Changing negative perceptions this National Youth Week

A message from the Public Guardian

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As National Youth Week is celebrated this week around the country it is heart-warming to hear the many stories applauding the talents, diversity and potential of our youth.

It is timely however, to also acknowledge the challenges and hardships that some of our youth face.

With over 9,000 children and young people living in out-of-home care, including foster care, kinship care, residential care and youth detention, many of these stories demonise children and young people who have been victims of their circumstances and in some instances, the systems designed to protect them.

The reality is that the vast majority of children in care are there through no fault of their own, and it is easy to forget that their early years will have often seen them exposed to trauma, abuse and neglect.

In care, they often face discrimination in many forms that may negatively impact their lives, and so it is incredibly important that we work to counteract the stereotypes and negative expectations of young people in care.

As Public Guardian, I find myself constantly admiring the incredible courage of these children and young people in the face of the greatest adversity I have seen.

The words that spring to mind when I hear what these people have lived through and overcome are ‘brave’, ‘strong’, ‘resilient’, ‘hopeful’. I see children and young people who have an amazing ability to keep believing in a world that will bring a better life, even when it seems that everyone around them is intent on labelling them as ‘bad’, ‘damaged’, ‘dangerous’ or ‘hopeless’.

Equally, I see systems and public perceptions surrounding these children and young people that are blind to the impacts of trauma; and how severe trauma affects any human being’s behaviours or belief systems.

My passion as Public Guardian is to see a Queensland where our number one focus in the child protection, education, health, disability and justice service systems is treating and resolving the trauma that these children and young people have been through. To support them, not punish them. To give them back the self-confidence they deserve.

None of that can be achieved unless people think twice about the stereotypes and bullying that these children and young people are vulnerable to, as a result of the labelling and mythology that the systems and people around them develop about them.

That’s why this National Youth Week, I am pleased to see initiatives such as CREATE Foundation’s #snapthatstigma, which aims to change community views and reduce stigma.

Children and young people have led this campaign through the CREATE Foundation because of the stigma they experience in their daily lives due to their care background.

The effects of stigma on children and young people with a care experience can be seen from early years through to when they leave care, and possibly beyond.

It is our responsibility to see the potential in children and young people who are misjudged and mislabelled, and to support these children to have a chance at a positive and successful future and help end the stigma.

As one young person reminded us recently, ‘darkness only exists so that stars can shine’.

Natalie Siegel-Brown
Public Guardian