After nearly five years, the end of my term as Guardian for Children and Young People, and Training Centre Visitor, is fast approaching. In July, I will be finishing up one of the hardest – but best – jobs I’ve ever had.
I have decided to ‘down step’ and look for a less intensive role, with a bit more time to focus on my own family.
It is never a good time to finish up a job like this; I still have lots of unfinished business and I will miss the many special people I have worked with. But I believe it’s now the right time for me to move aside for a new person to take on, and wrangle, the dual roles of Guardian and Training Centre Visitor. Welcome new funding for the office brings the opportunity to reinstate some community visiting to residential care and to embark on new projects.
It has been a real privilege to work for – and with – children and young people in care and in detention. They are some of the most vulnerable children and young people in South Australia. They have also turned out to be some of the most remarkable human beings I’ve ever met.
Most of them have faced one of the most devastating experiences any of us could imagine – being separated – as a child –from their own family. Added to that is the possibility that their experience of care may not have been stable or positive or even safe. Despite this, they survive, grow up and work out who they are. While there is no ‘one size fits all’ and they are all gloriously individual, I have often witnessed their strength, compassion and loyalty (especially for siblings and other children and young people in care). I admire their courage and determination to use their voices to make a difference for others.
It has also been my privilege to meet a wide range of dedicated adults – in government and non-government, paid and volunteer roles – in this demanding but rewarding area of community need.
As a community we are learning more and more about how early experiences in life affect personalities, behaviours and the way a person sees the world and relationships. Loving, nurturing, predictable care demonstrates that the world is a safe place and people are, by and large, good. Fear, threat, neglect or chronic unpredictability teaches different lessons and can even permanently affect the way young brains develop. Reactions that might promote survival, in the short-term, can hamper trust and lead to behaviours, beyond the conscious control of the person, that interfere with learning and relationships.
Children in care, and in detention, have endured challenges that most of us – and our own children – will never have to face. They deserve our compassion and respect.
Bearing this in mind, as Guardian and Training Centre Visitor I have been guided by two principles:
- No child ever asked or deserved to end up in a situation where they can’t live with their birth family.
By refusing ever to attribute blame or fault to those who are least responsible, we can remain focused on the things that really need to change.
- Children and young people in care and detention have the right to the same things we would expect and demand for our own children: to be loved and cared for, kept safe, and have the opportunity to find their own unique strengths and talents.
This must be the standard that drives us. Why should any other child deserve less?
I still have two months to go before I finally finish, but the position will be advertised very soon. I would strongly encourage any interested person to consider applying for this challenging but very rewarding position – to champion the rights of children and young people in care and detention. (But be warned! They will steal your heart.)