7 important facts about young people in youth justice detention in SA

AYTC residents going for a football mark

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.


What do you know about children in youth justice detention in SA?


 

Empowering young people – by listening to them

The ability to participate and have their voice heard is an important issue for Australia’s children and young people. This is a key principle of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and an important aspect of empowering children and young people.

It is also the key principle that underlies the recently released Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians Joint Participation Paper 2018.

Children and young people talk about this in their own words:

“All children have a voice and a right to do certain things. We all want out voice to be heard and our opinions to be taken seriously.”

“Talking is important.”

“I do need to talk with you. I need to let you know what is important to me, to get what I want and need and to be kept safe.”

[What makes you feel safe?] “Someone to talk to.”

“It’s important that young people have an opportunity to talk about this stuff but it has to be done safely so, you know, it doesn’t make life worse for them … But I think that even though adults are scared to talk about this stuff because it is uncomfortable, it has to be done if things are going to change.”

“[I] don’t want someone else making the decisions about what I want.”

“How do you know what I want if you don’t ask me? Or don’t listen when I tell you?”

“We have ‘equal thoughts’: don’t just think that adults have the big thoughts. Kids have big thoughts too.”

“A good society values the opinions of young people, even if they are inexperienced.”

“Not just popular kids get a say or participate – everybody is equal.”

“We should all listen respectfully. It does not matter if you are young or old. Your ideas may be very good and are worth listening to… They don’t always have to agree but at least let them be heard.”317

A number of children and young people also expressed concern that their opinions are not respected and their voices go unheard:

“Even if I can get my views out there, I’m not always listened to.”

“Parents don’t care about kids’ opinions because they think kids know nothing.”

“I think that adults think they know what kids need to be safe but I don’t think that they do. They base it on what they remember from when they were kids and the world is different now. So they need to talk to kids and find out what it means to them.”

‘[I] need to be able to communicate – no-one to talk to – need person to talk to.”

There is a treasure trove of comments from young people across Australia about the matters that concern them, from bullying to transport in the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians Joint Participation Paper 2018 which you can download here.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in Australia

CRC in Australia graphic

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is more than an abstract aspiration.  In this article we look at the reporting process and how it reflects and responds to the situation of children in Australia.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child monitors the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) around the world and in Australia.

As a signatory to the CRC, Australia is required to report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child by way of a government report and an appearance before the Committee.

Australia is currently preparing for its forthcoming appearance after its most recent written report was submitted in January this year.

The written report

The CRC requires that every five years the Australian Government prepare a report which talks about:
• what it is doing to protect and promote the rights in the CRC
• the progress that has been made protecting and promoting those rights
• obstacles and problems in implementing the CRC.

The preparation of the report to the UN Committee is co-ordinated by the Attorney General’s Department (AGD) in consultation with state and territory governments and other relevant departments and agencies. The Government then takes feedback from the community on a draft version of its report. When the report is finalised it is published on the AGD’s website.

The children’s perspective

Viewing children’s rights more from the perspective of the children’s lived experience, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is preparing a ‘shadow’ report’ on behalf of the Australian Child Rights Taskforce of NGOs which will also go to the UN Committee. For more information about The Children’s report and its progress, visit the report webpage.

The UN Committee considers the report along with other information provided by the Australian Human Rights Commission and non-government organisations. The Committee can also request information on selected issues, updates on new laws and policies and specific data.

The Formal Session

Australia will respond to these issues in writing, a few months before appearing before a formal session with the Committee in Geneva. In this session, representatives of the Australian Government will have a conversation with the Committee which is public and viewable online.

On the last day of the face-to-face session the Committee reports on the progress achieved by Australia and presents its recommendations for improvement. These are available on the UN website.

Enforcement?

The Committee cannot legally force the Australian Government to implement its recommendations but its recommendations do provide guidance to the government about how to better protect children’s rights.  Perhaps even more important, the recommendations give the Australian public and children’s rights advocates the chance to assess how our government has performed against the standards set in the rest of the world and to lobby for change.

This article first appeared in the Guardian’s August 2018 Newsletter.

The Youth Justice Administration Act 2016 – some devils in the detail

YJA Act graphic

The introduction of the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016 sought to consolidate the administration of youth justice and bring up to date with other relevant pieces of legislation to reflect best practice in youth justice.  It also established the role of Training Centre Visitor, now occupied by Guardian for Children and Young People, Penny Wright.

Like much legislation, it is dense and detailed and, as is frequently the case, the devil is in the detail.

