Secure Therapeutic Care – Framing Principles

In October 2017, the Guardian provided advice to the Minister for Education and Child Development with reference to bills before State Parliament.  In it she discussed tensions between the child’s right to freedom and self-determination and the need to take appropriate steps to protect a child from danger and to aid their psychological recovery.

This advice is now available for download.

The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights – 70 years on

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the foundation of international human rights law and just as relevant now as it was when it was created 70 years ago.

It represents the recognition that basic rights and fundamental freedoms are inherent to all human beings, whatever their nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. It is the great grandparent of our own Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care.

Since its origins in the aftermath of World War Two, the Declaration has inspired more than 80 international human rights treaties and declarations, a great number of regional human rights conventions, domestic human rights bills and constitutional provisions. Together , they constitute a comprehensive, legally binding, system for the promotion and protection of human rights.

To mark its anniversary, this is the first of a short series of articles on the importance of understanding, promoting and safeguarding rights, particularly those of children and young people growing up in care.

Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, is widely recognised as the driving force for the Declaration’s adoption

Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, is widely recognised as the driving force for the Declaration’s adoption

Spurred by the global tragedy of the Second World War, the United Nations was formally created in October 1945 after representatives of the original 51 member countries signed or ratified the United Nations Charter. Early in its existence, the UN decided a roadmap was required to complement the Charter and to guarantee the fundamental rights of every individual. This ultimately led to the development and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Declaration was drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds, drawn from all regions of the world. Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, chaired the drafting committee. Australia was represented on that committee by William Hodgson.

When the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris in December 1948, the UN consisted of 58 member states. Since then, membership has grown to 193 and the Declaration has become a global document. In 1999, the Guinness Book of Records declared it the most translated document in the world and it has been translated into more than 500 languages. One of the most remote languages is Pipil – an almost extinct language spoken in El Salvador by less than 50, mainly elderly, people. In this way, translating the Declaration has also served to preserve culture.

Over time, international human rights treaties have become more focused and specialised, addressing a variety of defined social groups and issues, many relevant to our own community.  They include, for example, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Particularly relevant to the work of the Guardian’s Office is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Signed by 196 countries, and ratified by every member state of the UN, except the United States, the Convention came into force in 1990 and is the most widely ratified human rights treaty.

Under South Australia’s legislation, the Guardian’s Office is responsible for developing and implementing the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care – which is just one of the ways the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child influence our work.

In our next newsletter, we’ll look at the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

More information about the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be found on this web page.

This story first appeared in the Guardian’s Newsletter for February 2018, downloadable here.

Collaboration survey results – staff of Government schools and the DCP

 

 

 

 

 

The results from the survey completed in January 2018 show little change from the June 2017 survey in the rate of collaboration and cooperation between workers in Government schools (DECD) and those in the Department for Child Protection (DCP).  However, DCP and DECD workers see things quite differently with DCP workers consistently rating levels of collaboration and cooperation as higher than their education colleagues.

Collaboration between between staff of Government schools and DCP workers
nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalwaysn*
June 2017 – all responses71855201246
Jan. 2018 – all responses52058152105
Jan. 2018 – DCP employees0176711618
Jan. 2018 – DECD employees15224122027

*n is the number of respondents who felt competent to comment on this aspect of collaboration and cooperation. Where the numbers are small, one should be careful of drawing more than general conclusions.

Comments by DCP workers**

January is not a normal month as a lot of agencies slow down during the Christmas break and school holidays. Otherwise there is a lot of dialogue with schools and DCP.

There is extreme variation of quality and quantity of collaboration and coordination between individuals and agencies involved in the care and protection of children and young people. In my area, it is of particular concern that there is such poor communication between DCP and other government agencies (principally DECD), as well as the NGO sector with regard to the training and development of DCP staff, workforce planning and aligning practice between DCP and non DCP workers who are charged with similar roles in the child protection system. Not only is this poor management and support of the workforce, it contributes to inconsistencies in knowledge, skills and practice and thus poorer outcomes for children and young people.

Comments by DECD workers**

I feel that DCP needs to open up the lines of communication with DECD/schools. Education needs to be given a greater importance then DCP often give it. Connection to education is linked to future outcomes for students.

