For every child, every right

In this month’s blog, we look at the role of the National Children’s Commissioner and explore some of the projects and resources developed by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) that are relevant to approved providers, coordinators, educators, teachers and staff members working in the children’s education and care sector. 

The Australian Human Rights Commission has welcomed the appointment of Ms Anne Hollonds as the new National Children’s Commissioner.

Ms Hollonds, who will commence her five-year appointment in November 2020, replaces inaugural National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell, who has served in the role for the past seven years.

The National Children’s Commissioner 

The Commonwealth Government established the National Children’s Commissioner position in 2012 to help promote the rights, wellbeing and development of children and young people in Australia, and ensure their voices, including those of the most vulnerable, are heard at the national level.

The Commissioner promotes public discussion and awareness of issues affecting children, conducts research and education programs, and consults directly with children and representative organisations. The role also examines relevant existing and proposed Commonwealth legislation to determine if it recognises and protects children’s human rights in Australia.

The work of the Commissioner complements the work conducted by state and territory children’s commissioners and guardians. The position sits within the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Australia’s national independent statutory body dealing with human rights.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was ratified in Australia in December 1990. The UNCRC is the main international human rights treaty on children’s rights, and as a party Australia has a duty to ensure that all children in Australia enjoy the rights set out in the treaty.

The UNCRC outlines the rights of children in international law. It contains 54 articles that cover all aspects of a child’s life and set out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children everywhere are entitled to.

The articles within the UNCRC are embedded within the objectives and guiding principles of the National Quality Framework (NQF). The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and the Framework for School Age Care (FSAC) also explicitly incorporate the UNCRC and children’s rights. Likewise, the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics is based on the principles of the UNCRC.

Projects and resources for education and care services

The AHRC and the Commissioner have undertaken a number of major projects to draw attention to the human rights challenges facing children. Two projects, of particular relevance to the children’s education and care sector, are the:

  •  Child Safe Organisations project
  • Building Belonging toolkit of resources
Child Safe Organisations

As part of the Child Safe Organisations project, the Australian Government asked the Commissioner to lead the development of National Principles for Child Safe Organisations (the National Principles), released in February 2019.

Endorsed at the time by members of the Council of Australian Governments, the National Principles are based on the ten Child Safe Standards recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) that all organisations that engage in child-related work are required to implement. They are however broader in scope, going beyond sexual abuse to cover other forms of potential harm. The Principles aim to provide a nationally consistent approach to creating organisational cultures that foster child safety and wellbeing across all sectors in Australia.

The National Office for Child Safety, established in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, works with the Commissioner, states and territories and the non-government sector to coordinate national adoption of the National Principles.

All organisations that work, or come into contact, with children are encouraged to implement the National Principles to become a child safe organisation. This includes, but is not limited to, sport and recreation clubs, education and care services, schools, child and youth support services, and out-of-home care services.

Practical tools and training resources are available to help organisations implement the National Principles.

At present, compliance with the National Principles is not mandatory. However, organisations – including education and care services, are encouraged to adopt them to demonstrate leadership and commitment to child safety and wellbeing.

Food for thought…

Ensuring the safety, health and wellbeing of children is an objective of the NQF, and always a priority. Children’s education and care services play an important role in creating and maintaining safe and nurturing spaces that reinforce each child’s right to experience quality education and care in an environment that provides for their ongoing health and safety.

How might you adopt the National Principles to support best practice and advocate for children’s fundamental right to be protected and kept safe?

*Note: While the National Principles are broadly aligned with existing child safe approaches reflected in the NQF, education and care services must continue to comply with the NQF and meet existing legislative requirements in their state or territory in addition to their choice to comply with the National Principles. Links to state and territory child safe requirements and resources are available on the ACECQA website.

Building Belonging

Recognising that children’s education and care environments provide the ideal setting for children to begin learning about their rights and responsibilities, and to develop respect for those around them, the AHRC worked closely with the sector to develop ‘Building Belonging’.

Building Belonging is a toolkit of resources which includes an eBook, song with actions, educator guide, posters and lesson plans. The resources aim to provide educators with simple and practical ideas on how to handle challenging or confronting questions about racial differences, while also offering children stimulating activities and games to engage them with ideas around cultural diversity.

The toolkit has been designed to cater to both education and care and early primary school settings, developed to support the achievement of learning outcomes under the EYLF and the Australian Curriculum. The resources closely align with the National Quality Standard (NQS) and are linked to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Additionally, these resources support the fulfilment of children’s rights principles set out in the UNCRC.

The toolkit is a valuable resource that can be used to support Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) development and review. It can also assist educators in identifying current strengths and priorities for improvement when tackling the issues of cultural diversity and prejudice.

Food for thought…

Take a moment to consider if, or how, your service has accessed and used this resource in practice. Are there opportunities to incorporate, or extend on the use of this resource to support the development of cultural competence in your service?

Additional resources

The AHRC website promotes and provides a range of educational resources and materials aimed at building a universal culture and understanding of human rights. A recent news article, which may be of particular interest to education and care services, explores the potential effect the disruptions caused by COVID-19 may have on children and the important role educators, teachers, parents and carers play in supporting children’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

Throughout these unprecedented and uncertain times educators and service leaders have shown dedication, resilience and a commitment to continuing to deliver quality education and care to support children and their families. Every children’s education and care service makes ethical choices reflective of their values, and throughout the COVID-19 crisis it has been heartening to see the continued emphasis on the safety, health and wellbeing of children and their rights and best interests remaining paramount.

Thank you for your valued work for Australian children, families and communities during this challenging period.

Further resources

ACECQA – We Hear You – Building Belonging: A toolkit for early childhood educators on cultural diversity and responding to racial prejudice

ACECQA – Reporting requirements about children

Australian Government – The National Office for Child Safety

Australian Human Rights Commission – Child Safe Organisations

UNICEFThe Convention on the Rights of the Child: The child-friendly version

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