The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found many organisations had failed to protect children and to respond appropriately when information about abuse was disclosed.
In response to findings and recommendations from the Royal Commission, the Australian Government commissioned the development of the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations. The National Children’s Commissioner, Megan Mitchell led the development of the National Principles, in consultation with relevant peak organisations, children and young people, and Commonwealth and state governments.
Reflecting the ten child safe standards recommended by the Royal Commission, the National Principles go beyond sexual abuse to include other forms of harm to children and young people.
The National Principles apply to government, non-government and commercial organisations, including early childhood services, schools, out-of-home care, sports clubs, churches, youth groups, health services and youth detention services.
The ten National Principles put the best interests of children and young people front and centre. They cover all aspects of what organisations need to do to keep young people safe—from the culture of the organisation and the role of families and communities, to the recruitment and ongoing training of staff and respecting equity and diversity.
Many organisations across the country already work hard to ensure children and young people are protected from harm. The National Principles are not intended to override existing measures, but create a national minimum benchmark.
How will they be implemented?
In February 2019, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) endorsed the National Principles.
Alongside the National Principles, the National Office for Child Safety (NOCS) was established in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as part of the Australian Government’s response to the Royal Commission. The NOCS will work with state and territory governments and organisations to lead the implementation of the National Principles.
In South Australia, the Department for Education will lead the implementation of the National Principles with state-specific resources and supporting tools to be developed. Organisations providing care to children and young people will need to continue to meet the Child safe Environments: Principles of Good Practice while the implementation of the National Principles is progressing.
How can an organisation adopt the National Principles?
Each National Principle is accompanied by key action areas and indicators that act as a guide for organisations to ensure they are implemented in practice.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has developed a range of tools and resources to assist in the implementation of the National Principles. An introductory video provides further explanation on the development and future implementation of the National Principles and a Learning Hub and Practical Tools provide organisations further guidance.
For children and young people
The National Principles are about putting children and young people at the centre of practice. The AHRC has developed resources for children and young people and a version of the National Principles in child-friendly language. It also covers information for parents and carers how to identify an organisation is child safe.
Penny Wright – Guardian and Training Centre Visitor
National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is a time for all Australians to learn about, and celebrate, our shared histories, cultures, and achievements and to explore the part we can each play in reconciliation.
Each year, this special week runs from 27 May to 3 June, commemorating two significant dates—the successful 1967 referendum that effectively granted Aboriginal people the right ‘to be counted’ in their own land, and the High Court Mabo decision.
This year’s theme Grounded in Truth: Walk Together in Courage, highlights the importance of truth-telling in fostering positive relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the broader community. To better understand each other, we must be willing to have—and encourage—honest and challenging conversations with each other and within ourselves.
That was certainly the experience of nearly 2000 South Australians at the NRW Breakfast hosted by Reconciliation SA on 27 May. It is the biggest event of its kind in Australia and in her keynote speech, Dr Chelsea Bond of the University of Queensland spoke unequivocal truth about power.
In our work, advocating for children and young people, there are many challenging conversations that must be had.
Across Australia, including in South Australia, Aboriginal children and young people continue to be disproportionately represented in youth justice and out-of-home care. In confronting this troubling situation, as well as the intergenerational trauma that brought us here, we must insist on the right of children to know their community and their cultural and spiritual identity. We must listen to, value and share the voices and stories of Aboriginal young people.
Residents of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre have expressed concern about the lack of Aboriginal staff and Aboriginal cultural programming. We will continue to advocate for this, as well as the appropriate placement of young people.
These three things must be key in the lives of Aboriginal children: culture, connection and community.
Aboriginal children and young people are vastly over-represented in out-of-home care and the youth justice system. The Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services 2019 (ROGS 2019) demonstrates that South Australia is no exception.
Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care
Aboriginal children make up a third (33 per cent) of children and young people in out-of-home care in South Australia. This is despite constituting less than five per cent of the state’s total population of children and young people.
Aboriginal children and young people represent 34 per cent of those in residential care, with the majority placed in foster and relative-kinship care.