Lack of communication from DCP with schools and DECD Student Support services; difficult to get DCP workers to attend case meetings; difficult to get a DCP worker to talk to on the phone about one of their clients (e.g. a guardianship child). DCP don’t always put the required consideration in to what school to enrol a guardianship child. (Please note these are general statements, there can be DCP workers who communicate and interact well).

There are times when there is good information sharing and planning between agencies, but other times not so. Seems somewhat dependent on staff involved.

I am as social worker in a Children’s Centre and we work very well with the Department of Child Protection and other government and non-government agencies in relation to supporting children at risk. I believe the only reason why collaboration is not always available is due to lack of resources in relation to the Department of Child Protection given on the ground workers are always operating at full capacity.

DECD Support Services often makes contact with DCP caseworkers regarding children already in care – often without return contact or reply… I make lots of recommendations in my reports and I rarely hear if any of these have been followed up by DCP. Personally have found DCP staff very difficult to contact. Staffing vacancies in the country most likely contribute to this.

Comment by an NGO worker**

In my limited experience of working with young people in care in the public school system, there is very limited communication between DCP and schools. Incidents such as missing person reports, lack of attendance, mental health and physical health, suicide and self harm risks and many other factors that impact upon a young person’s ability to attend and engage in education have not been clearly communicated with the school. This means that we as educators and school support staff are unable to provide the required support to ensure that the young person’s right to an education is upheld.

**Comments have had minor proofing changes. Some comments have been edited for brevity and to minimise repetition.

Analysis and commentary

Although the number of respondents was fewer than in the 2017 survey, there is little change from the June 2018 survey in the rate of collaboration and cooperation between workers in Government schools (DECD) and those in the the Department for Child Protection (DCP). The comments left identify similar issues to those identified in the June 2017 survey.

It is reasonable to expect that cooperation and collaboration should occur ‘always’ or ‘frequently’. By this criterion, DCP respondents, DECD respondents and respondents as a whole give the Government schools-DCP collaboration a substantial ‘fail’.

The  respondents’ comments generally suggest that, as the most significant decision makers and holders of information, DCP should be taking the initiative in promoting this collaboration.

Collaboration survey results – foster carers and the DCP

The results from the Collaboration and Cooperation Survey completed last week show little change in the rate of collaboration and cooperation between foster carers and the Department for Child Protection, with percentages in each category being similar to those in June 2017.  Responses from those identifying as foster carers varied significantly from the overall result but the number of foster carers who responded is small.

Collaboration and cooperation between foster carers and  (DCP) workers

nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalwaysn*
June 2017 – all responses (%)

2

1557214

235

Jan. 2018 – all responses (%)

22154184

92

Jan. 2018 – foster carers  (%)81742330

12

*n is the number of respondents who felt competent to comment on this aspect of collaboration and cooperation. Where the numbers are small, one should be careful of drawing more than broad general conclusions.

Foster carer comments

Five of the foster carers who responded left comments.  Some comments have been edited for brevity and to minimise repetition.

Cooperation and collaboration between Foster Carers, Kinship Carers and the Department remains sub-standard… Examples of this are an absence of communicating with carers about a child’s access to biological parents which is only known after the access has occurred or material decisions being made with no regard to the best interests of the child.

I am more than disappointed that DCP don’t involve carers in case planning [and] reunification planning…

Carers are being excluded from children’s annual reviews including meetings, copies of their own annual reviews, case planning [and] financial agreements…  Meetings are taking place without carers … decisions are being made by staff, both NGO and DCP, who have never met the children nor the carer and with no knowledge at all…

There is no or very little effective communication … in working WITH foster (carers) parents…

NGO’s are failing to support foster carers who are left to advocate for their children alone. No one has ever checked to see if foster carers are receiving the support NGO’s are paid to provide them. Foster carers are leaving the system and only few are joining!

Comments from other than foster carers

Communication between DCP and Carers (foster and kinship carers caring for children in the statutory care system) can be improved. Many issues that arise for carers are due to lack of communication, miscommunication or poor communication. (NGO Manager)

DCP workers do not have the attitude and skills to work respectfully and collaboratively with families and other professionals….The message about respect and collaboration is not breaking through. (child protection worker – area not identified)

I think communication can be excellent and it can be really poor. I believe it is person-led and not necessarily because any organisation applies quality assurance measures across the agency consistently. (DCP worker)

I’ve not noticed any significant change as recommended by the Royal Commission, in particular foster carers are provided with next to no information on the children residing in their homes. (DCP Worker)

Analysis and commentary

Although the number of respondents was fewer than in the 2017 survey, the responses indicate that there has been little change in the frequency of coordination and collaboration between foster carers and the DCP.  The comments left by foster carers highlight similar issues to those raised in the June 2017 survey and are supported by respondents elsewhere within the system.

