Children’s Parliament gives primary school children a voice
Although young children are the focus of many early intervention efforts, they are rarely engaged in the decision-making processes that impact their lives. Mission Australia’s Communities for Children program based in Miller, NSW sought to address this by approaching Liverpool City Council about a Children’s Parliament - an idea inspired by a similar initiative in Scotland.
In 2015 the ‘2168 Children’s Parliament’ was established. This is the primary activity of the Liverpool City Council’s ‘Strong Children and Communities’ project, funded under the Commonwealth Government’s Communities for Children program.
The program enables primary school aged children in the 2168 postcode to discuss issues of local and universal importance and share their experience of being a child today. The aim is to influence local government and community decision making processes and contribute to policy and planning. An integral part of this program is engaging local primary schools and leveraging the support of the NSW Department of Education, and the families of the children.
The parliament consists of 40 parliamentarian representatives from 10 local primary schools (4 per school). The process of selecting participants for the Children’s Parliament is, itself, a lesson in democracy, civics and citizen engagement. Students self-nominate, and stand for election in their individual schools.
Elected students engage in workshops to prepare for participation in the Parliament. During these sessions they are introduced to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and have activities that encourage an ethos of inclusion and active participation. They are also consulted on the issues that will be presented for discussion during the Parliament. Adults leading these workshops are aware they must facilitate and not control the discussions or impose Council’s, or their personal, opinions or attitudes. The focus is on allowing the students to use their voices and express their ideas.
The Parliament also includes an advisory Panel of Ambassadors who champion children’s voices and act as advocates for children’s rights. This panel includes:
Elected local, state and federal government members
Academics and policy makers
Director of NSW Education, Liverpool Network
NSW Advocate for Children and Young People
National Children’s Commissioner; and
Member of Liverpool’s Youth Council.
Twice a year the ‘2168 Children’s Parliament’ participates in active parliamentary sittings within Liverpool City Council Chambers. These sittings follow months of preparation. Selected parliamentarians address the Mayor and/or nominated Liverpool Council officials with issues raised by their school peers and within the parliament workshops. During the sittings Council representatives respond to these issues.
This program provides opportunities for children and involved adults from the community to share ideas and learn from each other. Importantly, children’s perceptions of key community issues are the focus of attention. It is a forum in which they can express their perspectives and be heard while adult participants listen and engage with children. This enables them to subsequently represent, defend and champion issues of concern to children.