is more recognition of the human rights of children than I have seen in the past. So there are some signals of change and we should be nurturing those.
Glyn Davis: I’d just like to pick up the very interesting comment about more voice for children in policy process or in government consideration. What are the practical ways of doing that? You’ve just done a consultation process that’s clearly one, but how do we make this part of policy development?
Anne Hollonds: Well, look, I think a participatory approach to policy design is just a fundamental I mean, children and young people need to be recognised as citizens in their own right. We need to be engaging with them. Now, it’s one thing to ask kids what they think or what they’ve experienced or what they think, what they hope would would change. It’s another thing to translate that into policy. And I think we’re on a on a very steep learning curve there as to how we’re actually able to translate their insights. And and I think it’s very important that we do translate their insights into policy because otherwise it’s not a meaningful or authentic process going and asking them in the first place. I’d like to see a world class standard of how we do this, that we do it in ways that is a very consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child that it’s an authentic process and that we’re able to say to kids, this is what we heard and this is the bit in the policy that that was building on the things that you told us.
MUSIC: YOU + YOUR TOWER by Kaytlyn Johnson
Jeni Whalan: We’ll come back to Anne Hollonds, but now we’re going to hear more from Kaytlyn Johnson about what’s front and centre for her when she thinks to the future.
Kaytlyn Johnson: Since growing up in Tasmania, I have decided to move to Melbourne to study at the University of Melbourne. I’m about to commence my third year of university studying climate science and music as well. I started songwriting early high school, late primary school, and it has stuck with me ever since, and I sing about what I believe in and all the things that I advocate for play a heavy role in my lyric writing.
And I’m really passionate about climate change and making sure that we are not just making pledges and making promises to our young people that we’re going to save their home and we’re going to make sure that they have a lovely place to live in the future. But actually meeting those targets. I feel really privileged to have been able to represent young people at COP26. The most important voices, our First Nations voices and young people who will have to feel these effects of climate change in the future. These voices are so important and they’re more important, sorry to say, than the voices of people who aren’t feeling those effects. Indigenous communities have knowledge beyond science. It goes beyond anything anyone’s ever studied. It’s it’s ingrained and integrated into the generations of Aboriginal children and elders. And so if we really want to take those steps towards making a sustainable future, we should be engaging with our First Nations communities on their knowledge. But we have to do it in a way that’s respectful. So we can’t just go back to these First Nations communities and expect them to give us all the solutions and expect them to to welcome you with open arms and just exploit everything that they’ve created over those tens of thousands of years. It has to be a conversation and it has to be a really respectful one at that. We can’t be giving the responsibility to First Nations people to fix a problem that they didn’t create, but they are actually the victims of. We definitely need to be looking at those solutions, but I would love to see it done in a respectful way, in a way that’s really progressive for both white and black Australia to come together and create a future we want to live in.
Glyn Davis: That was Kaytlyn Johnson, student, musician and young Tasmanian of the year. And now back to our interview with Anne Hollonds
Jeni Whalan: So there’s no doubt there’s a very large government and policy agenda behind what you’re advocating, Anne. But what about the rest of us? What’s the role of of us all as citizens, as parents or grandparents, civil society, NGOs, even the media in advancing this kind of national conversation?
Anne Hollonds: I think we have to really start to properly value childhood for a start. I think we don’t have a culture that really understands and values and respects the unique opportunities of this stage in life. I mean, I think that we all value children. We value our own children in particular. But it’s a I guess it’s a we haven’t really embraced the idea that the well-being of someone else’s children has an impact on our children and on on the country that we live in, and that we have a shared interest in the well-being of of all children. Again, I think it’s not culturally as embedded in here in Australia as it is in some other places, but I think that we can start to move in that direction. And I think part of it is the language. I also don’t think we’re very used to hearing about children in the media.
I think the more that we get familiar with that and particularly if we can bring children’s voices themselves to bear, it’s just, every time you hear from children and young people themselves, it’s such a powerful experience, and and often surprising and often challenges our thinking as adults. And one of the things I’ve been really trying to say, particularly using COVID as as the as the opportunity is to highlight that policy is often driven by the concerns of adults. Policy is written by adults looking through an adult set of lenses and children are off stage. And that’s why we made the mistakes that we did that have led to very serious harms indirectly as a result of the emergency measures during COVID, the very serious mental health issues for kids, even at much younger ages. You know that we just didn’t understand the flow on effects that there might be, and that’s because this was not policy designed for children. And so in order to write policy with children in a top of mind the unique needs of children, then we need to be listening to children and young people and to be factoring in into our policy, making how we what we need to be doing to be promoting their well-being.
Glyn Davis: That was Anne Hollonds, the National Children’s Commissioner – with a call to action that’s hard to ignore. You’ve been listening to Life’s Lottery – produced by PRF in partnership with UTS Impact studios.
Jeni Whalan: The music that you heard was from Kaytlyn Johnson
Glyn Davis: Please keep the conversation going – Head to lifeslottery.com.au
Jeni Whalan: Next week’s episode is all about the Federal Budget, and how children fit into it. We’ll be joined by Amanda Robbins and Alicia Mollaun from Equity Economics, who’ll give us their analysis of the 2022-23 Budget from a child centred perspective. They’ll also introduce the idea of child-centred budgeting – how we might think about children while we construct something as complex as a Federal budget.
In this bonus episode, Jeni Whalan hosts a discussion on the recent commitments from both NSW and Victoria to deliver a year of universal play-based learning for children in the year before they start school. As well as transforming early childhood education, the goal is to build the sector workforce and further boost productivity by better supporting working parents. Leslie Loble, the co-chair of the Council on Early Childhood Development and Amanda Robbins, Managing Director of Equity Economics, outline the significance of the announcement and what it’s going to take to deliver this ‘triple dividend’ over the next ten years.
In this bonus episode, hosts Jeni Whalan and Glyn Davis examine the insights gained across this season of conversations about putting children at the centre of good public policy. They discuss the frustrating gap between knowledge and action when it comes to shifting the dial towards more positive outcomes for all kids. Without political leadership, meaningful consultation and targeted, place-based responses, many well-intentioned measures fail to make an impact. So is there now enough momentum to bring about real change?
We also hear from young people from the Northern Rivers region of NSW who, on top of pandemic disruptions, have also had to cope with devastating floods. Mullumbimby’s Spaghetti Circus, an arts and community engagement organisation, was inundated with water and mud. Members of the Circus community lost their homes, schools and businesses. Performers, Ellen, Maxine, Malaika and Laima share their hopes and fears for the future.
‘Never again’ were words that echoed around the world in the wake of the second world war. Organisations were formed with the explicit aim of respecting and promoting international cooperation, aid and development. Only a few decades later, we have seen the first increase in poverty for a generation. Why? And why does inequality, conflict, and the impact of natural disasters still have such a disproportionate impact on children, especially those forced to leave the countries they call home?
Kevin Watkins has spent his career speaking up for marginalised people in some of the world’s poorest countries. As a former CEO of Save the Children UK, and now as a visiting professor at the London School of Economics, he gives a scathing assessment of global leadership and calls for a return to the ideals of mutual responsibility to deliver a better and more sustainable future. But there’s also cause for hope as young people find their voice, organise across borders, and speak truth to power in greater numbers.
In an excerpt from The Wait podcast, we also hear what it’s like for child refugees like Marzia Yosufi and Sara Rezaei. Now young women, they have spent years marking time in Indonesia, waiting for a chance to be resettled and to be able to continue their education, and their childhood. This excerpt contains references to suicide, so please listen with care.
With thanks to: Kevin Watkins, Marzia Yosufi, Sara Rezaei.