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Have you heard? The disabled child’s voice

24/9/15 · Posted in Children, valuing people

Helena Tuteao looks at the importance of listening to children. Helena is doing a social worker placement with us, focusing on policy and the views of children.

Gone are the days when children are to be seen and not heard. Or are they! I am exploring where the disabled child’s voice is present in the formulation and implementation of policy in New Zealand. When I began my journey it seemed an aspirational thing for the disabled child’s voice to be present in policy development. This is certainly a gap and there is no real reason for the child’s voice not to be present.

I am visually impaired and have two children of my own where my son is 6 and my daughter is 5, and they certainly know what they do and don’t like.  They enjoy playing at playgrounds, playing with other children, cooking and baking, painting, reading books, watching cat videos, being in the presence of other children and the list goes on.

They also like making decisions and choices on things that affect them.  The other week I asked my son what he wanted for dinner.  I was expecting a response such as ‘fish and chips’ or ‘cheese and crackers’. He responded “broccoli and carrots with cheese sauce”. I endeavour to let my children make their own decisions on things affecting them as I have learnt that if things are engaging, interesting and accessible for them they are very capable of being decision makers and choosing options for themselves.

Children see the world differently. Adults are often set in their ways and children are more open-minded. If we listen to children, we can learn new things and better understand what children need to thrive. Children also like to have their say. If we listen and respond to what they say, we can increase their trust in adults and wider society.

Recently a 14-year-old disabled boy in the United Kingdom challenged the publishing industry over the lack of good disabled characters in children’s books (too often the only characters with disabilities are villains). Bloomsbury’s head of children’s and educational publishing, Emma Hopkin admitted that the boy’s challenge really made her think:

“(He) put me on the spot with his question about villains – and the only one I could see in my head was Voldemort, who is, of course, facially disfigured.”

New Zealand has signed two international agreements, which state the rights of children to have their voices heard. In the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities it states that; “Parties shall ensure that children with disabilities have the right to express their views freely on all matters affecting them, their views being given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity, on an equal basis with other children and to be provided with disability and age appropriate assistance to realise that right”.

In the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 12 is about children having the right to have their views heard, considered and taken seriously in a way that is appropriate given age and ability, especially when decisions are being made that affect children.  Article 23 states that children with disabilities have the right to reach their full potential, and for extra help with education, care and support if it is needed.

Generally, I think people want to include the views of children, but do not know how. We need to work on practical ways to talk to, and listen to, children about the development of policy. I believe this will lead to better policy and meet our requirements under both conventions. I also believe that listening to children shows children that we respect and value them.  One example of listening to children is an annual survey run by Child Fund, “small voices big dreams”, where children all around the world are asked questions on things that affect them.

Helena Tuteao

2 Responses to “Have you heard? The disabled child’s voice”

  1. Yes I agree Helena, children have so much wisdom to share and if we listen we will have renewed insights about life. I enjoyed reading your article.

  2. Well said Helena and beautifully illustrated! This is also a good challenge to work harder at capturing the voices of children who communicate without using words.

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