However, such disregard of children’s needs in broader policy debates ignores a critical point, often made when discussing early education: that children are, of course, future adults, who will make or break the fortunes of this nation. This is at the heart of the declaration of educational goals that all Australian education ministers agreed upon 15 years ago.
“The period from birth through to eight years, especially the first three years, sets the foundation for every child’s social, physical, emotional and cognitive development,” the declaration states.
A child who has a solid foundation in these areas goes into society well placed to contribute to the community and the economy, and will be less likely to draw on the resources of the state.
The rights and wellbeing of children should be at the heart of all policy debates, not at the periphery – for the sake of humanity, of course, but also because it makes economic sense.
Children also suffer in different ways to adults during disasters, and need different responses.
In Lismore, in the wake of Australia’s worst natural disaster on record, adults report that children have been remarkably resilient in the year since the February 28 flood, but when it rains they are terrified – the emotional trauma of what they experienced that day is still very real.
Many children who lost their homes are also still living in substandard conditions almost 12 months after the flood, including in tents and caravans, as their parents wait to find out if they will qualify for a government buyback scheme – a scheme that was announced six months ago.
COVID-19 made it clear that children can be deeply affected by policy areas beyond those normally associated with them, like education and childcare. They deserve a voice at the table of government, to ensure their needs are considered and addressed in these broader policy debates. Hollonds’ proposal to have a federal minister for children deserves support.