Tammy is passionate about the rights of children and young people. So much so, she has dedicated herself to a year long school project, to communicate the rights message to children and young people in care. Talking to her friends reinforced Tammy’s belief that many young people in care are unaware of their rights.
‘I didn’t know that I had rights while I was in care. I only found out after I had left.
‘My worker and carers had meetings about my change of placement and, although I had a right to be there, I wasn’t invited.
‘When I was invited to meetings, like school meetings between my teacher, worker and carer, I would get invited in half way through with no idea what the meeting was about and no chance to work out what I wanted to say.’
Tammy left school early, but has recently gone back with the aim of finishing her year twelve and going on to study, to work as a mentor or youth worker with young people in the future.
Rights help kids understand they are not alone and they have a voice they can use.
‘My project is aimed at the twelve plus age group. There is a presentation and an information pack for young people and it will also discuss abuse and where they can get assistance from services.’
Tammy says that sending the rights message to children and young people is not just the responsibility of social workers but anyone working with a child.
‘At school meetings where I was asked for my opinion often it was not accepted or taken into account when decisions were made.’
So Tammy’s advice to workers is to not only hear what young people have to say but accept it and put it into action when making decisions.
Lots of children and young people are scared to have a say but the people around them should support them to build their confidence to speak out.
She recalls that changing placements is stressful as children and young people are likely to move from one set of rules, expectations and lifestyle to another. Everything can change, literally overnight and leave a young person confused and lost.
‘It is easy for children to get confused about their rights and how to have their voice heard, when changing placements.
‘In a new place it is hard and sometimes scary to speak up and ask questions and present your views or even to talk about how much things have changed for you.’
One of the most significant rights for Tammy, is the right to know about and contribute to your transition from care plan. She says that the worker and young person need to work together on the plan to make sure that there is the chance to grow in their independence before leaving care. This can set them up better for life beyond care, where supports are fewer. Young people need to know their rights to information they may wish to access, their support options and services that are available after seventeen.
‘Housing is one of the biggest issues for young people in South Australia. There are long waiting lists for houses and for some people there are few options.’
For now, Tammy will concentrate on her year 12 studies and her rights project while also working closely with CREATE to get the message out.
Her final advice to young people in care?
‘Step up and be heard!’