UNICEF Australia, as convenor of the Australian Child Rights Taskforce, consulted with 572 children and young people in 30 locations around Australia. This report contains their words and far-reaching recommendations to governments about how the rights of children and young people can be protected and promoted in Australia.
The first Training Centre Visitor was appointed in December 2016 to visit, advocate, inspect, inquire and investigate matters relating to the residents of youth detention facilities in SA and provide advice to the relevant minister. This first report covers the establishment phase of the scheme and some individual advocacy with visits proper commencing after the period covered by this report.
You can download the Training Centre Visitor’s Annual Report 2017-18 now.
The Guardian’s Office received a record 96 in-mandate requests for advocacy in the first quarter of the new year, representing 127 children and young people.
This was an increase of 35 per cent in inquiries and a 24 percent increase in the number of children represented compared to the preceding quarter.
Last year the Office averaged 64 in-mandate requests per quarter. This follows the trend of an increase in the number of requests for advocacy and in the complexity of the issues raised.
The top five people who initiated in-mandate requests in July-September 2018 were:
Adults in the child’s life 42
Children and young people themselves 33
Department for Child Protection staff 10
Health, education and youth justice 5
Non-government organisations 3
The top five presenting issues (by inquiry) were:
Stability and security of placement 29
Participation in decision making 18
Contact with significant others 15
Appropriate care 24
These are also the top five issues identified in the Guardian’s 2017-18 Annual Report and substantially the same as those reported in previous years.
The 33 children and young people who requested advocacy directly were in the following care arrangements:
Residential care 16
Adelaide Youth Training Centre 5
Relative care 4
Foster care 2
Commercial (emergency) care 2
 The Guardian is mandated by legislation to promote the interests of children and young people below the age of 18 years who are living in out-of-home care. Another 17 inquiries were determined to be not within the Guardian’s mandate and those callers were assisted to make contact with a more appropriate organisation.
 Young people often present with multiple, interrelated issues. Presenting issues are counted as primary and secondary and these are added to achieve the numbers reported.
Children and young people in care will soon be able to seek an external review of decisions made by the Department for Child Protection (DCP) as to their placement, care, education and health.
On 22 October, the final sections of the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017 will come into operation.
This means the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) will have the power to review certain decisions made by the DCP.
SACAT is designed to be an easy to access, low cost and user-friendly method of resolving civil claims or disputes and seeking review of government decisions.
Most decisions (those made under Chapter 7 of the Act and excluding decisions regarding contact arrangements) will be review-able. We discuss appeals about contact decisions below.
A child or young person must first request that DCP review the decision, and if they are not happy with DCP’s review, they can then apply for an review of that decision at SACAT. This application must be made within 28 days of receiving DCP’s review. SACAT may grant an extension if they are satisfied that special circumstances exist.
The legislation also provides that in these proceedings,
…a child or young person to whom the proceedings relate must be given a reasonable opportunity to personally present to the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal their views related to their ongoing care and protection.
SACAT plans to be flexible in order to to support a young person’s participation and comfort. This might include taking their views off-site or separately and preventing contact and cross-examination by other parties.
SACAT will also be able to obtain information from DCP. This will include information such as the young person’s current situation, any history of abuse or trauma and the availability of an advocate for the young person.
In the end, the SACAT has the power to affirm the DCP’s decision, vary the decision, make its own decision or send the matter back to the DCP for reconsideration.
This is new territory for SACAT and DCP so there will be considerable work taking place to ensure that this process is as child-friendly as possible, and to ensure that the voice of the child or young person is at the centre of the decision-making.
How this will play out for children and young people in practice depends how we address these and other issues.
Delays in resolving issues. Under the arrangements as they seem today, it is possible that several months could elapse between an unsuitable decision being made by DCP and that decision being reversed by SACAT. Three months is a long time in the reality of a child in care. Unsuitable decisions on placement, education and health could cause irreversible damage and disruption to a young person during that time.
Who is to be the child’s advocate? The review process is complex so it is likely that few reviews will be mounted by a young person without the support of an adult advocate. Who will this be? The young person’s DCP social worker may lack the knowledge to advocate (as we have seen in some NDIS matters) or the will to oppose the views of colleagues and superiors. A child’s social worker could face a conflict of interest.
