Children’s Week – a safe place where children can thrive

picture of Penny Wright

By Guardian Penny Wright

As I reflect on this year’s theme for Children’s Week, that all children have the right to be healthy and safe, I wonder what this really means for the vulnerable young people who fall within my mandate as Guardian for children and young people in care.

Although there are many South Australian children and young people who have continuous access to nutritious food, quality health care and a safe home, there are many others who don’t. And for those who don’t, the consequences are far reaching, not only to their health but to the very core of their identity, family connections and faith that the world can be a good place.

The just-released Family Matters Report, which describes the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care, notes that a family’s access to safe and healthy housing has a profound impact on their ability to provide safe and supportive care for their children. When families cannot provide this kind of environment, it is often seen as ‘neglect’ and children are removed so they can be ‘safe’.  The paradox, as we know from my office’s own data, is that too many children and young people continue to feel, and remain, unsafe while in care.

According to the report, nearly one third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are living below the poverty line, noting that poverty and homelessness are significant factors in decisions to remove children from their homes.

This alarming statistic reflects the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care; nearly 35% of children currently in care in SA are Aboriginal, with the nationwide rate being similar to that in SA.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children who are removed from their homes suffer greatly from disconnection from their culture, destabilising their sense of identity and undermining relationships with their family and wider community. They are also more likely to be in care for the long-term and are less likely to be reunified with their family than non-Indigenous children.

Children don’t necessarily care for the fancy house and toys.  In fact, as highlighted in the SA Commissioner for Children and Young People’s latest report Leave No One Behind children weren’t so much concerned about the home in which they live and its contents as the emotional toll that ‘poverty stress’ creates in their families not being able to afford the basic necessities to run a household and provide safe care.

This presents us all with a wider, more systemic issue: how to ensure that families can afford to live sustainably and with dignity? There is now a chorus of voices across the social and political spectrum calling for an increase in Newstart, for instance, which has not been raised in real terms for 23 years.  From the OECD to local councils, from KPMG, former Prime Minister John Howard, the Business Council of Australia and the South Australian parliament (with unanimous multi-party support) to ACOSS and many organisations devoted to helping families in need, they all recognise that no-one can live adequately on Newstart. At a time when we have the highest number of children ever living away from their families under care and protection orders in South Australia, this is not an issue we can afford to look away from.

One of the recommendations from the Family Matters Report is to focus on preventative action and early intervention by ensuring families can obtain the resources and supports they need to provide safe care to their kids.

We all know that children can thrive when their parents are supported, and that prevention and timely intervention can be the key to children’s health and wellbeing. Rather than a future that sees more and more children taken away from their families, culture and community because of ’unsafe’ environments, it is crucial to invest in the resources families need for the healthy and safe environment in which their children can thrive. Not only will this benefit every child or young person who can ultimately stay at home with their family – but SA as a whole, as thriving kids and families contribute to a stronger, safer community.

 

Benefits of sport to improve outcomes of young people at risk

We all know sport is great for our physical and mental health. Engaging in a team sport offers many benefits, including developing our physical skills, creating a sense of belonging, boosting our self-esteem and developing resilience and social connections. Playing sport can also help us learn to cooperate and listen to others.

These benefits should not be downplayed, especially for young people who are at risk of not being exposed to developing these skills in their own home environment.

In fact, sport and human rights advocate Craig Foster recently emphasised the importance of sport in education and awareness, highlighting sport can play a fundamental role in helping young people gain a better understanding of their rights.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to: live a full life and that governments should ensure children survive and develop healthily; join groups and organisations; and relax, play and join in a wide range of leisure activities – all of which sport can play a large role in.

The Charter of Rights for Youths Detained in Detention Centres also reaffirms the right for residents to get exercise and to go outside every day, except when the weather is bad. It also includes the right to participate in activities and programs that help a young person’s rehabilitation.

A UK review into how sport could stop people reoffending outlined that sport participation in prisons can contribute to reducing violence and conflict, developing communication skills and increasing opportunities for gaining education and employment upon release.

