Tell us about your role as the Guardian for Children and Young People and Training Centre Visitor.
These two roles are separate but related.
As the Guardian, I advocate for and promote the rights and best interests of the children and young people who are under the guardianship of the Chief Executive of the Department for Child Protection. In other words, ‘kids in care’. Although it is confusing, it’s important to note that my role does not mean that I am the legal guardian for children in care but I’m essentially here to ‘champion’ their rights.
As the Training Centre Visitor, I have a similar role for children and young people who have been sentenced or remanded to detention in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre. It is my job, with the help of my team, to promote and protect their interests and rights while they are detained.
I have various functions, in both roles, that relate to the safety and wellbeing of children and young people in care and detention. My jobs include monitoring their circumstances and providing advice to the relevant Minister.
As the Guardian and Training Centre Visitor, what are the benefits and challenges of carrying out both roles?
There is a real benefit to holding both roles at once. It means that I can get a broader perspective and unique insight into what life is like for children and young people in care and in detention. And, in fact, some of these kids fall into both categories. On average, about a fifth to a quarter of those who are detained in the training centre come from a care background.
Understanding this cohort of young people who are caught up in both systems, and the circumstances that lead to that ‘dual involvement’, helps me to identify the issues that my office and I really need to focus on if we are going to help them.
The main challenge of holding these two roles at once is that there are not enough hours in the day to do the work involved. My core business is to ensure children and young people, in care and detention, know about their rights and that their rights are upheld by the people and systems who work with them. That is a big ask and a big responsibility.
How do you assess when you should get involved with an advocacy matter, personally?
My office’s advocates do an outstanding job of working with children and young people on a daily basis. They are highly skilled in working with kids, and they do the lion’s share of advocacy, often achieving good results for the young people they assist, and also affirming their voice and their value in the process.
But when there are situations of serious concern that can’t be resolved, I will take on the matter and work with the Chief Executive of DCP or the Minister in question to raise their awareness and offer recommendations to help to resolve the matter.
Can a child and young person call to talk to you?
I love meeting and speaking to kids. But, because of the other work I have to do, the first point of call for a child and young person seeking advocacy from our office is to speak with our Assessment and Referral Officers (ARO). If the ARO identifies that my office has a role to play, they will put the child or young person in touch with the advocates. I work alongside our advocates and have input into complex or systemic issues, including consulting with children or young people and listening to what they have to say.
What is an average day like for you?
Like most office jobs, my day features many meetings and (too) much ‘screen’ time! Luckily I have a standing desk so it’s not too unhealthy.
I usually catch the train to work and always start my day with a skinny flat white coffee to charge my batteries. First up, I attend to my emails then meet with my staff, read documents that inform me about the issues affecting the children and young people we work with, manage timesheets and leave approvals, consider the law and policy and check and write documents, letters and articles.
Most days I meet with other people who work in DCP, Youth Justice, the Ministers responsible for the roles I hold or people in other organisations. A highlight for me is when I can get out my office and visit the young people in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre or a residential care unit or meet with children and young people to hear their ideas. This helps keep my work ‘real’; I always learn a lot when I do and remember what we are working for in my office.
Sometimes I spend some time speaking to journalists as I think the community has a right to know about the work I do. Often my office is asked for views on a range of inquiries, investigations, forums and projects that affect children and young people.
On a good day my team and I will be able to celebrate a really positive outcome for a child or young person we’ve been helping, or a policy change or an improvement that will help more than one. On a bad day, we will feel frustrated or disappointed that we have not achieved as much as we want. But that just makes us more determined to keep going. An average day for me is pretty long – but never boring!