On 1 August 2022, Shona Reid commenced her roles as the Guardian for Children and Young People, Child and Young Person’s Visitor, Training Centre Visitor and Youth Treatment Order Visitor.
Through these roles, Shona was appointed to promote and advocate for the rights of children and young people in care and youth detention.
Shona came to us from Reconciliation SA, where she was the CEO for 3 and a bit years. Shona has devoted her knowledge, experience, professional and personal life to the advancement and rights of Aboriginal children, young people, families and communities for over two decades. For 15 years, she worked across the child protection, young offending and the out-of-home care sector, predominately in regional and remote areas, including the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands.
With the first anniversary of her commencement just past, we sat down with Shona and asked her to share her reflections on the past year.
What are some of your highlights from the past year?
My absolute highlight has been the ability to connect with and spend time with children and young people. Whether it’s with children who are in care or young people in the Youth Justice Centre, I am so grateful to learn their stories, hear about how they feel and be a person they believe in. That’s my highlight. That’s what makes this job worth it.
Another key highlight for me is the ability to connect with regional and remote areas in SA. I was born and grew up in the mid north of SA and to be able to connect with and see how regional communities play such a vital role in growing kids well is something I will never get tired of. We often talk about ‘the village’ but somehow this concept becomes truly alive when you connect with regional and remote towns. I don’t think we value the opportunities that present themselves in country areas, so making sure to make country SA my first targeted visits was purposeful, and with intent.
On a personal note, a highlight for me was to overhear my kids try and explain my job to their friends at school. Somehow, I became the “‘Guardian of the Galaxy’ who looks after all kids and makes sure grownups look after them properly”. Not sure that was in the job description – but the highlight was that my own kids are proud of what I do, and that they know kids have a right to be looked after and it’s the grownups job to do it.
What are some of the key things you’ve observed about the child protection and youth detention systems?
First and foremost, I observe that there are so many people that love and care for vulnerable children and young people. These professions are tough, and everyone is trying their best to do what they can with what they have. I think coupled with these passions is a lot of frustrations in not being able to get things right all the time.
Everyone agrees with the principle that children’s rights need to be protected and upheld. However, in practice, I have observed an acceptance that compromises have to be made about rights, to work within available resources (time, human and financial). My response to this is that rights are unconditional – we either meet them or we don’t, there is no in between. Our jobs and passions for this work require us to meet them 100% of the time, regardless of the resource incumbrance.
I think that sometimes we get so caught up in this thing called the ‘system’ that we lose a purposeful focus on the children and young people we are here to serve. This is not just aimed at government, it’s really an area where we all need to pick up our game. I hear the words ‘child-centred approaches’ so often, but spend most of my time working through the needs of everyone else but the child. That’s food for thought for everyone, I suppose, (and something that I am not immune to either).
What is something you didn’t expect about the job?
I had the fanciful idea that I would be able to focus solely on the Guardian and Visitor roles. In fact, I seem to be like most other CEOs running organsiations, managing those roles in addition to running an office, managing staff and balancing budgets.
Speaking of budgets – I had assumed that an oversight body (and one that has 4 very important, complex and high risk mandates) would be well-resourced. It’s not. Now, I spend a significant amount of time asking for funds to just get the basic jobs done.
What would you like to say to children and young people who are in care or detention?
Firstly, thankyou so much for allowing me and my staff into your life. I know so many people come in and out of your world, some you remember and some you don’t. Sometimes things work out and sometimes things go bad. I hope that when you talk to us you feel like you are heard, you are respected and you are valued. Because you are.
My greatest hope is that everything works out, that the tough times aren’t tough for ever and that you get to be the best version of you that you want to be.
My final thing is that if things are not going right for you at home, or in your placement or wherever you are – just know that we are here, we will take your call and do our best to put your views forward.
What are you passionate to work on in the next four years?
Over the next fours years, my passions and focus will be on 2 primary areas:
1. Whole of SA government accountability for children in care and youth detention: There may be one government department for administrating the legal orders for these vulnerable children and young people. But when the state takes a child into their care, the whole state government is responsible and accountable for ensuring that they grow well and that the highest standard of care is provided. This includes consideration of cultural and ability needs.
2. Child and young person inclusivity: That their perspectives are not drowned out by system, adult or workforce needs. That their perspectives are not ignored because of inflexibility or inconvenience. That we can truly say “Nothing about you, without you”.
The team at the OGCYP would like to say thank you to Shona, for all your work over the past year and what you bring to this office. Your passion, dedication and care shines through everyday.