With this in mind, we were delighted to hear the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC) have recently installed football goal posts at the Goldsborough Road campus. Residents had campaigned for more opportunities to engage in sport so it is great to see they have been listened to and that their rights to participate in exercise and activities are being enhanced in this way.

Residents have told us they were happy with the addition of the new goal posts, with staff reporting residents are making good use of the new facilities and are enjoying the opportunity to be competitive with one another.

It will be interesting to hear what difference the addition of the goal posts will make in the lives of these young people within the centre.

Report highlights privacy issues at youth training centre

The right to privacy when using the toilet and showering, and the standard of bedroom facilities are just some of the issues of concern in the latest Training Centre Visitor’s (TCV) report.

The TCV’s Visiting Program and Reviews of Records Term 4 report reports on the visiting program and associated review of records undertaken in term 4 in 2018, at both the Jonal and Goldsborough campuses of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC).

Privacy issues

At the time of writing the report, cameras had been fitted into some bedrooms at the Jonal campus; now all bedrooms within the campus have had cameras installed. Camera footage is viewable on multiple screens in the main office area of the unit which are visible to staff, visiting personnel and other residents. Photographs used in the Ombudsman SA’s report on the use of spit hoods in the AYTC, released last week, show that cameras in rooms directly oversee the toilet and shower area.

The TCV acknowledges the importance of cameras to monitor safety of young people at times of increased risk, but not switching cameras off for toileting or blurring certain areas of the footage undermines a young person’s inherent dignity.

AYTC residents have expressed their concern about the lack of privacy:

“They watch us on the toilet, that’s just yuck.”

“Some staff turn the screen in the office around, some cover it, but I’m always on the screen.”

“We expect to be on camera if we are fresh in, or play up or having silly thoughts, not all the time.”

This remains an issue to be resolved.

Review of bedroom standards

The standard of bedrooms was also a focus in term 4. All bedrooms were reviewed at both campuses, with some lacking the basic features and amenities that would constitute a ‘bedroom’ for other children and young people.

The National Quality of Care Standards and Design Guidelines for Juvenile Justice Facilities in Australia and New Zealand outlines that to “maxim[ise] young people’s chances of rehabilitation and reintegration into society” it recommends that each bedroom should include a bed, desk, chair, clothes storage, shelving and a secure cupboard.

It was noted in the report that some AYTC bedrooms were bleak and contained minimal furniture and very few personal items, and included the removal of light switches and carpets. If a young person was required to eat in their room, they would need to do so on their bed.

Recommendations

As a result of these findings, the TCV has recommended that young people are advised of their rights to privacy and to have the bedroom camera turned off for toileting if they so wish, as well as ensuring the bedrooms meet the minimum standards of what constitutes a bedroom.

Room refurbishment is a costly exercise, and since writing the report, staff at the AYTC are making plans to refurbish some of the rooms in the coming months.

The TCV Unit in the Guardian’s office is currently preparing to conduct the first formal inspection of the AYTC later this year which will address selected standards and monitor matters that have been raised in TCV’s earlier reports. The formal inspection report will be published early next year.

ANZCCG commends documentary ‘In My Blood It Runs’

An upcoming documentary that tells the story of Dujuan, a 10-year-old Arrernte/Garrwa boy, as he tries to overcome systemic injustices, has been given full support by the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ANZCCG).

As SA Guardian and Training Centre Visitor, Penny Wright is a member of this peak body, which is made up of those entrusted with safeguarding the rights and interests of children and young people in Australia and New Zealand. After watching an advanced screening of ‘In My Blood It Runs’ earlier this year, the ANZCCG have issued a joint statement commending the documentary and highlighting the ‘value and importance of listening to and understanding children’s voices and experiences from their own perspective’.

‘In My Blood It Runs’ follows the charismatic young ‘healer,’ Dujuan, and his family as they share their experiences trying to prevent Dujuan from entering the criminal justice system. After becoming increasingly disengaged from school, Dujuan soon comes under the watchful eye of the police and welfare agencies. But through the love and support of his family and community, Dujuan has been able to avoid falling into the justice system and has begun a powerful campaign to raise the awareness of addressing systemic racism that young Aboriginal children too often face.