Other adults closely involved in the matter may not be able to separate their own emotional and material interests from those of the young person. Advocacy support may come from a body such as the Office of the Guardian or by the appointment of a duty solicitor to act for the young person.
What about Aboriginal children and families? How well will the process be able to manage the language, location and cultural barriers that might discourage Aboriginal children and their advocates seeking a review and being able to represent their position effectively if they do?
What is a review-able decision? What if a young person or their advocate believes a decision falls within scope, but the DCP doesn’t? There is some guidance. Decisions made under Chapter 7 of the Act (excluding decisions regarding contact arrangements) will be review-able. Section 84 of the Act sets out review-able decisions relating to the placement, care, education, and health of children and young people in care but deciding what is review-able may not be simple in practice.
Additionally, can a refusal to review be itself reviewed? Would this be referred to the DCP complaints unit, by appeal to the Ombudsman or by some other mechanism still to be devised?
Disputes over contact arrangements
Legislation recently passed through Parliament which means that, from 22 October, children and young people will be able to apply to the Contact Arrangements Review Panel which can affirm, change, or set aside contact decisions. The child or young person will have 14 days after the DCP’s decision to apply for review although there is provision for ‘special circumstances’ to extend that time. Right now, it is unclear if a decision made by the Contact Arrangements Review Panel can be appealed or reviewed.
For more information, check out the Internal reviews page on the DCP website and the SACAT website. SACAT have told us that they expect to be developing more materials explaining the review process in the next few month.
The Adelaide Youth Training Centre is housed on two campuses in Cavan, north of the Grand Junction Road. One campus caters for female residents, younger male residents and young people in overnight remand and the other houses older male residents.
In 2017-18 there were 671 total admissions accounting for 329 individual young people of whom half or more were in remand awaiting trial.
On an average day in 2017-18 there were 44.31 young people residing in the Centre. Of these:
- 9.3 % were young women
- 24.3% were under guardianship orders at the time they were admitted
- 62.3% were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent
This compares with highest daily occupancy (since the Magill and Cavan Centres were amalgamated) of 61.06 in 2012-13 and last year’s average daily occupancy of 49.07.
The age distribution of the young people at the time of admission was:
Two weeks ago we asked our colleagues and friends to spend a hypothetical $100 to improve child protection in South Australia. These were their top five choices:
#1 More early intervention and family support (29.6%)
The range of comment showed that this meant different things to different people. Varying interpretations included using education and public campaigns to reduce unwanted pregnancies, decreasing the social isolation of parents, removing children from ‘failed’ mothers or families at birth and building the capacity of struggling families to become suitable parents. Several respondents noted that supporting Aboriginal families entailed culturally suitable practice, engaging Aboriginal communities and the use of Aboriginal staff.
#2 More therapeutic placements for children in care (10.1%)
Trauma-informed care, therapeutic placements and related matters occurred very often in the comments. Training in understanding a responding to trauma was proposed for foster and kinship carers, residential care workers, social workers and even management and policy makers.
#3 More effort to recruit foster carers and kinship carers (8.5%)
Good family-based care was noted as the best out-of-home care placement option by many respondents. Poor remuneration, lack of support and bad treatment at the hands of DCP and NGO staff were cited as reasons why families did not take up fostering or did not return to it. More rigorous selection, training and review for foster carers could improve the quality of foster care and make it a more attractive option for more people.
#4 More psychological services for children in care (8.3%)
Comments included many calls for much greater access to psychological services for children entering and during their time in care. This was seen by some as a natural complement to therapeutic care.
#5 More child protection report investigators (8.2%)
Comment on this was limited and concerned mostly the conduct of investigations and the interface with the court system. A report on the lack of response to child protection reports by the former Families SA was current at the time of the survey, which may have influenced responses.
Each year, hundreds of young South Australians from 10 to 18 years of age pass through the gates into the Adelaide Youth Training Centre. Each one has a story. Combined together as statistics, their stories tell us who they are, why they are there and how well our youth detention regime is working
If you have two minutes, and an interest in young people in detention, take this quick educational quiz and learn seven critical facts about them.
