Engaging children in the water sector & local government

Clear Paddock Creek - engaging children

Why decide on engaging children?

    1. Many assets from buildings and parks to water are of special value to them.
    2. They make us sit up. Their perspectives on relevant strategies and services are outside an adult’s way of thinking.
    3. Children are a vulnerable group in crowded city spaces. We need to understand their experience of roads, public transport, water and public space.


Local Government and children views

In Local Government there is a growing imperative to engage with children. They are users of services and infrastructure. Parks and libraries immediately come to mind. However roads, footpaths and crossings are also a crucial concern for kids. The Victorian Child Friendly Cities & Communities Charter supports these principles: freedom for children to experience environments that consider their needs; respect and dignity for children to express their individual opinions, participate in and contribute to decisions about their communities and wellbeing; equitable access.

Signatories are: City of Greater Dandenong, Port Phillip, Maribyrnong, Moonee Valley, Whittlesea, Wyndham, Banyule, Moreland, Ballarat, Maroondah and Cardinia Shire. They provide members to a Child Friendly Cities and Communities Advisory Group supported by Victorian Local Governance Association.

Each of them takes engaging children seriously. Taking on board children’s views improves the quality of services and infrastructure being planned. You can see this in documentation by the City of Greater Dandenong. City of Melbourne and the University of Melbourne also documented a valuable engagement project with children.

Children, Water & Catchments

I hold a Working with Children card. Annie Bolitho & Associates was part of the Western Sydney Region of Councils (WSROC) project Water in the Landscape. Our project ‘The Water Closest to You’ explored community views in three areas of the Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment.

At one site, the Fairfield Festival, the children joined an activity at trestle tables using wiggly scissors, paper, paint and stamps. They did not hesitate. They stamped bikes on bike paths by the river, drew organisms underwater and addressed their books to a wider audience. They announced their values around water: leisure and recreation, healthy rivers and clean available water.

Clear Paddock Creek - engaging children
Clear Paddock Creek.

Parents helped younger children. Older cousins helped their younger family members. It was a highly multi-cultural festival crowd. There were references to water in Egypt and Africa. Some parents had grown up in the western suburbs and had detailed knowledge of the catchment in earlier days. They contributed their views to us while their children became authors of tiny handmade books.

Conference session: Learning more about engaging children and case studies

I’ll be running a curated session on this topic at the upcoming Engage2Act conference. That’s Thursday 14th September. Come and join us to learn more, share stories and case studies, and hatch plans for engaging with children in your municipality or water region. The session will include Caroline Meier, member of the Child Friendly Cities and Communities Advisory Group talking about projects from City of Greater Dandenong, especially their Children’s Voice forums.

Look forward to seeing you there.

Doing, thinking, talking

You may have noticed that deliberation often emerges when people are doing things together. Spending time in a car driving to a meeting out of town, participating in a working bee or stuffing envelopes. In a recent workshop, Jade Herriman and I got people cutting and pasting, and making a book. They were putting their minds to what’s important to them about Glenbrook Lagoon in the lower Blue Mountains. At the same time they were hearing from Council some of the issues they face in their decision-making around managing a tricky situation involving weeds, nutrients and people’s feelings about the lagoon.

Here’s more about the workshop and the project. We used strategic questions to raise issues as people selected their materials and worked on their books, and learned a lot about this low-key way of hearing about how people understand a complex environmental problem in their neighbourhood.