In this paper commissioned by the Child Development Council and the Guardian, Miranda Furness examines the legislation from the point of view of how it affects young people’s wellbeing and best interests, respect and dignity, vulnerability, care and cultural identity. She highlights simple inconsistencies, (what is a ‘youth’?) and significant omissions of definition (what is ‘wellbeing’ and what are ‘best interests?)  She considers how the Act relates to other legislation and to international instruments and draws implications for the work of the Child Development Council, the Training Centre Visitor and the Guardian.

You can read this concise and important paper on the Guardian’s website now.

The Guardian’s Quarterly Newsletter – August 2018

In this edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter:

  • NAIDOC Week
  • extending the age of support to young people post care
  • the Convention on the Rights of the child in Australia
  • empowering young people by listening
  • what do residents of the youth detention centre want from their visitors?

…plus some significant developments in new programs in the last few months.

Download the August 2018 Newsletter.

Mandatory drug treatment for young people

The State Government introduced the Controlled Substances (Youth Treatment Orders) Amendment Bill 2018 to allow for applications to the Youth Court for orders compelling a child or young person to be assessed for, and to undergo, mandatory treatment for a drug dependency for a period of up to 12 months.

Last week the Guardian wrote to the Attorney General and the Minister for Health and Wellbeing to comment:

‘I believe that the Government’s election commitment to introduce Youth Treatment Orders could achieve better results if the current Bill were withdrawn and, in its place, a process initiated to develop a comprehensive proposal that addresses the personal, family and community impacts of child and youth drug misuse. This would clarify and situate the concept within relevant service provision, legal and systemic arrangements and distinguish what really should be available as a ‘last resort’ option.’

and to offer some further comments.

Read the letter to the Attorney General

Read the letter to the Minister for Health and Wellbeing

How well did children in state care do in the state education system 2016-17?

In South Australia in 2017, 57 per cent of all students in care were enrolled in Department for Education (DE) schools.

The Guardian’s latest report Children and Young People in State Care in South Australian Government Schools 2008-2017, is now available.

The report explores how well the state school system is providing for children and young people in care.  It highlights a number of ongoing trends including:

  •  the proportion of children and young people in care enrolled in DE schools who identify as Aboriginal continues to be significantly higher than Aboriginal children and young people as a proportion of all children in DE schools (35.4 compared to 6.4 per cent in 2017).
  • there are lower rates of school absence for Aboriginal students in care compared to the overall population of Aboriginal students attending DE schools.
  • a greater proportion of all children and young people in care have learning disabilities compared to the overall DE student population, notably in speech and language skills.
  • the proportion of children and young people in care with an intellectual disability is nearly seven times, and those with a global developmental delay are almost five times that of the rate of disability in the overall DE student population.
  • children and young people in care enrolled in DE schools are more likely to be suspended or excluded than the broader DE school cohort.
  • students in care from non-English speaking backgrounds have an absence rate almost twice that of students from non-English speaking backgrounds who are not in care.
  • there are very high NAPLAN non-participation rates for students in care in DE schools. We know very little about the proficiency of almost half of Year 9 students, almost one-third of Year 3 students, one-quarter of Year 7 students, and just over one-fifth of Year 5 students in care enrolled in DE schools in 2017.
  • withdrawal rates from NAPLAN testing vary by year level and discipline but are significantly higher for children and young people in care compared to the broader DE student population.

Areas for attention

Data summarised in this report suggests further attention in some areas, including:

  • speech and language delays experienced by children before and on commencement of school
  • access to appropriate disability support services, for example in relation to intellectual disability (including a focus on whether and how the NDIS will contribute to the necessary support)
  • the evidence around the use of disciplinary measures such as school suspension and exclusion and options for alternatives, particularly for younger children
  • monitoring hours of attendance at school so that part-day absences and reduced-hours arrangements are reported and minimised
  • the experience of children and young people in care from non-English speaking backgrounds;
  • developing a better appreciation of the reasons for the high non-participation rate in NAPLAN testing and the implications this has for properly understanding the educational experience of children and young people in care.

You can read the full report on the Guardian’s website now.

Care leavers need our support beyond 18

photo of Penny Wright

Penny Wright Guardian for Children and Young People in Care

A few weeks ago my office conducted a poll about extending support for children in care.  Our readership[1] of 1700 overwhelmingly supported the extension of assistance to young people in state care beyond the current deadline of their 18th birthday[2].  Many cited the very poor outcomes for care leavers under the current regime and others pointed out that most young adults in South Australia continue to need, and receive, support from their birth families well into their twenties.

