My name is Hyahno. I am writing to you because I find myself in a unique and uncomfortable position. It is however, one I have voluntarily taken up. The uncomfortableness I speak of describes how I am riding emotional waves. Feelings of humbleness and shock, inspiration and fear, awe and sadness, and hope and despair. While riding these waves, there is a constant, an anchor, a weight. This weight is the heaviness of an important responsibility. A responsibility I hope to share with you. Because I need your help.
As coordinator for the 2023 Childhood Summit, I have become one of the custodians for 49 Logan children and their messages of importance. Embedded in their messages are strong indications that for many children, all is not well, either within themselves, or their families, friends, or their communities.
This is my third Childhood Summit, and there are always common themes in the topics children raise. During the 2023 Child Voice ‘call-out’, where we search for children to speak up and share what is important to them growing up today, some NEW dominant themes have emerged, which are very concerning:
“Yes, we are young, but we know what we are talking about. We know how to express our true emotions without having secret messages behind them.” says 13-year-old Shylee.
12-year-old Kevin says, “Many say children today are directionless and lack life purpose." and “We need help from our elders.”
11-year-old Gia states, “Have you ever wondered what the problem is in Logan? In most suburbs we definitely do not have trust.”
“My friends have become as their parents. Vaping, smoking or drinking. They are changing and so are their voices,” warns 11-year-old Zavana.
12-year-old Ellie states, “Children today do not get enough quality time to form healthy bonds with their parents”.
10-year-old Katana says, “Parents neglect the fact that their children might have challenges like PTSD, trauma and even depression”.
IMPORTANT NOTE: We are shaping the communities these children are growing up in. This is not about shaming you or anyone else. It is a fact, that needs to be acknowledged to help all children grow super healthy, happy and strong in a fair and just society. To feel shame, this is not what these children are asking. Their messages are a special invitation for you to listen. This is our opportunity to check-in on our village and to see how we can help.
ABOUT THESE CHILDREN: The brave children who shared their voices with us are aged 3 to 14. They come from many cultural backgrounds, and some are recent Australians. They come from a range of social economic status and live in areas right across Logan. From Jimboomba to Rochedale South, from Eagleby to Woodridge, Regents Park to Shailer Park, from Daisy Hill to Yarrabilba and many places in between. These young leaders answered the call to be Child Voice Keynote Presenters at 2023 Childhood Summit. They have shared their hearts and minds with us.
A CHANGE IN WHAT CHILDREN ARE SAYING
Listening intently to all their 2 minute video applications, it is abundantly clear our youngest citizens have many issues brewing. Some of these challenges have been brewing and compounding for many years. Persisting as significant concerns for children, such as the decline of quality play opportunities, environmental concerns, lack of community spirit and community connections, listening to children, child agency and bullying. While other issues raised are new, never heard before, and are prevalent in many childrens' minds. Dominant new themes include mental health issues and parenting concerns. There are many other new and coinciding issues these children have raised. I know these concerns are growing and widespread across Australia such as poverty, equity, lack of accessibility, crime, hospitals, homelessness and drug abuse.
WHY? I HAVE A THEORY
While I have no evidence to back up my theory as to why these new issues have emerged, I feel what we are hearing and seeing in these childrens' voices, is the POST COVID child.
WHAT IS THE CHILDHOOD SUMMIT?
Before we go any further it is important that you know exactly what the Childhood Summit is, and how I came to be a custodian of these young voices.
The Childhood Summit is a biennial multi-day gathering with children at the centre. It is a dedicated stop, and pause every two years, to check in and explore the question ‘How are the children doing’? The Childhood Summit is a platform for children to be heard, recognised and valued as active citizens of our communities. It is founded on the articles in United Nations Conventions on the Rights of a Child. Mostly made up of young people as keynote speakers and MCs. Grown-ups and elders are asked to come, sit, take off your ‘doing and fixing hats’ and really listen. The theme for the 2023 event is ‘Secret Lives of Children’ What Adults Need to Know. Focused on the city of Logan, a group of 14 Logan organisations are collaborating to bring this event to life. We put out the call and hoped Logan children would take a risk and let us in on the worlds they inhabit. Share their experiences, opinions, insights, challenges, concerns, ideas, and solutions. Reflecting on their applications alone - Boy, did they!
THE 'CALL-OUT' PROCESS
The ‘call-out’ was made across the city of Logan, through key community members, partnering organisations and schools. The call-out asked children to take up this opportunity and submit a two minute video application answering these questions:
As a young person, what is important to you?
If you had the ear of a room full of decision makers, what would you tell them?
If you could be the change maker, what would you change?
WHAT ARE CHILDREN CONCERNED ABOUT?
49 child voice applications have been received. I can tell you, threaded through these applications are some very concerning themes. Below is a list of the common issues raised by children (in order of prevalence).
As mentioned already, play, safety, community spirit, bullying, adults listening to children, child agency, environmental concerns (among the most common themes) are issues that have been prevalent features in child voices during 2019 and 2021 Childhood Summits. New concerns such as mental health and parenting were raised time and time again, in many different contexts, right across Logan.