We all have ideas, drawn from our own experience, about ways to improve the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable children. This five minute survey invites you to express and rank some priorities in a simple, but challenging, format.
We look forward to your ideas and will publish the results next week.
The ability to participate and have their voice heard is an important issue for Australia’s children and young people. This is a key principle of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and an important aspect of empowering children and young people.
It is also the key principle that underlies the recently released Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians Joint Participation Paper 2018.
Children and young people talk about this in their own words:
“All children have a voice and a right to do certain things. We all want out voice to be heard and our opinions to be taken seriously.”
“Talking is important.”
“I do need to talk with you. I need to let you know what is important to me, to get what I want and need and to be kept safe.”
[What makes you feel safe?] “Someone to talk to.”
“It’s important that young people have an opportunity to talk about this stuff but it has to be done safely so, you know, it doesn’t make life worse for them … But I think that even though adults are scared to talk about this stuff because it is uncomfortable, it has to be done if things are going to change.”
“[I] don’t want someone else making the decisions about what I want.”
“How do you know what I want if you don’t ask me? Or don’t listen when I tell you?”
“We have ‘equal thoughts’: don’t just think that adults have the big thoughts. Kids have big thoughts too.”
“A good society values the opinions of young people, even if they are inexperienced.”
“Not just popular kids get a say or participate – everybody is equal.”
“We should all listen respectfully. It does not matter if you are young or old. Your ideas may be very good and are worth listening to… They don’t always have to agree but at least let them be heard.”317
A number of children and young people also expressed concern that their opinions are not respected and their voices go unheard:
“Even if I can get my views out there, I’m not always listened to.”
“Parents don’t care about kids’ opinions because they think kids know nothing.”
“I think that adults think they know what kids need to be safe but I don’t think that they do. They base it on what they remember from when they were kids and the world is different now. So they need to talk to kids and find out what it means to them.”
‘[I] need to be able to communicate – no-one to talk to – need person to talk to.”
There is a treasure trove of comments from young people across Australia about the matters that concern them, from bullying to transport in the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians Joint Participation Paper 2018 which you can download here.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is more than an abstract aspiration. In this article we look at the reporting process and how it reflects and responds to the situation of children in Australia.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child monitors the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) around the world and in Australia.
As a signatory to the CRC, Australia is required to report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child by way of a government report and an appearance before the Committee.
Australia is currently preparing for its forthcoming appearance after its most recent written report was submitted in January this year.
The written report
The CRC requires that every five years the Australian Government prepare a report which talks about:
• what it is doing to protect and promote the rights in the CRC
• the progress that has been made protecting and promoting those rights
• obstacles and problems in implementing the CRC.
The preparation of the report to the UN Committee is co-ordinated by the Attorney General’s Department (AGD) in consultation with state and territory governments and other relevant departments and agencies. The Government then takes feedback from the community on a draft version of its report. When the report is finalised it is published on the AGD’s website.
The children’s perspective
Viewing children’s rights more from the perspective of the children’s lived experience, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is preparing a ‘shadow’ report’ on behalf of the Australian Child Rights Taskforce of NGOs which will also go to the UN Committee. For more information about The Children’s report and its progress, visit the report webpage.
The UN Committee considers the report along with other information provided by the Australian Human Rights Commission and non-government organisations. The Committee can also request information on selected issues, updates on new laws and policies and specific data.
The Formal Session
Australia will respond to these issues in writing, a few months before appearing before a formal session with the Committee in Geneva. In this session, representatives of the Australian Government will have a conversation with the Committee which is public and viewable online.
On the last day of the face-to-face session the Committee reports on the progress achieved by Australia and presents its recommendations for improvement. These are available on the UN website.
The Committee cannot legally force the Australian Government to implement its recommendations but its recommendations do provide guidance to the government about how to better protect children’s rights. Perhaps even more important, the recommendations give the Australian public and children’s rights advocates the chance to assess how our government has performed against the standards set in the rest of the world and to lobby for change.
This article first appeared in the Guardian’s August 2018 Newsletter.