ABC Radio Brisbane host, Rebecca Levingston, interviewed Life Education Queensland CEO, Michael Fawsitt, discussing topics including the importance of teaching children about healthy respectful relationships from a young age.
They discuss in further detail how Life Education Queensland plays a significant role in embedding and reinforcing these concepts through a child’s entire schooling. Listen to the full interview below.
This is ABC Radio Brisbane with Rebecca Levingston.
Rebecca Levingston (00:09):
By 2022, it will be mandatory to teach respectful relationships in all Queensland schools. That was one of the recommendations of the special task force on domestic and family violence. A key question in that is could we address some of the biggest problems facing society like domestic violence, sexual assault, abuse, and addiction, by talking more to children? Well, one of the groups having that conversation is Life Education Queensland. You might recognise them as home to Herald the giraffe. Michael Fawsitt is the CEO of Life Education Queensland morning, Michael.
Michael Fawsitt (00:54):
Good morning Rebecca.
Rebecca Levingston (00:57):
For those not familiar with you or Harold, just give us a sense of who Life Education is and who you’re talking to.
Michael Fawsitt (01:07):
Well, Life Education is a health promotion charity. We’ve been around for 34 years now in Queensland. So generations of Queensland kids have grown up with our program. This year about 200,000 children will participate all across the state and the program has evolved over those 30 or so years from a program that initially was very much focused around the drug and alcohol problem because our founder, the late Ted Noffs working in King’s Cross on the streets there, saw so many young lives, impacted by drugs and alcohol. And he came to the conclusion that, treatment and rehabilitation are important, but they’re not the answer. The answer is to try to prevent the suffering and harm in the first place. And so Life Education was born out of that, but we’ve grown and evolved a lot since then. So our programs now span, we’ve got a big focus on nutrition because of obesity and overweight among young people, but also a lot of focus on social and emotional skills. So we now address everything from cybersafety to bullying, respectful relationships, sexual health, and mental health. So it’s really a holistic focus, Rebecca, on children’s health and wellbeing and resilience.
Rebecca Levingston (02:27):
And then there’s a huge scope. How old are the children that you talk to Michael?
Michael Fawsitt (02:33):
Well, we start in the early years, so we deliver programs in preschool and then we start in prep in primary school through to year six. We do have a secondary school program as well, but our major focus and all the evidence says that early intervention is, is really important and most effective. So we, we start young and we scaffold as each year builds on the next. And the aim is that by the time children move to transition into secondary school, that they’re equipped with those vital skills and knowledge and strategies to help support them, to make those important choices that they’re going to face as they move into adulthood.
Rebecca Levingston (03:17):
Do you think this is key to, to if not solving, certainly addressing some of the biggest problems that we grapple with since society like domestic violence?
Michael Fawsitt (03:30):
I think there’s no doubt that educating our kids is, is a vital part of building a future without bullying and violence and that’s violence in all its forms, whether it be sexual violence, street violence, domestic family violence. And you know, I, I think it goes way beyond teaching about sexual consent as part of a sexual health lesson in high school, we’ve got to start embedding the right behaviours, much, much younger, because implicit in bullying and violence and sexual abuse is, is the exertion of power over, over another individual. And this goes back to those ingrained attitudes and behaviours, which basically come from a lack of respect, a lack of empathy, lack of compassion and lack of equality and relationships. So that has to be addressed way back. And so we start our program in the early years. So the children are taught the importance of healthy, respectful relationships, and that has to be embedded and reinforced through a child’s entire schooling. We can’t leave it until they’re 15 or 16.
Rebecca Levingston (04:44):
You’re listening to Michael Fawsitt the CEO of Life Education Queensland. This is Queensland’s largest children’s charity who provide health education to students right across the state from prep through until high school. So how does it work in practical terms, Michael, is this do schools contract, you, does this sit alongside, you know, life skills or sex education within the school?
Michael Fawsitt (05:08):
Well, our program aligns with the health and physical education curriculum. So we, we teach everything that, is encompassed under that curriculum. And so it’s age and stage appropriate. So we introduce different, concepts, as it’s appropriate to children’s age.
Rebecca Levingston (05:31):
And is this just in state schools?
Michael Fawsitt (05:31):
No it’s across, across all schools. So about 800 schools and preschools in Queensland engaged for Life Education programs. So we’re seeing a huge demand where we’re seeing the greatest demand Rebecca, I would say is in the area sort of certainly nutrition, but in particular, this area of social, emotional wellbeing. So I think schools are recognising that, in order for students to perform well academically, if they don’t have the basic social skills and the positive mental health, and that’s going to impact on everything, every aspect of their life and their learning. So I think the health education curriculum and the Life Education program is absolutely fundamental to all of the rest of the curriculum. If we get that right, and I think the Queensland government’s recognised that too, in mandating, respectful relationships education right through a child’s schooling, absolutely fundamental
Rebecca Levingston (06:35):
That line that I mentioned in the introduction by 2022, it will be mandatory to teach respectful relationships in all Queensland schools. And that came from, the, the task force on domestic and family violence. Does that mean a charity like yours will be ramping up over the course of the next year?
Michael Fawsitt (06:54):
Well, we received, some funding from Queensland Health for additional social, emotional wellbeing resources, just recently and we’re in the process of developing those at the moment. The challenge for us though, is the ongoing delivery of it because as demand increases, we’re limited by our capacity. So as, as schools continue to demand those programs, we can develop them, but we got to have the capacity to, to get them out into schools, the combination of face to face and online learning as well.
