During 1999 and 2000, the Queensland Children's Commission, in conjunction with James Cook University and Central Queensland University, sponsored three one-day forums on contemporary children's issues. These forums were conducted in Brisbane, Townsville and Rockhampton and brought together practitioners, policy makers, researchers, local community members, and a range of professionals and community personnel to consider and discuss critical issues and research on contemporary children's issues and to develop partnerships with other professionals working with children and youth in their respective communities.
This issue of the Queensland Journal of Educational Research offers a selection of papers delivered at those forums. Many thanks are due to the authors of these papers for agreeing to make them available in this form and thereby extending their outreach and influence. The articles presented here form a coherent and complementary set with a focus on marginalised children and youth. They identify many important issues that need further attention.
Robin Sullivan, the Queensland Children's Commissioner, presented a keynote address at each of the forums and that address is the opening article here: Protecting and promoting the wellbeing of all children and young people in Queensland. She describes the role of the Queensland Children's Commission as reconstituted under the provisions of the Commission for Children and Young People Act 2000. This Act, implementing the recommendations of the Forde Inquiry, was passed by the Queensland Parliament on 14 November 2000 and is being progressively implemented.
Sullivan enunciates the scope, functions and powers of the Queensland Children's Commission under the new Act and these include fostering a community culture, advocacy, community visitation, complaint handling and investigation, employment screening, research, monitoring and review, and the constitution of advisory committees. In terms of research, she sees the various activities and functions of the Commission as needing to be informed by high quality research and by cooperative partnerships of researchers, policy makers and practitioners. This is especially so in view of the increasing emphasis on holistic, integrated and community-based approaches to ensuring the wellbeing of children and youth.
Jeannie Herbert, Getting to the heart of the matter: The importance of the Aboriginal community voice in education, challenges schools to provide a setting in which Aboriginal children will feel that they can belong. Her main themes are the need for 'relevance' and 'acceptance' - affirming the student's cultural identity, respecting cultural heritage, identifying Aboriginality as positive and meeting Aboriginal needs. Non-attendance of Aboriginal students is seen to be related to their lack of belonging in schools and the inter-cultural insensitivity of schools. This article derives its power from the voices of Aboriginal students and their parents. It points to the need for teachers to develop deeper insights into culture and to develop new ways of ensuring that all students have a sense of belonging - fitting the school to the student rather than the student to the school. In other words, it is essential to get to the heart of the matter in more ways than one - to the central issue and with genuine sensitivity.
Philip Marsh, Truancy or absenteeism? A school governance perspective, also looks at school non-attendance issues. Parent-approved absences were identified as a special problem in the surveyed schools. The cultural theme emerges here too. Much non-attendance is seen as deriving from student and family feelings of alienation, especially perceived lack of relevance. Marsh argues that this is something that must be dealt through systematic whole-school action aimed at developing stronger school-family relationships. However, many of the surveyed schools had no systematic program for addressing the problem and most teachers were poorly prepared to deal with the relevant cultural issues. As Marsh suggests, what is needed goes well beyond simply forcing or encouraging students to attend school. Yet, the data from the schools in this survey do not reveal much cultural understanding and sensitivity and more effort is needed to achieve effective change.
Christine Eastwood, Wendy Patton and Helen Stacy, in their article, Children seeking justice: Surviving child sexual abuse and the criminal justice system, report a study of the effects of the legal system on adolescent girls as complainants in sexual abuse cases. In their groundbreaking study they conducted interviews of twelve girls, their parents, other witnesses, court support workers and key legal personnel. The ethical issues were carefully addressed. The picture that emerges is not a happy one, with the complainants suffering further distress and trauma through the legal process itself. The authors argue that the legal process needs reform to protect abused children from further abuse. As a starting point they suggest that court officials and legal personnel be educated in the dynamics of sexual abuse and child development. This can be seen as another form of cultural understanding and sensitivity.
Susan Gair and Peter Camilleri, Attempted suicide: Listening to and learning from young people, identify suicide as a serious worldwide health issue. They interviewed a small group of youth who had attempted suicide. As with the previous article, the use of direct quotations provides a powerful representation of the thoughts and feelings of those interviewed. A key finding is the need to listen carefully and genuinely to young people, and with an understanding of youth culture language. What young people need is help in making sense of their situation and resolving their difficulties. It is suggested that schools need to become culturally sensitive and supportive and take the lead in developing inter-agency strategies for preventing suicide.
Howard Cassidy and Vivienne Watts, Using drama to relieve the oppression of school bullying, explore a particular approach to raising awareness and understanding of other students in schools. They report the development and production of a play which explores issues in bullying and alienation. Interviews were used to assess the impact of the play and again verbatim comments are included in the article. The strong impact on performers and audience suggests that this is a powerful way of exploring such issues in schools and developing greater interpersonal understanding and sensitivity.
All of these articles point to important social and psychological issues that have a profound impact on the lives of children and youth and influence the ways in which they engage or disengage with schools - and life. In one way or another, culture as a set of lived beliefs and experiences lies at the heart of these issues. The overall conclusion is that the institutions of society, here the schools and the courts, can only function effectively and equitably if they are sensitive to the cultural background of children and youth and provide appropriately adapted support for their wellbeing. This set of articles provides an indication of directions needed in further research on these issues.
Graham Maxwell and Vivienne Watts
|Please cite as: Maxwell, G. and Watts, V. (2000). Contemporary issues and research on children and youth. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 16(2), 113-116. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer16/editorial16-2.html|