For the entirety of my 40-plus year career, I have been an observer of children’s development, and have always worked for their best interests.
As a lawyer, I represented clients in parenting disputes and was intimately involved in advising and guiding them about what was best for their children.
I learned about child attachment theory and behavioural and developmental stages of children. I also learned a great deal about the violence and conflict in the lives of children and the need to protect them from its harmful effects, as well as the incomparable long-term benefits of two good parents in a child’s life.
More recently, I learned of the effect on cognitive development of infants from exposure to physical or sexual abuse, conflict and neglect - exposure to which might start while they are in utero. Children’s educational success can be affected because in some children the ‘survival’ mechanisms becomes more important than “learning” mechanisms; difficulties in capacity to focus as well as behavioural and health issues can result.
This learning carried over into my role as a judicial officer for 17 years. I attended conferences to ensure that I was familiar with the latest research and ensured that the judicial education for the judges involved this learning.
I set up a Children’s Committee within the family courts to examine whether children felt their views were being heard. This has resulted in the establishment of a pilot project, the Young Peoples Family Law Advisory Group, developed by The Family Law Pathways Network in South Australia, which has just released its report. The project was made up of 10 young people aged between 12 and 17 (four boys and six girls) from various backgrounds whose parents were separated and who had had some form of contact with some or all parts of the family law system. With the help of a facilitator, these young people shared stories about what this was like for them and how they thought the experience could be improved for others in the future.
Traditional court environments are often an inhospitable and unsuitable environment for vulnerable and worried children who sometimes have long waits while their future is being decided in court. I was interested to see that the Alannah & Madeline Foundation’s initiative, the Cubby House, which provides a supportive and safe environment in the Broadmeadows and Melbourne children’s courts for children and young people who are dealing with traumatic domestic situations, thereby helping to reduce their stress and anxiety.
I would like to continue to make a contribution to the wellbeing of children and, now that I am no longer involved in decision-making about individual families or overall policy, this position on the National Centre Against Bullying provides me with the opportunity to contribute in a slightly different way.
I think, as we all do, that bullying is one of the most serious problems for young people today. It happens in every school and we need to be clear that teachers need to be able to recognise it and deal with it effectively when it occurs. This isn’t always easy, but we also know that when bullying is ignored or not addressed, it flourishes.
Our experts in the National Centre Against Bullying assure me that by far the most effective way to tackle bullying is to put efforts into prevention, creating the safe and supportive environments where children and young people have strong and respectful relationships with staff. Such efforts are most successful when implemented in the early years of schooling and where the school culture welcomes difference and diversity, is inclusive at every level and promotes respect. Children are more likely to report incidents in these environments. It’s far too hard to make a report in an uncaring and unfriendly environment where children and young people rightly have little faith their concerns will be addressed.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be involved in an organisation committed to improving young people’s lives in a professional, evidence-based way and very much look forward to my new role and to joining all those other members of the National Centre Against Bullying who share this commitment.
More students are reporting bullying to their schools, thanks to anonymous apps and web-based tools.Read More >
In Australia, approximately one student in five is bullied at school every few weeks or more often.Read More >
John Marsden’s comments demonstrate a lack of understanding about bullying says the Hon Diana Bryant AO, National Centre Against Bullying Chair.Read More >
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