Conversations between Children and Adults

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Cartmel, Jennifer

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Macfarlane, Kym

Sunderland, Naomi

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Children, as citizens, have a right to be heard. However, an adult’s attempts at talking with and listening to children in order to understand their perspectives is often seen as rhetorical and tokenistic. Current Australian policy connected to working with children places a strong emphasis on listening to children including them in decision-making on matters that affect them. This aligns with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989), of which Australia is a signatory. However, there are limited studies examining what shapes an adult’s ability to listen to and hear, children’s perspectives in their everyday interactions. When preparing practitioners to work with children within this paradigm, it is important to move from a rhetorical understanding of child participation, to one that acknowledges and accepts children as decision-makers with a right to be heard. The literature about practitioners having conversations with children on matters that affect them, suggests that there is a need to redesign curriculum and offer emerging practitioners experience in dialogical work with children. This study helps to address this need by examining the knowledge and skills required by practitioners that work with children across disciplines and professions. This study is a narrative inquiry into what happens when adults and children converse, and how conversations impact on the adult’s ability to hear and understand a child’s perspective. The narrative accounts of four practitioners and three children have been described, based on their stories about conversations with children and adults respectively. The practitioners worked in a variety of children’s services including early education and care, schools, family support, and child protection services. The children were aged between five and nine years. Using the three-dimensional space of temporality, sociality and space (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000), this narrative inquiry uncovers how time, relationships and the spaces adults and children occupy, shape the adult’s ability to understand a child’s perspective, and what conditions enable or constrain conversations between them. Listening to both adult’s and children’s stories also reveals how metanarratives (Andrews, 2002, 2011) about childhood and adulthood impact on adult-child relationships, and influence the design and management of the spaces both children and adults occupy. The participant’s stories were analysed using a critical constructivist lens. The metanarratives embedded within participant stories spoke to the marginalisation of children; through historical and generational views held by adults regarding the capacity of children to make decisions, and the continuous use of power by adults to silence children. Despite the many constraints found within the way adults converse with children in the spaces children and adults occupy, this study reveals ways of thinking about shaping an adult’s ability to talk with, and listen to, children for the purpose of understanding children’s perspectives. The two main themes that emerged in this study were: (a) adult-child relationships that build trust, and (b) power and agency between children and adults. This inquiry exposed the impact of trust as a concept, belief and action needed by practitioners to enable meaningful conversations with children that support their participation in civic society. It also exposed the notion that power and agency is strongly related to how adulthood and childhood have been constructed and reconstructed over time. For adult-child relationships to be reciprocal there needs to be a shift in how adult-child relationships are viewed by practitioners, children and the wider society. Hence, this inquiry sees ethical practice as building reciprocal relationships between adults and children, where taking the time to get to know each child and understanding how a child’s everyday life experiences are integral to his or her view of the world.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Human Serv & Soc Wrk

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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

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Narrative inquiry

Children and adults

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