Dujuan travelled to Geneva earlier this month and gained significant media coverage when he became one of the youngest people ever to give a speech to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. He shared his experiences about the youth justice system to build support for Aboriginal-led education models that would help prevent youth offending and support their connection to their culture and language. You can watch his speech here.

The ANZCCG encourages all Australians to watch this film and to share its message of ‘children having access to culturally safe, inclusive schools; addressing systemic racism in all our institutions; and preventing the criminalisation of young children like Dujuan, including reforms to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility’.

‘In My Blood It Runs’ will be in cinemas in February 2020.

Read the full ANZCCG statement.

CREATE celebrates 20 years

This year CREATE Foundation turns 20 and is celebrating with a number of birthday parties across Australia.

Earlier this month, Guardian Penny Wright attended the festivities in Adelaide, which included a lunch provided by the Rapid Relief Team, along with face painting and balloon twisting.

‘It was great to attend CREATE’s 20th birthday at beautiful old Brocas House in Woodville and celebrate their crucial role in the lives of many children and young people in care,’ Penny said.

‘Young people often tell me CREATE is there for them and how connected, supported and genuinely respected they feel,’ she said.

CREATE is the national body representing the voices of children and young people with a care experience. They offer programs, services and support across Australia for children and young people in foster care, kinship care and residential care.

CREATE can also be a strong and stable influence and connection for young people in care when everything else is changing at 18.

Sonja Brown is one of the young people whose life has been influenced as a result of CREATE.

‘I first had contact with CREATE when I was about 13. But I really got involved with them at 16. I went to every camp and helped plan some of them,’ she said.

‘They were the first people I contacted when I was kicked out at 18. They referred me to some youth housing services. When I told them the other services wouldn’t help me because I had a pet they still tried to help me find emergency housing,’ she said.

Sonja Brown has gone on to become a Young Consultant through CREATE’s Speak Up training, working to help other children and young people in care.

Our Office would like to say a big happy birthday to CREATE, and congratulations on the support you have given to the children and young people in care over the last 20 years. We echo what young people tell us: You really are awesome!!

CREATE SA State Coordinator Amy Duke, our Community Advocate Karina-Michelle Yeend and Guardian Penny Wright, and CREATE Youth Consultant Lisa Hoggard

Sonja Brown and Guardian Penny Wright

Guardian Penny Wright all smiles with other party guests

Clowning around

Extending the benefits of foster and kinship care

picture of Penny Wright

By Guardian Penny Wright

In South Australia, there are currently 3418 children and young people in foster or kinship care. This represents 85 per cent of children in care.

The benefits of family-based environments for children or young people who cannot live with their own family are well-known. They can provide a stable, safe and secure home where young people experience positive relationships with parental figures and, at their best, feel loved and nurtured.

In addition, kinship care can allow the child or young person to maintain their connections to family, community and culture. Conserving this connection to community, culture and spiritual identity is especially important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people.

This podcast from Radio National, ‘A Portrait of a Foster Family,’ captures beautifully the joy and challenges of offering kids a home…

For many years, a young person’s 18th birthday has meant an end to most of the support available to them, with the end of payments for their carer or foster parent. Frequently this has meant leaving the home they have known, although some foster and kinship carers continue to offer and provide care if they are able.

Very few young people in Australia face complete independence and an end to care and support on their 18th birthday.  It seems harsh and illogical that we currently have systems that treat young people who have lived in care so differently from those who have grown up with their own families. What might this feel like? We get a sense in this short video of Keira’s Story.

Advocates (including those from our Office) have long been calling on governments to extend support beyond 18 and now a national campaign, ‘HomeStretch’, is working to raise the age of leaving care across Australia. Last month, a symposium in Sydney brought together policy developers, service providers and academics to explore what extending care until 21 across Australia could look like.