It is reasonable to expect that cooperation and collaboration should occur ‘always’ or ‘frequently’. Only 25 percent of respondents to the June 2017 survey and 22 percent of the 2018 survey gave a ‘pass mark’ to the DCP/foster carer collaboration by this standard.  The bulk of the commentators suggested or implied that the DCP should take the initiative in improving the collaborative relationship. Numbers of commentators suggested that workload for DCP workers limited opportunities to develop collaborative practice.

Mental illness and FASD in SA’s young offenders

picture of young person in hoodie

Findings from a recent study by paediatricians and researchers from the Telethon Kids Institute has revealed the high rate of neurodevelopmental impairment in young people in youth detention in Western Australia.

Almost 90 percent of detainees suffered from some sort of impairment and over one third showed severe physical and mental impairment due to excessive alcohol consumption by their mothers during pregnancy.

‘We must be concerned about the risk that similar rates of neurodevelopmental impairment and foetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD) exist among young offenders in South Australia’, said Guardian for Children and Young People, Penny Wright.

‘This study highlights the vulnerability of young people, particularly Aboriginal youth, within the justice system and the importance of reliable diagnosis to identify their strengths and difficulties, in order to guide and improve their rehabilitation.

‘Young people with neuro-developmental impairments need early assessment and diagnosis, appropriate interventions and access to support.

‘Knowing if young people are affected by these disorders will enable our community to create more effective diversion programs when they come in contact with the youth justice system and better rehabilitation programs for those who end up in custody.

‘Diagnosing these disorders is a complex process requiring skilled practitioners but the investment would more than pay off in terms of diverting young people away from offending and helping those who do offend return as positive members of the community.

‘A submission made by the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and Related Disorders to the South Australian Inquiry into the Sale and Consumption of Alcohol in 2013 called for all people entering prison or juvenile detention to be screened for FASD.

‘The submission noted that “Current cognitive behavioural approaches used both in custodial settings and in the community are ineffective for individuals with FASD and it is highly likely that this is a contributing factor in high rates of recidivism.”

‘Understanding the prevalence of FASD in youth detention in South Australia is a crucial step in ensuring effective interventions to promote support and rehabilitation.’
You can download the Guardian’s media release from this link.

Young people speak about protecting their rights in residential care

Following up from Commissioner Nyland’s recommendation #136 in her August 2016 report on child protection systems in South Australia, the Guardian asked CREATE to ask some young people in residential care what they knew about their rights and how they thought that they could be best protected.

Here are some of the things they said.


You can download the above in text form from this link.

The Guardian’s Quarterly Newsletter – February 2018

In this edition of the Guardian’s Quarterly Newsletter:

  • The latest on the Youth Training Centre Visitor Program and the trial of the Child and Young Person’s Visitor Scheme for residential care
  • What young people in residential care know about their rights and how they believe they could be safeguarded
  • The importance of monitoring bodies to a healthy democracy
  • 70 years old this year and the UN Declaration of Human Rights has direct relevance to our work today
  • How listening to young people is at the heart of this country NGO’s practice.

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

Download the February 2018 Newsletter.

The place of monitoring bodies in a healthy democracy

picture of Penny Wright

Penny Wright Guardian

With the upcoming South Australian election in mind, this is a great opportunity to reflect on the benefits of having a strong and robust democracy, and highlight what it means for the work of my office.

Since I started my role as Guardian last year I have been conscious of what a privilege it is to be leading a team entrusted to advocate for some of the most vulnerable South Australians. All children are relatively powerless because they can’t vote for the governments that make the laws that affect them. But children living in state care are often doubly so because they don’t always have ‘natural’ advocates, like birth parents or families, that other kids have.

Robyn Layton QC recognised this in the course of her review into child protection in 2003, Our Best Investment: A State plan to protect and advance the interests of children. Ms Layton recommended establishing a statutory office of Guardian because  ‘There is a need to ensure that those children who are most vulnerable and who are under the statutory guardianship of the Minister or otherwise in care away from their parents have their rights articulated and safeguarded….’ She further recommended that ‘The Guardian should report to Parliament and …. proactively check on such children and young persons to ensure their welfare.’

