Greater Bendigo in Victoria has become the first Australian city to be recognised as a Child Friendly City by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
The designation acknowledges the council’s work to create a safe and healthy environment for children and support them in free play, leisure and recreation. There are about six- to seven-thousand children under the age of six in the local government area.
City of Greater Bendigo, manager of children and family services, Rosalie Rogers, says becoming a Child Friendly City is about recognising children as citizens in their own right, not citizens in 20 years’ time.
“It’s about engaging with them – we’ve always engaged and consulted with children during the course of play but probably never taken on board their comments from a strategic point of view,” she says.
“It’s not necessarily about bricks and mortar, it’s about a philosophical approach of recognising that it’s a whole-of-community responsibility, from service providers to the average person in the street.”
Greater Bendigo sees its responsibility as a Child Friendly City as ensuring it gradually improves the local community to respond to the needs and rights of its young citizens.
As part of the federally funded Joining Together for Bendigo Children project, a UN official assisted the council to consult last year with local children to explore their vision for the community. The council will talk to a further 450 children across the municipality in the next few months, including Aborigines and those with disabilities.
Greater Bendigo is also working on auditing community premises for their level of child-friendliness, including accessibility and food preparation. Ms Rogers says the council plans to use the findings to create a resource on best practice approaches.
She says Greater Bendigo will benchmark against itself to make sure it delivers on its commitment to children. She hopes other councils will follow Greater Bendigo in examining their approach to children’s health and well being.
”We’ve always thought about children but I question whether the strategic approach has been there. It is only in the last five years that governments at all three tiers are suddenly listening to the evidence being presented by health experts about children’s needs.”
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