24 Jun 2019

'Engaging with children' would lead to better communities - commissioner

9:55 am on 24 June 2019

The Children's Commissioner says adults and decision makers in New Zealand are too resistant to listening to children's opinions, and it needs to change.

Children's Commissioner, Andrew Becroft

Judge Andrew Becroft said when children were listened to they could provide clear and concise insight. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

His comments follow the release of a report called Are We Listening?, which looked at how well policy makers incorporate the views of children into decisions.

It found that while there was a growing interest in engaging with young people, some leaders and agencies found it difficult to do.

The report stated that some agencies did not know how to seek the views of youth, while others worried about consent, safety and cultural considerations.

Judge Andrew Becroft said it was exciting that leaders wanted to engage, but noted there seemed to be a fear among adults about young people with ideas.

"It's almost ... as if there's an anxiety about children having a view, but children are agents in their own right."

Judge Becroft said that out of all the topics he has been vocal about as commissioner, it was his call to lower the voting age which got people the most riled.

"People saying 'you seemed a good guy until you suggested that, I mean that is out of left-field, you're going too far Judge.'"

He said there were several reasons why adults were scared of opinionated children, including the old 'seen-but-not-heard' mentality.

There was also a feeling that it was inappropriate for them to have views and that children were too direct when giving critiques.

But Judge Becroft said that when children were listened to, they provided clear and concise insight that could spark real change.

A great example of that, he said, was during the formation of Oranga Tamariki, when a commitment was made to hear from children who had been put into care.

"They made a number of very creative and positive recommendations, including, for instance, 'don't split us up if you have to remove us from our families'.

"There is now, in the law, a provision prioritising sibling unity wherever possible because young people in care said it."

Judge Becroft said he wasn't saying adults always had to follow what children said, but that it was important to hear and consider their opinions.

He said the opinion of children was not something to be threatened by, but to be encouraged given the positive change that could emerge.

"Well, you know, the bottom line is that we would be better communities for listening and engaging with children."

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