We would like to share with you some of our favorite artworks from young Aboriginal people in residential care that have come to our notice in the past year. Please click on the thumbnails to see a bigger version.
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.