Two First Nations women are taking on important roles to champion the rights of children in WA and across the nation.
Jacqueline McGowan-Jones, an Arrente/Waramungu woman, is set to become the commissioner for Children and Young People in Western Australia in early January.
And Whadjuk Ballardong woman, Dr Glenda Kickett has recently been named as an ambassador for the Valuing Children Initiative.
Ms Jones will be the first Aboriginal person in the commissioner role, acting as an independent advocate for all children and young people under 18 in the State.
Ms Jones has worked in Indigenous affairs, including in the not-for-profit sector and Commonwealth and State government departments.
She is currently CEO at Thirrili, a not-for-profit that focuses on the social wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and providing support to those affected by suicide.
With a passion for “improving systems that improve the life opportunities for our children and young people”, she said.
Ms Jones said the role was critical for Aboriginal children and young people.
“The commissioner advocates on behalf of all children and young people, but a critical group is our Aboriginal children and young people given the system does not appear to provide them with the opportunities to achieve equity in all aspects of their lives,” she said.
“In particular, Aboriginal children and young people are over-represented in out-of home care; they are underrepresented in higher levels of education; they are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
“In order to engage our Aboriginal children and young people in the conversation about their needs, concerns and values.
“It is important to have an advocate who understands the cultural and historical context for Aboriginal people in Australia.”
My cultural heritage means we can bring a new level of understanding and engagement to issues affecting our children and young people.”
Dr Kickett is the newest member of the ambassador team for the Valuing Children Initiative.
The VCI advocates to ensure children are treated with dignity and respect, and provides young people with opportunities to express their views and opinions.
Ambassadors raise awareness and support to help promote children’s rights.
Dr Kickett, who works at the Australian Childhood Foundation, is also the chairperson of NAIDOC Perth.
She said given the marginalisation of Indigenous people throughout colonisation, it was important that Aboriginal people and women were in roles where they have influence.
“For women, who already have a firm place in our society as carers and nurturers, it’s important we have a voice and we are in positions we can influence decisions made in regard to children and young people, particularly around youth justice, education and out-of-home care,” Dr Kickett said.
“We bring a lot of cultural knowledge to the discussion and the way the decisions are made and what’s important for our families.”
Dr Kickett’s personal experiences as a child have been a driving force in her work.
“I was a child in care in the 70s and I grew up in a non-Indigenous foster home,” she said.
“There were good and bad experiences, but leaving care I didn’t really have a sense of my identity and culture, and so that’s what I advocate for in the work that I do.
“We don’t value the voices of our children and young people enough, and I think this is a great initiative to work in that way and listen to their voices, what they are saying, what’s really happening for them in their lives and the things that are impacting them.”
By Aleisha Orr