Over 450 people gathered in Launceston last month with one purpose: to equip themselves for the important work of supporting children and families in Tasmania. Their common goal was to see that Every Child Succeeds.
The Communities for Children conference is hosted by Anglicare Tasmania. It is part of a bigger collective impact movement in Launceston Tamar Valley called Every Child Succeeds, for which the Communities for Children team provides backbone support. Originally envisioned as a professional development opportunity for those working directly with children and families it has now developed into a significant biennial event with a collective focus on improving outcomes for children.
“As a community we have every resource to make our community socially just. People are realising that to turn things around, there has to be a common agenda that priorities children,” said Chris Jones, CEO of Anglicare Tasmania.
“We’ve all heard that it takes a village to raise a child, so partnerships are essential to every child succeeding,” said Chris.
The large number of participants attending the conference shows that community workers, managers and organisations are seeking a ‘whole system’ approach to ensuring that every child’s birthright is a positive future.
One keynote speaker was Nigel Richardson, Director of Children’s Services at Leeds City Council (UK). Nigel told a story about a picture he has on his fridge of Victoria Climbie, a little girl from the Ivory Coast who was murdered in the UK in 2000. Victoria was 8 years old. She had been known to authorities. The system that should have protected her failed to do so. Nigel spoke about why he believes that communities have a responsibility to hear and be influenced by the voices of children.
“We are called Children’s Services. Why wouldn’t we listen to the voice of children? The clue is in our title – Department of Children’s Services – isn’t it?” said Nigel.
Nigel said that in Leeds there has been a period of significant improvement and transformation in children’s services and the end result is that children and young people there have been placed at the heart of the city’s growth strategy. Leeds now involves children and youth in every aspect of its decision-making, including budget discussions, appointments of new staff, and future planning.
“The children of our area have the right to hold the adults accountable. They want to contribute to the future shape of their place. Their voices need to be heard,” said Nigel.
Another keynote speaker was Liz Weaver, leader of the Tamarack Learning Centre in Canada. She spoke about how Collective Impact can transform communities and shared her experience as the Director of the Hamilton Roundtable on Poverty Reduction, which was successful in reducing poverty for more than 20,000 children and their families.
“We needed not to shy away from talking about poverty. It was time to bring everyone together with a ‘no blame, everybody’s accountable’ attitude,” said Liz, “We stood together as a community to find the solutions to poverty.”
“If others can do it, with all the skills in this room, and within this State, so can you,” she said, “All you need is passion and direction.”
The conference put the UN’s Article 12 statement that ‘Every child has the right to give their opinion, and for adults to listen and take it seriously’ into action. Sixteen year-old high school student Jack Budgeon was one of a number of articulate, insightful and passionate young voices heard at the conference.
Since July 2016, Jack has been involved with the ‘Speak Up Challenge’. “This project provides the youth in our community with an opportunity to promote issues that are of concern to them, to speak up and to be heard,” said Jack, “We asked children from grades three to six, what they liked about their community, and if they had three wishes to make their community better, what would they be?”
“The top three responses were new and improved parks, improved amenities, facilities and transport, and more care for the environment.” Jack said.
“I call on the leaders of today to talk to children, their children, their friend’s children, and ask them what they want for the future. After all, they are the ones that will have to live with the decisions of today that affect tomorrow,” said Jack.
“We live in a great place. We need to come together, as we heard they did in UK, Canada and NZ, to make our community a better place.
Everyone agreed that this conference was a huge success. There were many practical lessons shared, with the shared goal of inspiring and encouraging every Tasmanian child to succeed.
The filmed keynotes and workshops will be available for viewing after 18 November 2016, on the Anglicare Tasmania You Tube channel (www.youtube.com/user/anglicaretas)