There is almost always this tiny moment that occurs when children realise that you genuinely care about what they’re telling you. It is magic.
Over the last few months, my colleague and I travelled to 30 cities and towns all over the country. We met with over 500 children – as young as four and as old as 24 – whose personal characteristics and lived experiences make them some of the most vulnerable children in Australia.
We made every effort to conduct consultations in situ, in the familiar environments where children and young people felt safe and felt like themselves.
This meant we drove three hours, one way, on a corrugated red dirt road to find a community of 300 people in remote Northern Territory. It meant running down suburban streets with no streetlights to catch the last train back into Adelaide. It meant that we played pool, Jenga, Hangman, and I was lucky enough to become a fairy princess for an hour (I was a witch at other times).
We sat with children under gum trees, had conversations on play equipment, alongside basketball courts, while lounging on floors, sitting on kitchen counters, and at Saturday morning market stalls. We had conversations over breakfast, lunch and tea, and sometimes cooked dinner with the children and young people we met.
"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children told us they felt like they are 'just another statistic for funding'."
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children told us they felt like they are ‘just another statistic for funding’.
Children with disability reflected on how it is ‘the attitudes of people and the assumptions they make that hold you back’, more than it is the actual illness or disability.
LGBT+ children spoke of going ‘back in the closet’ or being ‘forced to lead a secret life’, including having two separate resumes for job applications, ‘an LGBT-friendly resume, and a “safe” resume’, just to avoid the discrimination they described as a ‘national pass-time’.
Children from migrant backgrounds spoke of the racism they often contend with, saying: ‘Skin colour is such a, honestly, it’s stupid the way we hold it to such a high level.’
We heard from children and young people who have witnessed, experienced and lived with abuse and neglect, drug addiction, and homelessness. This included a 17-year-old girl in Adelaide, who sat with me for two hours and shared pasta recipes and landscape gardening tips. She told me: ‘I got kicked out and stuff and my dad left me with nothing, no money, no nothing… So I was living with my friends for a few months… If you don’t have a place to live at, what’s the point of living?’
Letting Children Down
We met young mothers, children with mental health diagnoses and children who have made suicide attempts, including high school students in Canberra who described that ‘empty feeling – a feeling like you’re not worth being alive’.
We met children who have withdrawn from mainstream school, children who have been taken from their families and placed in care, and children in youth detention facilities. This included a group of the funniest boys in youth detention in Tasmania, one of whom fed me a very convincing account of being imprisoned as an underage terrorist… before I noticed the other boys in the room winking and realised I’d been deceived by a mastermind genius.
My colleague is notoriously bad at remembering names – anyone would be good in comparison – but he says that I possess a ‘freakish skill’ of being able to do so. So, it became a bit of a game when we’d meet a new group of children. Everyone in the room would introduce themselves and my colleague would then select a few children at random and I’d have to recite their names on the spot.
When I was wrong, it was often accompanied by awkward groans and laughter at just how embarrassingly wrong I was. But when I succeeded, with most or all of the children’s names right, it was so often accompanied by a look of total awe on their faces – I can’t be sure, but I do wonder if it’s because they felt acknowledged, or noticed, or valued for who they are.
"When I succeeded, with most or all of the children's names right, it was so often accompanied by a look of total awe on their faces..."
I can still remember so many of the names of the children we met. I can remember their personal stories, their resilience, and what it felt like to have their trust. And none of this is surprising – it’s the kind of thing you just can’t forget.
Australia owes all its children the best it has to give, and we are not giving them nearly enough. It’s time to make that fair chance for our children less of a gamble, and more of a reality for all children in Australia.Click to read what Aussie kids have to say
Stay up-to-date on UNICEF's work in Australia and around the world
20 Sept 2023
This is what climate change looks like around the world
Over one billion children around the world are at extremely high risk of the impacts of climate change. That is nearly half of the world's children. And it is happening today.
13 Sept 2023
2023 Libya Flood Crisis | What you need to know
From the recent earthquake in Morocco to the unfolding tragedy in Libya, UNICEF is always there to help children and families recover from crises.
9 Sept 2023
What you need to know about the 2023 Marrakesh–Safi Earthquake in Morocco
As stories of heartbreak and survival emerge from the devastating earthquake in Morocco, thousands of children and families remain at risk. Before, during and after an emergency UNICEF is always there.
13 Aug 2023
Two years on, the crisis continues for children in Afghanistan
It has been two years since the Taliban seized power, yet Afghanistan - already marked by decades of insecurity and natural disasters - is still in crisis.
3 Aug 2023
Kangaroo Care: nurturing parents, protecting babies, changing lives
Every parent, no matter where they are, wants their child to have a healthy start in life. Find out how a simple, cost-effective and high-impact intervention is saving newborn lives in Vanuatu
9 July 2023
Three programs changing lives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, a better future starts with reconciliation.
27 Apr 2023
Voice to Parliament: three allies tell us why they’re voting yes
UNICEF Australia Young Ambassadors, Emily, Kbora and Harrison are passionate about advocating for children's rights and promoting social justice. Find out why our Young Ambassadors support the Voice to Parliament and why they believe it is important to recognise the rights of First Nations peoples in Australia.
12 Jan 2023
Rebuilding lives, one year on in Tonga
A year on from when an underwater volcano erupted off the coast of Tonga, the country is well on the road to recovery, but the impact on this South Pacific nation was far-reaching.
18 Dec 2022
The crisis you’ve never heard of: stunting
Across the world, almost 8 million children are at risk of irreversible outcomes from severe acute malnutrition if they don’t receive immediate treatment.
1 Dec 2022
More than just a Christmas stocking filler. A life-saver.
We all know someone who is hard to buy for. Maybe they already “have all they need” or you just can’t think of something creative, or special to get them.
9 Nov 2022
These six young climate activists demand action and inspire hope
As the world witnesses the dramatic weather events unfolding around the world, there are increasingly more young people demanding action.