The former Reconciliation South Australia chief executive and proud Eastern Arrernte woman was appointed to the advocacy role in August last year.
As well as having oversight for children and young people in care, Shona is also Child and Young Person Visitor, Training Centre Visitor and Youth Treatment Order Visitor.
Shona told the gathering that she had dedicated her life to working with children and was determined to “be accountable to the children of South Australia”.
“I’m here for them,” she said.
“The reason for my existence is to uphold the rights of children wherever they are…mainly because children are super vulnerable and unable to express what their rights are, so they need us to speak up for them.”
Shona said there were currently 4800 children in care in South Australia including 710 children in residential care or “group homes” with rotational staff.
About 35 per cent of children in care had a diagnosed disability and 37 per cent were First Nations children.
The guardian’s office runs a call line for children in care who might want to talk about what worries them. This can include anything from the relationship with their case worker, where they’re living or when they can see their siblings again.
“I rely on that information to get in and do the advocacy we’re here to do; the sooner we get in the better,” she said.
“Most conversations are around safe and stable placement: ‘I don’t feel safe here, I don’t like it here, or can you just give me a place where I can live long enough that I can go to the same school for the whole year’.
“That’s a fair call, right, these kids just want to live in one spot, have the same friendship group, a family that cares for them, the same case worker.
“Contact with siblings is a big one and participating in decision making – a whole bunch of kids don’t get a say on what happens to them in care. The social worker decides.
“It’s disempowering for children and young people for all these people to talk about you and not talk to you.”
Shona encouraged the child safe contact officers to contact her office if they have worries or concerns about children in care.
“Don’t be afraid to contact us – we need your intelligence, if something is not right it’s important to raise it,” she said.
“Every child deserves a champion, you can be champions by learning more about children’s rights, infiltrate your communities and use your circle of influence.”
Sally Wellington, the Adelaide Archdiocese’s Child Protection manager, said Shona’s presentation reinforced the approach of the Child Protection Office in raising awareness of the rights of children and ensuring this was integrated into parish and community settings.
“Her message is closely aligned to our commitment statement which includes supporting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as the foundation for child protection and our belief that all children and young people have the right to be safe, happy and healthy,” she said.
“Everything Shona said about children being able to have a voice is core to our work and our mission to create communities where children can flourish.”
After Shona’s presentation the child safe contact officers were provided with 3500 promotional items for distribution on Safeguarding Sunday which will be held on September 8. The highlighters contain the message ‘Highlight Your Voice’.