And so the office of Guardian for Children and Young People was established in 2005. The role has grown but it has always been about advocating, monitoring, reviewing, inquiring and advising government – in short, championing the best interests and rights of children and young people in care.

Just as with other monitoring bodies throughout Australia, our reports and advice and advocacy are not always comfortable for the government of the day. It is, after all, our very job to hold government and departments to account on behalf of those who do not have a voice.

No democracy is perfect but I believe we are fortunate that we live in a nation where we have governments willing to respect, and pay for, mechanisms that will hold them to account. This is the ideal of monitory democracy, which developed in the 1940s in the aftermath of atrocities committed by leaders like Hitler and Mussolini, who were initially elected, and popular.  Monitory democracy has evolved to keep a check on arbitrary power through continuous public scrutiny of government institutions, underpinned by an awareness and respect for human rights. (Professor John Keane has written extensively about this. See his article The Origins of Monitory Democracy in The Conversation (24 September 2012).

There are twelve Children’s Commissioners and Guardians around Australia and numerous other commissioners (for human rights and ICACs), Ombudsmen and other officers who work to hold power to account without fear or favour. In recent times we have seen Commonwealth government-initiated Royal Commissions into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory (Don Dale). Here in South Australia we have had the State Child Protection Systems Royal Commission (the Nyland Inquiry) and there have been various recent inquiries into juvenile justice by Australian states. Importantly, the Federal Government has recently ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), which will shine a light into places of detention throughout Australia and hold the States and Commonwealth accountable.

Around the world, in this second decade of the 21st century, we see ostensibly popular but authoritarian rulers on the rise and democratic processes increasingly under threat. As I go about my work as Guardian, I often reflect that neither Putin, in Russia, nor Erdogan, in Turkey, nor a growing number of governments in other places would tolerate the work of my office, let alone fund it.

Let us give thanks for strong democracies – and let us not take them for granted.

 

 

Australia Day 2018

As we spend this day with friends and family, we remember with pride that the original inhabitants of this land are the world’s oldest continuous civilisation.

We also reflect with sadness the work that remains to be done so that young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians can take their full and confident place in a kind and culturally rich Australia.  We are committed to helping make that happen.

It’s all about listening to young people

West Coast Youth and Community Support’s Jo Clark (right) and Angela Perin are convinced that the key to good services is listening and acting on what young people say.

For CEO of West Coast Youth and Community Support (WCYCS), Jo Clark, the key to working with young people is listening to what they have to say and then acting on it.

‘By ignoring what young people say we risk undermining their confidence and their willingness to make decisions, making them more passive and more dependent.

‘Our Youth Advisory Committee sits at the centre of all of the programs and services we provide for young people. From a pool of about 25, we get 8 or 10 young people to weekly meetings where we discuss progress on the projects they are interested in and new ideas and issues they want to raise.

‘When we were setting up our new Youth Hub, over 200 young people responded to a survey asking what they wanted.  Some things, like free Wi-Fi, were expected but others, like a homework study space and tutoring, were also popular and they will be a part of the planning in 2018.’

‘I believe that the rights in the Charter of Rights are important for all of the young people  we work for, not just those in state care, and I particularly like the importance the Charter places on hearing the voices of young people – that is its real strength.’

Next to the Youth Hub is Youthoria, the town’s only cinema, providing valuable work experience otherwise unavailable to vulnerable young people. WCYCS’s Youth Programs Manager Angela Perin explains how, driven by the vision of a passionate group of young people, WCYCS acquired the cinema when it closed.

‘We have run it with young people for the last ten years, and for the last seven at break even or better.  But the real profit is in the training and employment opportunities for Port Lincoln’s young people and its benefits for the community and local community groups.’

Jo Clark explains that, with over 25 per cent youth unemployment and a very few Aboriginal people being employed in local businesses and government offices, she fears that Port Lincoln is storing up some serious social problems for the future.+

‘The local community and services have been able to put together some great collaborative work and Rotary have been fantastic but we have serious issues in homelessness, crime and unemployment and we really need major investment from the other levels of  government.’

Watching the golden children laughing and leaping off the Town Jetty into the Bay in the warm evening sun, you hope that investment is forthcoming.