In the light of this, I was very pleased when the Government announced its intention to fulfil an election promise to extend financial support for foster and relative-care families to allow young people exiting care to stay on in those placements.  There is no doubt that providing stability for those young people will make it more likely that they will be able to complete their education and make a more gradual and individualised transition into employment and housing.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that around ten percent of young people in care will not benefit from these changes. These are the approximately 500 young people who do not live in a family-based care but live in emergency or residential care accommodation. Sometimes they have not been able to be placed in a family because a suitable match is not available but, more commonly, there are simply not enough home-based placements to meet the need.

The experience of young people in residential care varies greatly.  Some live in smaller residential care properties which provide a more family-like environment, with a stable group of residents and a supportive and familiar team of carers creating a nurturing home.  For others, especially those in the larger buildings housing eight to twelve residents, their experience is one of instability, tension and danger where residents with a variety of needs are placed quite randomly, and frequently express their unhappiness by running away. These risks and conditions were clearly identified in Commissioner Margaret Nyland’s 2016 report, The Life They Deserve.

Children who have lived in residential care often have particularly pressing needs beyond the age of 18, reflecting the challenges they experienced before coming into care, and the acknowledged risks inherent in residential care environments. Trauma can delay development and affect a person’s ability to function fully and successfully. A number may be ‘technically’ 18 but significantly ‘younger’ in their understanding and maturity and ability to negotiate a complex world beyond the care system.

So, what kind of support can be built for these young people beyond their 18th birthdays?

Often children in residential care approach their 18th birthday with a mixture of excitement about their new independence and high anxiety about how they will manage outside a system they have relied on.

Just like young people in foster care, some young people in residential care would definitely benefit from being able to continue in the only home they know until they are 21, supported by workers with whom they have trusting and supportive relationships until they are mature enough to live independently. Many others would choose to leave, either because their experience has not been a safe or pleasant one or to escape the stigma of being in care or just to spread their wings.

Allowing young people to stay on beyond their 18th birthday, in a similar way to those in family-based care, would not be straightforward.   In residential care houses staff might find that accommodating the needs of adult late-teens at the same time as providing a safe and appropriate environment for younger children is challenging.

Fortunately, other jurisdictions and other services have models and lessons that can be learned.  In the UK, care leavers have the option of services from their local authority and a ‘personal adviser’ til age 25. For residential care leavers this Foyer model of transitional youth accommodation combined with support services would make an excellent starting point.  There is one operating today in Port Adelaide[3].  I expect colleagues in child protection could point me to a dozen other models that could be part of a solution, too.

The funding to support foster and kinship care beyond 18 is a welcome initiative and will provide significant benefits for young people who are comfortable in stable placements.  For those who choose to leave family-based care or for those in residential care who do not have this option the needs identified by our poll respondents remain un-addressed.

I will seek opportunities to engage with the government and other individuals and services in our community to ensure that the post-18 needs of young people in residential care are not underestimated or overlooked.

[1] Current subscribers to the Guardian’s Information Service.

[2] Should we extend the age of leaving state care beyond 18?

[3]Ladder Port Adelaide Foyer

Programs for young people should be evaluated – by them

a group of young people at the Royal Commission consultation
An interview with Isabella Daziani from the Department for Child Protection Evaluation Unit

‘In evaluating programs for young people, we think it is fundamental to start with the young people themselves’, says Isabella.
‘If we really want to improve services for young people we must recognise they are the foremost experts in their lives – they know what is working for them and what isn’t.
‘And it must be done genuinely, more than a quick tick and flick to check off the “young people consulted” box.
‘But achieving a genuine, respectful and useful dialogue with young people is not always easy and can be made difficult by the circumstances of the young people. They have a lot of adults coming in and out of their lives and some are understandably reluctant and distrustful of yet another nosey adult. Others may have psychological, intellectual or physical disabilities that we need to acknowledge, and provide them with opportunity to contribute.
‘Some young people may be suspicious of the motives of adults or jaded by consultations that take up their time but produce no follow-up and no change.
‘To talk to young people, you may also need to navigate the attitudes of the adults who care for them. Some adults genuinely believe that young people should be protected from discussing challenging issues. Some believe that only adults can understand and legitimately speak on issues for young people.
‘We have found that many young people are very aware of their circumstances and capable of expressing their insights to a degree that would surprise many adults. They are the experts in their own lives. The young people we have spoken to always surprise and delight us with their insights and their directness.

This is part of a longer interview which includes the views of young people, Isabella’s top tips for consulting and some further reading.

Download the full version of Programs for young people should be evaluated – by them