Heard for the first time

This week a team from SpeakOut (including myself) were running the Young Delegates Program for the 11th Australasian Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect.

Basically, what that meant was that from Tuesday afternoon until Friday lunchtime we worked with 60 young people, with horrific backgrounds of child abuse and neglect, from across Australia and New Zealand to support them to present to a delegation of over 600 people on the theme “Voices for calling for action”.

This was the first time this had happened in 20 years of this conference. So we were breaking new ground and there was a little trepidation amongst the organisers as to how it would go.

We had never met any of these young people. But somehow in the space of less than 2 days we managed to gain their trust and respect and skill them in music, video, visual art, public speaking, digital media and put together their messages for the delegation.

We managed to work with the young people to produce an hour long presentation that was truly remarkable and featured – a 15 minute song, 15 minute documentary / video, 7 young delegate speakers telling their stories (with unbelievable courage) and what they would like see change in the child safety sector.

The response was overwhelming. The sense of achievement in these young people and change in their opinions of themselves and self worth was remarkable in such a short space of time.

For the first time in their life, they actually felt that they were being listened to and something might change in the system.

The delegation featured Commissioner’s for Children and Young People from every state in australia (and New Zealand), Director’s-General, Minister’s, Social Worker’s, heads of NGO’s -and the impact that it had on them was truly profound.

It is not often, if at all, that people of such position and authority, including the Director-General for Child Safety in Queensland comes up to you openly weeping and shaking your hand and thanking you for truly amazing work and a profound message.

Consequently, we have been invited to do similar work with young people in Tasmania, Christchurch and Perth.

Despite my experience in this area, I am truly surprised at the outcome. Despite my experience, I am deeply affected by the capacity of parents to inflict unspeakable acts on their children.

But, I am profoundly humbled and grateful that I had the opportunity to work with such resilient and courageous young people and to hear each of them say “this is the first time in my life I feel like I’ve been heard”.

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