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Westcare –focus on kids

This year has been a big one for Westcare Child and Adolescent Services - Westcare celebrated 30 years of operation in January 2011.

When good projects are planted in the soil of creativity and hard work, and nurtured by good will, they tend to outgrow their furrow. That’s certainly true of Westcare’s ‘As Eye See It’ project, which gives young people in care the opportunity to express themselves creatively through photography, writing/journalling and design.

John Avent

‘In 2009 an idea by Peter Annesley was developed; we gave kids cameras and encouraged them to take photographs that represent how they see the world and what their experience of life is while you are in care,’ recalls John Avent.

‘Peter came up with the idea that every young person’s eye is included in their presentation [children in care cannot be identified for legal and ethical reasons] to help the kids “own” their presentation. They also give first-name identification in the photographers’ notes, talking about the photos or whatever they want to say. Some people take the chance to praise their carers and say, “I love my life” – others who are not doing so well clearly state that “I hate what’s going on for me, it’s all ____”.’

Peter says the decision to use a ‘black and white’ approach to the photography has been crucial to the events’ ongoing successes. ‘The impact of black and white is strong, because everything is colour-saturated in our society these days. There is a strong impact in the black and white format.’

John says the empowering of the individuals in Westcare’s charge, allowing them to talk about their experience ‘without it being filtered’, caught on. ‘Young kids take to this like a duck to water, John explains. ‘We gave them the basic concept and we ended up with very powerful messages.

The first project, in 2009 throughout Victoria, included a range of organisations, with 13 organisations. The cameras don’t come cheap. JB Hi Fi contacted Samsung on Westcare’s behalf and arranged for the purchase of cameras at cost price.

The subsequent event this year saw more than 420 cameras going to kids in care throughout Australia; 100 cameras in Victoria alone. The children kept the cameras as gifts.

‘To get the voice of the child out there and heard is not only required for accreditation; it’s good practice,’ John says. ‘To do it authentically is incredibly hard.’

Melbourne University and RMIT were helpful in setting the methodology of the 2011 event, with direct feedback from kids in care. Its methodology and outcomes were subsequently positively evaluated by Berry Street and the child safety commissioner.

Peter Annesley

Broadening out the event was a good opportunity for kids. In 2010 John and Peter met with the children’s commissioners at a conference hosted by Victoria’s child commissioner, Bernie Geary; the outcome was that every state and territory except for Queensland and South Australia participated in the 2011 As Eye See It.

‘What two years ago was a Victorian project is now almost a national effort,’ says John. ‘Westcare was represented at the launches in Hobart, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney ‘One teenager in care told his story this year through the photos and text; the child then approached the NSW department of human services and said, “I know we are having a launch – I want to speak”. He then stood in front of 150 people and told his story.

‘This young person reflected on his past, assessed what had happened in his life. drew balanced conclusions and had an idea of where he was going forward in terms of developing skills and resolving issues. He had the maturity to do so, even though he was very nervous when he spoke – it was a genuinely inspiring moment. All we did was give him a camera and encourage him to express what life in care was like and had been like for him.’

Peter is looking forward to As Eye See It in 2013 and says a consistent piece of feedback from participants is a sense of wonder.

‘A lot of our kids this year, when they saw the display of their work in Federation Square, said they never thought they’d see their stuff included in “such an important place”. It’s good feedback and shows they feel empowered; they know we are actually listening to them and that what they see is important to their communities.’