ACCG sets out principles for youth justice detention

picture of front page of the ACCG report

‘We are concerned that youth justice systems in many states and territories are under considerable strain. Growing numbers of children and young people on remand, the over representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in youth justice detention, staffing challenges in detention centres, poor facilities, mistreatment of children and young people, the misuse of isolation and restraints, and incidents between children, young people and staff have prompted a number of recent reviews of youth justice detention systems.’

Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians , November 2017

In response to this situation the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians drafted its Statement on Conditions and Treatment in Youth Justice Detention, in which they outlined some principles which would underpin the development and reform of youth justice detention into the future.

You can download the ACCG Statement on Conditions and Treatment in Youth Justice Detention from the Guardian’s website.

What is therapeutic residential care?

21 November 2017

In June 2017, 550 of the 3,484 children and young people in out of home care in South Australia lived in either residential or emergency care rather than home-based care such as foster, relative or kinship care.

We know that residential care should do more than just warehouse vulnerable children and young people, that what they experience there will have a profound effect on their future health, emotional and social adjustment, identity and life prospects. The children and young people who find themselves in residential care have experienced the same or more of the trauma and dislocation in their lives as others coming into care and need the same or more care and nurture to be able to heal.  Commissioner Nyland made the call that all residential care in our state should be ‘therapeutic’.

But what is therapeutic residential care?

This is a question for all child protection jurisdictions across Australia. The Guardian’s Office is leading a national policy development process to articulate what constitutes therapeutic residential care for the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) group.  The statement will identify the essential elements that a service will need to provide to warrant the designation as ‘therapeutic residential care’.

These are some of the themes that emerged during its development.

Children and young people in therapeutic residential care are at the centre of the care model and live in an environment that emphasises their wellbeing and safety.  They are informed about and can influence decisions that affect their lives, are empowered to know and enjoy their rights. They have access to formal and informal mechanisms for resolving concerns, including through access to independent monitoring and grievance mechanisms.

Those from diverse cultural backgrounds have access to culturally appropriate care, in particular those from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and other culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Children and young people who have disabilities or are experiencing psychosocial issues have an environment that responds to their needs, as do those in regional areas. Wrapped around the children and young people in therapeutic residential care are comprehensive and coordinated services to meet the full range of their needs, including access to appropriate external or mainstream services.

Restabilising a sense of stability is important to traumatised children and young people so when changes of care placement are made, they are done with particular care and sensitivity to the needs and wishes of the one being moved and also the peers who share their space and their lives.  Where it is safe to do so, priority will be given to maintaining links with the child or young person’s family and significant others.

These are all necessary conditions for therapeutic residential care but could equally be what we aspire to in all residential care.

What is unique and critical to therapeutic care is that the residential care house is staffed with appropriately trained people who develop therapeutic relationships that respond to attachment-related and developmental needs.  Staff will be trauma-informed and, in turn, build the capacity of children and young people to form positive relationships with others.  Each child or young person will have an individual therapeutic care plan which is regularly reviewed.  Staff will have the training, supervision and support to understand and respond to the challenging behaviours that sometimes accompany trauma.  Personal relationships are key and staff need to be retained for a long time to provide a secure, stable and consistent base for recovery.

Guardian Penny Wright will present a draft proposal defining therapeutic residential care to the national ACCG meeting in mid-November.  The Australian Human Rights Commission and Commissioners/Guardians from the Northern Territory, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia have provided feedback on earlier drafts.

We will provide you with updates as the national conversation continues.

For an introduction to the practice of therapeutic care, see our article Healing Developmental Trauma from February 2015.
This item first appeared in the November 2017 Guardian’s Newsletter which you can download now.

The Guardian’s Newsletter – November 2017

picture of the november 2017 guardians newsletter

14 November 2017

In this edition of the Guardian’s Quarterly Newsletter:

  • Two bills that would profoundly affect young people encountering the youth justice system
  • A scheme to visit young people in residential and emergency care
  • What is therapeutic residential care
  • The Charter of Rights and one major NGO
  • Some lyrics from a young song writer

Plus what the Office has been up over the last few months.

Download the November 2017 Newsletter.

Two bills critical to the treatment of SA’s young offenders

picture of Penny Wright

7 November 2017

It is now just over three months since I took up the role of Guardian and to say it has been a busy time is an understatement! A new job always brings many pressing tasks – but I have been keen to get out into the field and meet as many people as I can among the vast range who have a stake in, and a commitment to, the work we do. Most importantly, I’ve already had the chance to meet some of the children and young people who benefit from our work – both in the office and at the Adelaide Youth Training Centre.

I’ve also set about acquainting myself with the knowledge and expertise that underpins the work carried out by the Office of the Guardian since 2004, coming to grips with the post-Nyland Royal Commission landscape and wrangling some of the administrative and human resource intricacies of my role.

