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Our Voice 

Listening to children and young people’s voices during emergency planning.

Facilitating two-way communication and learning

We know that children are resilient and that they are their own best spokespersons. Being heard, feeling safe, and feeling deeply connected are important for all of us. It is especially important during times of significant stress, such as during an emergency, and we believe that children have the right to express their needs during these times and be listened to.
 
The Our Voice program brings together local councils, service providers, and communities to hear from children and young people, to ensure their voices and needs are listened to and reflected in emergency preparedness, response, and recovery.
 
Delivered in communities which have experienced a major disaster, Our Voice supports children and young people to engage with local decision makers, enabling them to become powerful agents of change and have their voices and needs reflected in emergency management planning.
 
Our Voice promotes the participation of children and young people in communities, giving them the opportunity to provide feedback about emergency management in their community and create a space in which they can provide ideas about how communities can better support the needs of children and young people. The program also works directly with key stakeholders to increase their understanding of child rights, especially child participation as an element of these rights.

 

Why it’s important to consider children and young people’s needs during an emergency

As detailed in our submission to Australian government inquiries into the 2019-20 bushfires, Save the Children believes children’s needs were widely misunderstood and overlooked during this disaster response and recovery. Services for children are not regarded as essential, and there is no systematic mechanism to ensure their needs are adequately met throughout these crises. Children must be at the centre of recovery efforts, particularly as we know that floods, fires, and the COVID-19 pandemic have enormous impacts on children’s rights, interests, and wellbeing in Australia.
 
The majority of children and young people who participated in the Our Voice program told us they have few opportunities to have their say in their community and about matters which are important to them. Children had difficulty identifying ways that they participate in decision-making and how they have a voice in their community.
 
Through Our Voice, children and young people have the opportunity to work together to determine how their community’s disaster preparedness, response, and recovery activities can be more responsive to the needs of children and young people, and to present these recommendations directly to decisionmakers.

It was nerve wracking at first, but it was good to have my team beside me and once we got going it was nice to have my voice heard, which was an experience I really hadn’t had in my community before.

Jess - Our Voice participant

Save the Children believes children’s participation is not an activity or one-off event, but rather a core principle that informs our organisational values and behaviour. In designing programs and policies that are more responsive to the needs of children and young people, we first need to create space for them to tell us what those needs are and how we can better support them. Ensuring that children and young people’s voices are listened to and taken seriously is central to our aim of strengthening the position of children and inspiring breakthroughs in the way the world treats children.
 
“I think that young people, when they’re given the opportunity to actually have a say, there’s some positive outcomes in there,” said Russell Ingram, Community Youth Development Officer at the MidCoast Council.

“They’ve got some very intelligent things to say and very insightful things to say, and giving them more of those opportunities is critical to making sure our communities are set up for success as well.”

Listening to the needs of children and young people

Our Voice provides an opportunity for children and young people to consider their needs both during emergencies specifically and in their communities generally. Children and young people also reflect on whether people their age have adequate opportunity to engage with decision makers on issues which affect them and are important to them, and how they can work together with adults to amplify their voices.

If I could change anything about Lakes Entrance it would be about involving youth more and giving them more of a voice. Because I feel in Lakes Entrance that we lack a lot of that when it comes to bringing the youth together, which I think could really do something.

Kiera - East Gippsland Youth Ambassador

At the end of the program, children and young people design events to communicate their recommendations to the decision-makers and to receive feedback on their ideas. The communication activities chosen by the children and young people include presenting their ideas in video and story book formats, compiling reports for relevant community recovery groups, holding meetings with local councils to present their recommendations in person, and hosting a photography exhibit.
 

Children in East Gippsland share their ideas for improving their community.
Photo: Mike Chilton/Save the Children

How we know we’re making a difference

 There is good evidence that children’s involvement in disaster response:

  • Improves the quality and effectiveness of emergency planning, especially at a local level, by introducing fresh and new ideas, perceptions and experiences.
  • Empowers children to champion change in their home and local community, communicating risk, persuading others to act and ensuring resources are targeted and effective for their peers.
  • Boosts individual protective factors for children, like increased confidence, self-esteem, self-efficacy and positive coping skills.
  • Increases accountability to children and young people.
We must ensure that children and young people feel valued and respected. One way to achieve this is by creating opportunities for children and young people to express their thoughts, actively listening to them, and ultimately acting upon their recommendations and ideas. By taking the time to reflect on the recommendations and ideas, we can be part of supporting children and young people to feel safe and supported before, during and after emergencies, as well as in their everyday life.
 
“[The decision makers] were so interactive and so wonderful to speak to and so engaged in our presentation,” Amber told us after her group’s presentation to local stakeholders. “It made us feel really respected and what we had to say was important, and they really showed us that.”
 
Our Voice is proudly supported by the Paul Ramsay Foundation.

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