Many young voices spoke out about concerns for mental health:
13-year-old Muskaan says, “When children are not able to spend time with their family, they end up feeling emotionally distressed and begin to behave very badly towards the community.”
12-year-old Eva informs that since the COVID 19 pandemic experts suggest 1 in 7 children have a mental health challenge and says, “For a long time I struggled so severely with anxiety I could not even go to school.”
13-year-old Shylee, also concerned about mental health says, “We know what we need, we have never been given the opportunity to speak out about our issues.”
Many of the children raising the issue of mental health spoke of relevant topics such as poverty, equity, access, crime, racism, hospitals, treatment of neurodiverse children, homelessness, hospitals, COVID 19, connection to culture and cost of living. These have never featured before. These are the concerns I wish to discuss further.
Mental health issues raised by children relate to experiences of anxiety, depression, stress, school refusal, self-harming, eating disorders and screen addiction.
Parenting concerns relate to children not enough time with parents to form healthy bonds, parents having too much work, children experiencing poor role-modelling, grown-ups spending too much time on screens, parents putting too much pressure children and parents not taking time to make children feel understood and heard.
Access, equity and poverty relate to basic human necessities among children. Access to healthy food, technology, sport, activities, transport, employment, places to feel safe - places that are for children, access to books and other resources, and the rising cost of living.
Interestingly, another common element unique to the 2023 children voices include children looking to governments to intervene and help solve their challenges.
Other new child voice issues raised, which many are related to those already mentioned include crime, drug abuse, hospitals, treatment of neurodiverse children, racism, connection to culture, improving technology, homelessness, impacts of covid, soft drink consumption, and First Nations rights and recognition.
IMPORTANT: These Issues Hunt in Packs.
These amazing young insightful thinkers have drawn lines between issues, linking over-worked parents with rises in crime, drug abuse, mental health issues and lack of community spirit. The children also see direct connections between poverty and access to quality play, increases in screen addiction and lack of access to quality child-care.
These young minds don’t just raise challenges, they come with many creative and thoughtful solutions. Common solutions relate to giving children space to be heard, improving community spirit and reducing the time parents spend away from their families.
Enter the POST COVD CHILD
Now, I am have task for you. Put yourself in the shoes of children. Try to consider all that has happened over the past three years from the perspective of a child.
From listening to these child voices, I believe many children are living through an unnamed trauma as they re-adjust to the world returning to ‘normal’. I think what we are hearing is, for many children COVID surprisingly brought about a positive opportunity to spend quality time with parents. Strong bonding, deep connection, heart to heart with immediate caregivers. Quality time spent within the villages they reside, with those they most love. It was as if, for many children, they got to experience ‘the old village ways’ for two whole years. For many children this experience came during a critical time of their development. Strong and positive connection with significant caregivers is really what all children need as they grow, and for years of these childrens' childhoods, they got it.
(Wordle diagram of common words used by 2023 child voice speakers)
What this also suggests is that for many children, before COVID, their connection needs with parents and caregivers were not being met. This has not gone unnoticed by some of these children. Quality time was raised often and linked with community spirit and connections as well as parents working too much. This correlates with previous Childhood Summit child voices. In 2019 and 2021 children spoke of being isolated in their homes, having screen-based and sedentary lives, over structured, and over governed. Very little freedom.
So, lets review: children got to experience deep connection with family and community for two years, and now most are watching it fade away.
There is also the other side of the COVID coin, (I know our lives are many shades of gray, not simply black and white). For some children COVID was and still is deeply traumatic. This is most true for some of those living in low socioeconomic areas, such as pockets of Logan. For some of these children COVID has created instability, isolation, stress, anxiety, abuse and violence. For some this story continues, compounding these families as Australia exits COVID and the world reels in economic pressure.
Based on the world according to Hyahno (at the end of May 2023) it feels like we (society) have ramped it up from 10 (pre-COVID level of busyness) to 12. The increasing level of busyness, consuming focus on economic pressures as we fight to try to stay out of recession, are ignoring children’s needs (as expressed above). Ignoring their biological, developmental and belonging needs. The economic imperative is turning our communities, neighbourhoods, and in some instances - our families, on themselves. Which further compounds all the problems for all the villagers.
This is the world these 2023 Child Voices have described. Their words, their worlds. This is the world we are shaping. (Don’t just take it from me, listen for yourself here. I would love to know what you hear in their voices). Are we so powerless to make changes now? Are we so distracted, we can’t strategise for the children tomorrow?
I know many are making changes for tomorrow’s children, and some for today’s. For those, these voices will be really relevant. Many children are being missed. Or our well intended strategies don’t make it to the ground, where these children live. That is what these children’s voices are saying. As tragically unfortunate as it was for so many, COVID has shown us a way. Shown us what our children deeply desire, and how simple and basic their needs are.
It seems is the most precious and rewarding thing we can give our children. It is what they most deeply yearn for. But… There is also a fierce global, national, state and local competition for our time, attention and focus. Our societal and governmental systems are too slow to change, or have made it near impossible to give our children what they need.
Now our children know it. They are speaking up about it. They know it is causing many issues across the communities, neighbourhoods and in their homes. They want change. They are demanding your time.
CEO & Villager
Australian Institute of Play