As the number of Aboriginal children and young people entering care has increased, the percentage placed in accordance with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle (ATSICPP) has fallen. ATSICPP seeks to place Aboriginal children (in order of priority) with their family or relatives, within their communities, with other Aboriginal people, or near their community. In 2018, 65 per cent were placed in accordance with the ATSICPP, down from 74.4 per cent in 2009.
At 30 June 2018, 31 per cent of Aboriginal children and young people had been in continuous out-of-home care for between two and five years. At the same time, 41 per cent had been in continuous care for five years or more, which is actually lower than the percentage of non-Aboriginal children and young people (46.7 per cent).
Aboriginal children and young people in youth justice
In 2017-18, Aboriginal children and young people comprised two-thirds (66 per cent) of the daily average of 10 to 17 year olds in detention. This is considerably greater than the national average of 57 per cent.
The number of Aboriginal girls and young women in detention is lower than Aboriginal males, but make up a high proportion of all girls and young women detained.
Spending on youth detention
Our analysis of ROGS 2019 finds South Australia’s spending per child on detention-based youth justice services has moved increasingly closer to the national average in recent years. In 2017-18, South Australia’s spending per child was $213.83, compared to the national average of $215.50. South Australia had the third lowest rate of expenditure per child when compared to other states and territories across the country.
Charts, statistics and more analysis in our Snapshot of South Australian Aboriginal Children and Young People in Care and/or Detention from the Report on Government Services 2019, available for download below.
 Aboriginal community preference in South Australia is that the term Aboriginal is inclusive of Torres Strait Islander people, a usage we generally adopt in our reports.
As we approach Reconciliation Week, take this short quiz to find out five important facts about Aboriginal children and young people in care and detention in South Australia.
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Check out the May 2019 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter:
- young artists making a final contribution to the mural celebrating young people in state care
- a new focus on family in child protection brings opportunities and challenges
- a Charter of Rights for Children and Young People Detained in Training Centres
- and more…
Events at Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in 2016 alarmed the community and shone a spotlight on the unsuitable treatment and environment in youth detention centres across the country.
Riots, like those seen at Don Dale and other detention centres, demonstrated how complaints and concerns among residents could fester unaddressed and escalate without appropriate and timely intervention. It is essential that the wellbeing of residents and staff in institutions closed to public view is assessed and monitored to ensure young people in juvenile detention, who are some of our most vulnerable, are protected.
Improving and strengthening the way places of detention are monitored is one way to prevent mistreatment. In jurisdictions across Australia there are processes in place to investigate and review detention facilities.
In South Australia, the Training Centre Visitor Unit (TCVU) conducts visits to both campuses of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC). Legislated in the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016, the Training Centre Visitor protects and promotes the rights and best interests of young people on remand or sentenced at the AYTC. This allows the visitor ‘to act as an advocate for the residents of a training centre to promote the proper resolution of issues relating to the care, treatment or control of the residents.’
The ability to make a complaint to an independent person, like an official visitor, is also one of the rights in the Charter of Rights for Youths Detained in Detention Centres.
In March, the TCVU released a report about its pilot visiting program and review of records. During the pilot, residents raised issue with the frequency of unclothed searches. By identifying these kinds of resident concerns and raising them with AYTC management and the Minister, external visitors can draw attention to degrading procedures as well as potentially preventing the issue from escalating. Readers may have seen a recent article in the Advertiser in which Penny Wright, the Training Centre Visitor, made it clear that she did not support the continuation of excessive and intrusive strip searching and methods such as ‘squat and cough’.
This preventative approach will be further refined following Australia’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). OPCAT is an international agreement that’s main aim is to prevent the mistreatment of people in detention.
Australia has three years in which to fulfil its obligations and develop an independent National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) to comply with its obligation under OPCAT. The NPM conducts inspections of all closed spaces and places of detention. Australia joins 88 other countries as a party to OPCAT, 71 of which have designated their NPM.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has been conducting consultations on how Australia should implement OPCAT. The Commonwealth Ombudsman is also coordinating an assessment about how a ‘diffuse’ NPM model might operate across State and Territory jurisdictions. At the moment it is unclear what Australia’s NPM will look like and what the involvement of existing monitoring bodies will be.
