Children’s voices matter

[The following content was sent to: The Clerk Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs Committee Clerk: Timothy Bryan RE: Bill 57, Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, 2018. comm-financeaffairs@ola.org  – as part of efforts to challenge the closure of the Office of The Ontario Child Advocate]

 

Children’s voices matter!

 

Research demonstrates that investing in the voice of the child has the potential to transform communities increasing more effective policy and practice. To allow this to happen it demands that society needs to create opportunities for citizens (including children) to engage and participate effectively. 

 

My concern, which is shared by both colleagues and students, is that a move to repeal the 2007 Act that created the Office of the Child Advocate in Ontario, will disconnect children and young people from such opportunities to participate and engage with significant implications for individuals and society. 

 

I have spent many years as a researcher, practitioner, writer and teacher promoting the voice of the child and the value that it brings to both adults and children in the everyday spaces that they share. I, therefore recognise the role that the Office of the Child Advocate plays. Although, I acknowledge there is room to continue to build on the mission that the Office seeks to pursue, I am in no doubt that this Office is a talisman for the voice of the child not just in Ontario but throughout the country. 

 

A practical example is reflected in a class I run, where students are invited to evaluate the offices set up across the country as a response to Canada’s commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Ontario office always comes out ahead of the others. 

 

Why? It is because of its ambition to work with children and not for children. An ambition that is built on a genuine recognition of the voice of the child. 

 

My students, past and present from first years to fourth years have been surprised and shocked by the intention to close the Office. They are worried about what it says about the society they live in and the communities they want to be part of. It is a passion that is also matched by practical considerations. If we are limiting how we hear the child, this will restrict the extent to which policy and practice can be fully informed to produce the most meaningful outcomes. 

 

I have written books about how if we are to create a culture of child centred advocacy with all the benefits for society that I have eluded to then we must first establish the voice of the child – talk and listen to children – and second create opportunities that amplify that voice. This desire to close the Office of the Child Advocate and the alternatives being proposed will limit and restrict both the chance for children to be heard but also the chance to create meaningful opportunities that further children’s participation and engagement in society. It will, as a result have a negative impact for children’s everyday experiences, for the policies and practices that inform their lives and for civil society as a whole. 

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