The theme of this year’s Children’s week, which is celebrated around Universal Children’s Day held on the fourth Wednesday of October in Australia, is the right of every child to good health and well-being. For us in Edmund Rice Education Australia this has a special importance as our mission is to bring the fullness of life to the children and young people entrusted to our care.
The challenge for us is not just an internal one because the Universal Children’s Day also “calls society to a greater response to the plight of many millions of children about the world who are denied the basic necessities of a happy childhood and the education to develop their capacities. It also calls us in Australia to consider those conditions in society which affect the lives and future of our own children.”
I am reminded of a number of the characteristics associated with the Touchstones. A Catholic School in the Edmund Rice tradition,
in developing a Liberating Education,
in developing a Gospel Spirituality,
in forming Inclusive Community,
in encouraging Justice and Solidarity,
In the school with which you are involved you would be aware of the practices that bring these characteristics to life. If you have had the opportunity to read through the contributions made by each of the schools to the 2018 Edmund Rice Education Australia Annual Report you will have seen that these characteristics form an important part of the life of each of the schools.
In a recent survey of parents two parents commented:
‘I think this (concern for students’ well-being) is the school’s greatest strength. Seen in the words of the principal, actions of teachers and counselling services and well-being programs.’
‘There seems to be an enormous amount of resources and time directed towards well-being – which is excellent, yet I still find myself with an anxious child. It is a large, all boys’ school and cultural change - expressing anxiety etc, seems still to be taboo. More can always be done. They do seem genuinely committed though.’
The challenge of ensuring that all is done that can be done remains in front of us but there are many signs of good work as can be seen both in these comments of parents and in the experience of students as they complete their time in our schools.
A major impetus in the area of well-being this year has been the launch of the Edmund Rice Education Australia Child Safeguarding Standards in June. The implementation of the Standards is meant to be proactive. As the Executive Director Dr Wayne Tinsey said when launching the Standards:
The purpose and intent of the Standards contained in this Framework is to embed a culture of child safety and well-being by demonstrating values in practice; nurturing the well-being of all children and young people, respecting their dignity, ensuring their safety and protecting them from abuse and other harm. This we do by at all times acting in the best interests of children and young people under our care. All of us throughout EREA share this responsibility.
This is a sacred duty which we undertake. The Standards provide some guidance and are the subject of training and review to ensure that all in EREA are cognisant of what the responsibility is that they undertake in working with children and young people. We will do this in partnership with families, carers and communities. Most importantly we will undertake the responsibility with the participation and empowerment of the children and young people in our schools.
There are many examples of the empowerment that young people experience within our schools. Recently a Teaching and Learning conference for Edmund Rice Education Australia was held in Sydney. At that conference there was active student participation from our Sydney schools giving them a voice at the very centre of our mission. Earlier in the year the EREA Principals National Forum in Melbourne likewise benefitted from the presence of those for whose education we have responsibility.
We are blessed in Edmund Rice Education Australia that we have staff and students who are prepared to respond to the plight of those children at home and abroad who do not have the necessities that would assist them to receive the education that should be theirs. Our students support Edmund Rice Camps and homework classes for those who have a need for that support. Our students have been actively involved, under student leadership, in ERA for change and climate change concerns. There are those schools who have travelled overseas for immersion and volunteer work in South America, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Africa, often as a supportive presence to young people and their families, as well as assisting teachers in schools which are part of Edmund Rice Education Beyond Borders.
As Edmund Rice Education Australia moves into its thirteenth year we can see that we have taken up the spirit of the Christian Brothers as we share in the Charism of their founder Blessed Edmund Rice. Though we still have a way to go to make sure that all that can be done is done for the children and young people in our care, may we continue to grow in our understanding of all that is needed for us to ensure “the right of every child to good health and well-being.”
Our hope is that expressed by Blessed Edmund. “Have courage, the good seed will grow up in the children’s hearts later on.” Live Jesus in our hearts, forever.
Paul D Oakley cfc
President, Edmund Rice Education Australia
On behalf of the Council
Philomena Billington, Kathy Freeman, John Honner, Paul Oakley, David White