The TCVU will conduct its first formal inspection of the AYTC in the final quarter of this year. It will be informed by the work and information gained during the program of visits and reviews of records that have been implemented since mid-2018. This inspection process is being developed so it will be compliant with OPCAT requirements.
Around the world, jurisdictions similar to Australia are having success with models of juvenile rehabilitation that are radically different to those here. Much stronger independent oversight and monitoring will increase transparency and identify problems before they intensify. Success can also be measured by the way these programs challenge and force reconsideration of the largely penal model that dominates Australia’s thinking.
By Guardian Penny Wright and Malcolm Downes
The State Government’s newly announced strategy An Intensive Support System for South Australia’s children and families promises a more sustained and holistic response to child protection by shifting the focus to families. Under the strategy the Child and Family Assessment and Referral Networks (CFARNs), the Child Wellbeing Practitioner and Strong Start programs will be brought together in a new Intensive Support Unit to be formed in the Department for Human Services.
The family, in its many styles and structures, remains at the core of human society. It is how we care for each other, a basic economic unit, a basis for our sense of who we are, a psychological comfort and a vehicle for raising our children. It is also the site of some of our greatest problems, of violence, abuse and neglect. Over generations it can perpetuate our noblest aspirations but also nurture our darkest failings. For some families, problems with poverty, debt, unemployment, drug misuse, mental illness, family violence, insecure housing and contact with the justice system combine to create major barriers to the enjoyment of the relative wellbeing and wealth that our community has to offer.
Informed by the research commissioned on the back of the Nyland Royal Commission into the Child Protection System in SA, the Department’s planned Intensive Support Unit promises to focus squarely on the families with the most entrenched and challenging issues. It aims to work with families to identify issues they face and coordinate the services and supports they need in sustained way. In the past we have striven to ‘rehabilitate’ the individual young offender or ‘cure’ the person with a mental illness without regard for the social circumstances they came from and to which, in all likelihood, they will return. The Department’s new strategy will refocus the bulk of the family support, domestic violence and children’s support services that it provides and contracts on these families.
The rationale and structure resembles the Troubled Families program that has been in place in the United Kingdom since 2012. The program recently released its National evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme 2015-2020: Findings Evaluation overview policy report. In the UK program, intervention is based on a keyworker who builds an understanding of problems and of the individual family dynamics. They look at the totality of what’s going on and use what the report calls ‘a persistent and assertive approach establishing a relationship with the family and working closely with them to make sure the family resolve their problems’. The keyworker agrees on a plan with the family and local services so that interventions are sequenced and coordinated and there is a shared ownership of outcomes among service providers.
The evaluation report shows some headline gains including an almost one-third reduction in children being taken into care after a 19-24 month intervention and a one-quarter reduction in young people receiving custodial sentences. The economic benefits and net budget savings modeled in the report make a strong argument for the UK Government to persist with the program.
We should anticipate that the South Australian strategy, like Troubled Families, will encounter some challenges as it is rolled out. Services will need to adapt their practice, data collection and information sharing to a family-based way of working – and being funded. We can look to the NDIS as an example of the difficulties a change of service and funding model can produce for clients and providers if not well managed, no matter how well intended. The shift to a payment-by-results model can produce distortions in the provision of services and a gaming of the system if not well-conceived and managed from the outset.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the new strategy will be how well it addresses the outcomes for Aboriginal families. The last Closing the Gap report confirmed that, after more than ten years of investment, we still struggle to provide services to the Aboriginal community that are culturally safe, trusted and effective. If we shift the focus to families we will have to understand and embrace an Aboriginal concept of family which is very different in how it operates to the white European model on which much of our current system is based. On top of that we will have to translate what words like ‘disadvantaged’, ‘troubled’, ‘struggling’, ‘complex’, and the many other policy terms governments use, mean to Aboriginal families. It will need to develop an understanding of how Aboriginal families define their needs and what success means to them.