But all of this took a backseat for a time when we needed to respond urgently to some important legislation that, if passed by the South Australian Parliament, would have significantly affected the children and young people for whom we work. One of the bills, the Statutes Amendment (Recidivist and Repeat Offender) Bill 2017 was ultimately not passed in the Upper House. We expect the other, the Statutes Amendment (Sentencing Youths as Adults) Bill 2017, to go to a final vote in mid-November. My office produced a substantial submission on this bill and an opinion piece published in the Advertiser, detailing why it is inappropriate to treat children as adults for the purposes of sentencing when we do not do so in so many other areas of life. It is ironic that the young people who would be affected by this change have not been entrusted with the right to vote for our parliament because they are not adults. We remain hopeful that the MPs who do have the final vote will cast it thoughtfully, mindful of the national and international standards which the bill infringes.

Other events this quarter have included a review of the GCYP Strategic Plan, which has involved extensive discussion and contemplation about our vision and how we might get there. We are still working on this and I will report on the finalised Plan in the next newsletter. We are also looking to expand or move from our current site as we have outgrown our space. The team is adapting with good humour and forbearance but things are becoming increasingly ‘squeezy’ and we have run out of nooks and crannies.

In the new year I intend to visit more sites, meet more departmental staff in both the child protection and youth justice jurisdictions and hear from more interested and affected participants in these systems – including non-government agencies, carers and concerned community members.

Above all, I will be ensuring I actively listen to the children and young people for whom our office works. As well as capturing their views through the work of the Advocate team, we are exploring new ways to maximise our capacity to hear the ‘voice’ of those who are most intimately affected by the child protection and the youth detention system. We must hear that voice, and share it with all those of us who need to hear it. And together we must heed it.

More about developments and activities at the Guardian’s Office are in the September – November Quarterly Activity Report.

Statistics about children in care – June 2017

30 October 2017

The number of children and young people in the care and guardianship of the Minister in South Australia at 30 June 2017 was 3,296.[1]  up from 1,791 at 30 June 2007.

chart showing numbers of young people on orders

Most were in the 10-14 years age range and the distribution is shown in this graph.

chart showing age rangesRates of growth of those coming into care

The rate of growth in the numbers of children and young people in care each year is very variable, reflecting changes in the policy and practice of the child protection system and well as changes in society and the economy.

chart showing growth rates for young people on ordersAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people

The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people was 34.3 per cent at 30 June 2017, the highest number yet in a steady upward trend. This may reflect a number of factors including a greater willingness of Indigenous young people to identify as such, changes in child protection practice and increasing difficulties being faced by Indigenous families.

chart showing the rate of ATSI young peopleNumbers of young people in residential care

The proportion of children and young people accommodated in residential care is on the rise, reaching 11 per cent at 30 June 2017.2 Residential care is not the model favoured by most young people or recommended by authorities.   It has expanded because of the inability to source foster and kinship care placements to meet the growth in numbers entering care.

chart showing the proprtion of children in residential careThere were 107 residential care houses at 30 June 2017.3 Most houses are of a small scale accommodating three young people but five of the properties were large scale units, designed to accommodate between eight and twelve children and young people.

chart showing number of residential care propertiesFor information on the numbers of children and young people in emergency care, please see our recent post Addressing the emergency in emergency care.

1 Children and young people in the care and custody of the Minister, for whom the Guardian has a specific mandate, are a similar but not identical cohort to children in out-of-home care.

2 This does not include children and young people in emergency accommodation or the small number in houses with less than three residents.

3 These numbers provided by the DCP Licensing Unit do not include a small number of additional placements with less than three residents, including which brings the total to 132 for 30 June 2017.

Statutes Amendment (Recidivist and Repeat Offenders) Bill 2017

17 October 2017

The Statutes Amendment (Recidivist and Repeat Offenders) Bill 2017 is currently before Parliament.  If enacted it would strip away important rights and protections for young offenders but offer nothing about why and how the youth justice system has failed to prevent a child or young person who has been in that system from becoming a serious repeat offender.

Read the Guardian’s response to the Bill.

We plan – you tell us what

17 October, 2017

In less than two weeks the Guardian and her team will be setting out the direction of the Office for the next three years.

How well have we worked with you?  How could we have done better?  Where should we direct our energies in the future?

Real friends can be honest.  We ask just five minutes of your time to help us learn the lessons of the past and how to do our work in the future..

Follow the link to Performance and direction of the Guardian’s Office – 2017

Many thanks.

Rehabilitation programs are still effective at reducing youth re-offending

picture of andrew day and catia malvoso

Andrew Day and Catia Malvaso

In April 2013 we published an interview with Professor Andrew Day which discussed the importance of rehabilitation for those young people who find themselves involved with the justice system. It pointed to the research evidence that clearly demonstated that good programs, when they are well implemented, can reduce youth re-offending rates by up to 40 per cent. He argued that the most effective programs were those  delivered by well-trained and motivated staff who receive good supervision and support.

So, what has changed in offender rehabilitation since that time?

The evidence continues to accumulate that young offender rehabilitation programs can reduce offending behaviour, particularly when they target those who are at high risk of committing further offences. And yet there have also been changes in the last few years in how we think about rehabilitation. We have, for example, begun to move away from a focus on ‘treatment’ programs that view risk as a personality trait that needs to be modified, to more sophisticated approaches that consider how the risk of offending develops over the life of a young person.

We invited Professor Day, now at James Cook University, and his colleague Catia Malvaso at the University of Adelaide to explain how new insights are enabling us to think about and respond to offending by young people more effectively.

You can download their paper here.