According to Home Stretch, within one year of leaving care at 18, 50 per cent of young people will find themselves unemployed, homeless, in jail or a new parent. There is clear evidence that extending care until 21 provides vulnerable young people with extra security as they enter the workforce or further education and pave their way into adulthood. Deloitte Access Economics presented the findings from their Victorian study into the costs and benefits of extending the age of care to 21 and found extensive savings for government in housing supports, justice costs and those relating to alcohol and other drugs, welfare and hospital funding (with better outcomes in mental and physical health, employment, education, social and civic connectedness and a reduction in intergenerational disadvantage).

I attended the symposium and can see that the shift to extending care until 21 for all young people in care would be life changing.

Thankfully, in January of this year, the South Australian government introduced the Stability in Family Based Care program which extended foster/kinship carer support payments for some young people up to the age of 21. Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia have also started to take some action on this.

So far, of about 65 eligible young people in South Australia, 17 have accessed the program. A further four young people yet to turn 18 have been referred to the program and more than 100 are set to become eligible over the next three years.

This is a welcome development in South Australia but currently this option only applies to young people in foster and kinship care. At this stage there is no similar provision for young people living in residential care who often approach their 18th birthday with trepidation, uncertainty and anxiety as they face an end to the structures, support and relationships they have known up to that point.

Extending care for those in foster and kinship care is an important step but we must ensure the remaining young people in our state’s care system are not left behind.

In the words of the campaign, #letsfinishwhatwestarted and #makeit21.

National Child Protection week

picture of Penny Wright

By Guardian Penny Wright

This week is National Child Protection Week, an annual event that aims to engage the whole community in protecting children and supporting families.

This year’s theme introduces the idea of a ‘child development’ communication frame. Rather than talking about good, bad or effective parenting, the child development communication frame shifts the focus to the support parents need to raise thriving children.

This approach reflects the evidence that children do well when their parents are supported and that we can all play a part in supporting parents when they need help to navigate life’s choppy waters.

This is based on research from the Frameworks Institute, commissioned by the Parenting Research Centre that looks at how the way we communicate can affect children’s outcomes.

By changing the way we talk about parenting, by avoiding criticism and judgement, we can focus on what effective parenting is really about – ensuring children are provided with a safe and stable environment that enables them to thrive.

Effective early intervention and prevention programs for families at risk of entering the child protection system are essential to ensuring parents are supported. For this reason, we welcome the $3 million in funding to trial an intensive family support program for South Australian families in the northern suburbs that targets support to those at risk.

In situations where children are no longer safe and protected from abuse and neglect and do enter care, it’s important they remain the central focus of our thoughts and communication.  Each child in care is a unique individual in a huge system. To avoid the risk that they may be overlooked or ‘lost’, we are committed to adopting a child-centred approach in our advocacy and visiting functions. As advocates, we will continue to encourage others to do the same in what can sometimes be an overwhelming and complex structure.

This National Child Protection Week, and every day, we can all play a role in ensuring children are safe and protected from harm. The words we choose have impact.  The way we talk about children can become their inner voice. Let’s all work together to communicate what is really at stake – a happy, healthy future for all of our children.

Charter of Rights resources

Has your agency endorsed the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care? If so, we have a number of free resources promoting these rights that you can order and share with children and young people in care.

Resources include:

  • booklets and comics
  • posters
  • toys
  • apparel and accessories
  • contact information for children
  • flash cards for children in care with disabilities.

You can also download free posters, colouring-in sheets, brochures, and checklists for workers when a child enters care or changes placement.

To order the resource materials visit our resources webpage.

To date, 88 agencies have endorsed the Charter of Rights, making a commitment to support the Charter and apply it into their daily practices of working with children and young people in care. In return we provide ongoing updates and information about children’s rights and access to free resources to distribute to all young people in care educating them about their rights.

Not an endorsing agency? Find out more about endorsing the Charter.