To its credit, the new DHS strategy explicitly acknowledges the necessity for serious Aboriginal involvement in the design and governance of the new system and in the decisions that affect the lives of Aboriginal families and children. Getting this right for Aboriginal families will be a touchstone for the success of the strategy as a whole and its ability to serve the very diverse set of groupings and relationships that we call ‘family’ in the 21st Century.
Each year, the Productivity Commission releases its Report on Government Services (ROGS), which includes data that allows us to examine and compare the state’s delivery of child protection services in a national context.
The ROGS 2019 identifies four program areas within child protection services—protective intervention services, family support services, intensive family support services and out of home care.
The Office of the Guardian’s analysis of the report finds South Australia continues to show a heavy commitment to spending on out-of-home care.
In 2017-18, 77 per cent of all child protection services spending was in out-of-home care. Of this expenditure, 64 per cent was committed to residential care, including very costly emergency care accommodation. This is despite the proportion of young people living in residential care in South Australia decreasing from 15.7 per cent in 2016-17 to 13.5 per cent in 2017-18. This proportion is still high when compared to the national average, which is just 5.5 per cent.
Expenditure on family support services is also relatively high when compared to other jurisdictions. The national average spending per child on family support services was just 68 per cent of the South Australian average, with the state increasing its total expenditure by 351 per cent since 2013-14.
South Australian expenditure on intensive family support services has moved in a similar direction, having more than doubled since 2013-14. In 2017-18 it was 9.5 per cent higher per child than the national average.
Spending on protective intervention services has reduced from $142 per child in 2013-14 to $120 in 2017-18. This is just below half of the national average and represents the lowest expenditure in protective intervention services across the country.
For further analysis, South Australian child protection expenditure from the Report on Government Services 2019 is available for download below.
The Training Centre Visitor (TCV) is an independent statutory officer set up to promote and protect the rights of children and young people on remand or sentenced to detention in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC). The Training Centre Visitor Unit (TCVU) reviews the suitability and quality of the environment and facilities via visits, inspections and review of records. The TCVU is legislated in the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016 and reports to the Minister for Human Services.
Its report on the 10-week pilot visiting program and subsequent review of records was tabled in Parliament on 4 April. The TCVU visited both of the AYTC campuses—Jonal and Goldsborough—five times each over the course of the pilot. The report identifies issues affecting residents of the Centre including unclothed searches, facilities, privacy and access to cultural programs.
For any young person, but particularly one with a history of trauma and abuse, an unclothed search can be distressing.
Residents raised concerns with the visitors about the frequency of unclothed searches. At Goldsborough campus, 65 per cent of searches happened after personal visits from family and others. A number of young people reported that they were less welcoming of personal visits due to anxiety about being unclothed searched.
The TCVU is advocating to ensure the correct method of search is used. According to the Youth Justice Administration Act (2016), the Centre is obliged to conduct partial unclothed searches in a way that ensures that young people are not completely naked at any time during the search. The TCVU is advocating for the consistent use of an ion scanner to avoid excessive unclothed searches after personal visits. It is also continuing to review all search logs to ensure they are meeting legislative requirements.
The Youth Justice Regulations (2016) reinforce that the individual cultural identity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people be recognised and their beliefs and practices be supported, respected and valued.
Current and past residents of AYTC have expressed concern about the lack of Aboriginal staff and Aboriginal cultural programming. This is a particular concern at the Jonal Campus where, although numbers are low, the population can be 60 to 100 per cent Aboriginal young people.
Information gathered during the pilot period has influenced the development of the program moving forward. From 2019, the TCVU will run based on quarterly visiting rounds, linked to school terms. There will be five fortnightly visits to each campus per term, with less formal visits between terms. The information gained through these visits, along with quarterly reviews of records, will inform the first formal inspection of the Centre later in 2019.
Download the Training Centre Visitor’s Report.