Rebecca Levingston (07:34):
Mm. So you’re a charity. Does the school actually pay you to come?
Michael Fawsitt (07:41):
Yeah the school makes a contribution. To be honest though, it’s, it’s only a small proportion of what it costs us to deliver. So it’s around about $25 a child for us to deliver our health education program. Some schools are a paying and the $4 or $5 others are paying a bit more. We tier it by the level of advantage or disadvantage in the communities in which we work, but it’s still only a fraction of what it costs. And so we have to fundraise or source other, other sources of revenue to make that up. So government funding is important. We get funding from Queensland government for our nutrition program, but there are so many other aspects to our program, particularly around social, emotional learning and skills, which aren’t funded. And that is our work we’re really keen to work with government and other funders to make sure that our program is, continues to grow and meet the demands of schools.
Rebecca Levingston (08:43):
Well, in particular, if the evidence shows that these conversations in earlier childhood lead to better outcomes later in life, as you say, it goes to the heart of tackling, uh, things like domestic violence or indeed, a lot of people have been talking at the moment about whether consent needs to be a part of, of sexual health education. Can you give me an example of, some of the specific messaging say in the modules that you deliver? Like how, how detailed do you get when you’re talking to to children at, at appropriate ages?
Michael Fawsitt (09:19):
Well, again, I think it’s, it’s starting early and that builds each year. So it’s those core skills. So for example, first of all, helping students to understand what is a healthy, respectful relationship, what does that look like? How to navigate social situations, both face-to-face and of course, increasingly online these days, building their confidence of resilience so they can resolve conflict in a positive way. Managing emotions is a big one, because now kids are going through puberty, enormous physical and emotional changes, this surge of hormones going on, their mood changing frequently, and quite randomly, sometimes it’s probably parents who are listening to this now nodding their heads. You know, children will, will, at that age go through very strong emotions that they haven’t experienced before. And it’s helping them to understand it’s actually a normal part of growing up. We’ve all been through it, but as adults, I think we forget, it can be a very confusing time for kids. It can make them scared, even angry. So part of our program is about helping kids to navigate through that, to recognise those feelings, those emotions, and to manage those effectively and respectfully.
Rebecca Levingston (10:37):
Mm I’m looking at one of the tip sheets you have for children to respond to disrespectful behaviour. And it goes as far as, you know, suggesting some of the things you can say, things like in order for you to insult me, I’d first have to respect your opinion. Haven’t you got anything better to do, keep talking. I’m not listening. So, there’s plenty for kids to sort of think about it and I guess roll around in their head, you know, in an ideal situation, kids would take this on board, Michael and they’d incorporate into life. We know that the reality can be very different. And indeed, if these lessons aren’t replicated at home, are you fighting a losing battle?
Michael Fawsitt (11:20):
Well, we can’t expect not for profit organisations or schools or indeed government to solve the problem on our own. It’s just not going to happen. It does take a collective effort. It’s a cliche, but it does take a village to raise a child. And the most important part of that village is a family unit. So it’s the parents, the carers who are the biggest influence. And, you know, even in those first, there’s a lot of research now under those first 1000 days of a child’s life and the love and support, and the nurture that a child receives in those first three years is, is so important to their future development. And then beyond that, as children go older, they observe how we behave and how we react to situations, how we manage conflict, how we deal with adversity. And so education doesn’t just happen when we teach, children are learning from this all the time, whether, whether we like it or not.
Rebecca Levingston (12:21):
I wonder if there’s some hesitation from parents or carers that perhaps the child is either too young to understand, or you don’t want to introduce concepts that might be upsetting to a little heart and head. I know I’ve had conversations in amongst my peer group, and this is primary school aged children where, you know, talking about respectful behaviour is one thing, but a curious child will be asking and thinking about, you know, situations that you’re essentially trying to warn them about. They might live in a very happy home where no one hits anyone, but like at what stage does the child get introduced to that concept?
Michael Fawsitt (12:58):
Well, I think it is, it is, often very subtle, but it is that reinforcement over time where children feel that they are able to talk to their parents in an open way and that they’re not going to be, you know, not going to be shut down, but the parents are actually going to really take the time to try to work through this with them because they’re going to have so many questions. And as, as parents, we have to always be available when those questions are asked. And, you know, we’ve found that when we’re delivering puberty education around year five and six, we will be talking about the changes that children go through. And, we, we also do talk about the, about inappropriate touching. We found that we’ve had a number of disclosures that have come out of that where children have disclosed to educators or to the classroom teacher, that they’ve been inappropriately touched or sexually abused. And you know, unfortunately a lot of this goes undisclosed, underreported, and the more we can build children’s confidence to seek help, to seek support and to recognise when behaviour is inappropriate. Then the more children are going to be empowered as we go forward. It’s so important.
Rebecca Levingston (14:28):
It is indeed Michael, really good to talk to you this morning and I’d point people towards the Life Education Queensland website, because there’s a lot of information, resources, conversation starters are there for a range of children. We’ll stay in touch to see how things roll out ahead of 2022. As you say, when it will be mandatory to teach respectful relationships in all Queensland schools. Thank you so much for your time today.
Michael Fawsitt (14:55):
Thank you, Rebecca.
Rebecca Levingston (14:56):
Michael Fawsitt, the CEO of Life Education Queensland, you can check out their website, life education qld dot org dot a u.