The Guardian’s Newsletter – August 2019

In our August 2019 newsletter we explore the importance of education for children and young people in care by reflecting on:

• the importance of individual support in their education
• their rights to education
• the quantity of education provided by state schools.

Plus we celebrate the launch of our office’s artwork murals and share the work that our staff have been involved in over the last few months.

Young people share cultural considerations in court project

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people continue to be overrepresented in South Australia’s youth justice system. In 2017-18, Aboriginal children and young people made up 66 per cent of the average daily 10 to 17 year olds in detention in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre. This is despite constituting less than five per cent of the state’s total population of children and young people.

In response to these concerning statistics, the Courts Administration Authority (CAA) called on Training Centre Advocate Travis Thomas and Advocate, Aboriginal Children Conrad Morris from the Office of the Guardian to assist with a project to interview Aboriginal young people about their experiences in the youth justice, child protection and courts systems.

Travis and Conrad were asked to identify young people that could be involved in the project. They then held an initial workshop to brief the young people on what the process would involve and what kind of questions they may be asked. This created a safe environment that allowed the young people to open up about their experiences.

Despite being initially surprised at being asked to participate, both young people were eager to get involved and share their stories.

Training Centre Advocate, Travis Thomas, behind the scenes of filming

Led by Justice Martin Hinton, this was part of a larger project that aims to bridge the gap in existing cultural awareness training for Judges and Magistrates. The project interviewed Aboriginal South Australians of different ages and from different mobs, including Stolen Generations. It aimed to draw on the experiences of Aboriginal people who have come into contact with the justice system and bring to life the findings of many reports published.

‘That would help us to overcome things like systemic racism and ethnocentrism, and to better understand what we needed to do to deliver justice to Aboriginal people appearing in our courts,’ Justice Hinton says.

The CAA wanted to speak with young people in care and custody because of the known correlation between care experience and imprisonment later in life.

One of the key things Justice Hinton took away from the project is the understanding that things started going wrong for the young people when they were removed from their family and community.

‘Being taken into care and into custody separates them from family, many family members are also in custody. The effect on culture, identity and self-esteem is devastating. They struggle to know who they are,’ Justice Hinton says.

Both young people shared pride in their Aboriginal heritage with one saying, ‘it’s good because it makes me feel like I belong somewhere. Not every person can say I belong to these people and everything like that.’

With maturity and conviction beyond their years, they shared their lived experience of the system and dealing with the intergenerational trauma they have experienced as young Aboriginal people.

Another take away from the project was that young people don’t feel like they’re being listened to when they’re in court.

‘Children and young people in particular can lose their voice in the systems—they are talked at, not too or with. This is a familiar experience within the court system where children and young people rely on their representative to talk for them,’ says Travis.

This was affirmed, with one of the young people saying, ‘sometimes when I’m in court I’ll tell my lawyer to say stuff, he says it but he doesn’t say it in the way that I want him to say it’ and ‘I never understand what they say in court. I always ask to speak to my lawyer after to tell me what happened… You’re just in and out and then you have to be like what just happened, I don’t know.’

The young people involved voiced their opinions on what cultural considerations the Judges and Magistrates need to think about when working with Aboriginal young people.

When asked what they think the Judges don’t understand about being Aboriginal, one of the young people replied, ‘they don’t understand us. They don’t take the time to talk to us properly or talk to people that know us. Like if the Judge sat there and talked to my Nana, I reckon they would think different about me.’

Justice Hinton acknowledges that this program is, of course, not a silver bullet. However, he hopes the understanding taken from project will have a knock-on effect on the profession and begin to filter back into society generally.

‘This project will be a step in the all too slow process of the change that must happen,’ he says.

When asked what they would change about the system, one young person said it would be to ‘employ people who’ve already been through law and that. They could come in and help. Like other Indigenous people, non-Indigenous people, but still that’s been through the jail system. They would have a better understanding.’

Many others assisted the CAA and the Office of the Guardian in the project’s development and consultation. These included Steven Van Diermen from CAA, Shane Tongerie from Youth Justice and the Department of Child Protection for supporting the two young people to participate.