Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) Meeting

photo of commissioners and guardians in a group

Pictured are the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians who met in Melbourne in November 2017.

14 December 2017

The Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) met on 15 and 16 November in Melbourne. The ACCG comprises national, state and territory children and young peoples’ commissioners, guardians and advocates.

The ACCG is currently focusing on achieving better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people, promoting children and young people’s engagement and participation, upholding the rights of children and young people in youth justice detention and promoting the safety and well-being of children and young people.

Download the ACCG November meeting communique now.

The ocean is my friend

11 December 2017

The Ocean is My Friend by Gutara, young woman in year 7 They don’t understand When their feet touch the sand Oh, I want to swim in the ocean They don’t know what they have done When they see that you are gone Oh, I want to swim in the ocean In the ocean I feel free Free to be me The waves they taste like tears And they wash away my fears Oh, I want to be in the ocean CHORUS The water is calling me, calling me, calling me The water is calling me, calling me, calling me I have never been quite so deep Have never had so many peeps The ocean she is my friend Me and her until the end Oh, I want to swim in the ocean CHORUS The water is calling me, calling me, calling me The water is calling me, calling me, calling me

This song lyric was offered to one of our advocates for publication by a young woman during a visit to a residential care house.  Thanks to Philip Ellison for the design.

This item first appeared in the November 2017 Guardian’s Newsletter which you can download now.

A community visitor for young people in residential care

logo for community visitor program

5 December 2017

A trial community visitor program for young people in residential care will be prepared by the Guardian’s  Office over the next few months.

Commissioner Margaret Nyland’s report, The life they deserve[1], recommended that a community visitors’ scheme be developed for children in residential and emergency care facilities[2]. The laws to enable such a scheme – the Child and Young Person’s Visitor scheme, have been included in the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017.

The trial, which is expected to run until June 2019, is in preparation for that scheme.  The role of a community visitor fits well with the Office’s existing roles which include visiting some children and young people in residential care and advocating for individual children and young people.

Community visiting schemes can play a central role in safeguarding the rights and wellbeing of vulnerable people who are in institutional settings away from family and other supports. They provide an independent voice to make sure their views are considered when decisions are made that affect them. Community visitors protect and promote human rights by providing direct advocacy and personal support.

Such schemes have been implemented in many places around Australia and overseas. The South Australian Community Visitor Scheme, for example, has operated since 2011 to ‘further protect the rights of people with a mental illness who are admitted to mental health care units and limited treatment centres and people with a disability who live in a disability accommodation facility or a Supported Residential Facility’[3].

Similarly, the Queensland Office of the Public Guardian operates a community visitor program that is designed to protect the rights and interests of adults with impaired capacity and children and young people in out-of-home care[4]. Under that scheme, community visitors regularly visit children and young people in what are termed ‘visitable locations’ such as foster homes, homes of kinship carers, residential care facilities, youth detention centres and mental health facilities, to help ensure they are safe and well and that their needs are being met in line with approved standards of care[5].

In Australia, community visiting schemes are often legally required to provide a report on their work to the relevant Minister who makes it public by presenting it to Parliament. Such reports inform the public.  They provide independent scrutiny and oversight and are intended to inform changes in policy and practice to improve the system.

Under the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016, the Guardian has also been appointed Training Centre Visitor and the Office will also be establishing an inspection and visiting scheme for young people placed in youth justice detention.

Look out for updates on how these projects are progressing in future edition of this newsletter and via the Guardian’s Information Service.

[1]  The Hon Margaret Nyland AM, The life they deserve: the Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report (August 2016).

[2]  Recommendation 137 states in full: “legislate for the development of a community visitors’ scheme for children in all residential and emergency care facilities”.

[3]  Principal Community Visitor Annual Report Mental Health Services 2015-16, The South Australian Community Visitor Scheme (2016).

[4]  Office of the Public Guardian Annual Report 2015-2016, Office of the Public Guardian (2016).

[5]  Ibid.

This item first appeared in the November 2017 Guardian’s Newsletter which you can download now.

The Charter of Rights in action

picture of students hearing about the Charter of Rights

Nicole Plikington and Sarah Meakin talking with third and fourth year social work students on placement with the Department for Child Protection about the Charter of Rights. With thanks to Jessica Pellegrino from DCP Learning and Development.

28 November 2017

Mission Australia, as a rights-based organisation, found a natural fit with the Charter of Rights says Flexible Learning Option (FLO) Case Manager for Mission Australia, Danielle Stewart.

‘We see a number of young people in care in FLO, but the Charter also appeals to us because the rights are so widely applicable to all of the young people we work with.

‘We find the materials useful, particularly the posters.  It isn’t always easy to start a conversation about rights with some of our young people but having material in the background all of the time helps.

‘In my role of Charter Co-ordinator for Mission Australia it is a challenge to keep up enthusiasm and momentum.

‘Regular training and Charter updates for staff would be a real benefit. I am sure that government child protection staff discuss the Charter during staff induction but it can be hard to take everything in at one time. Later on, there are staff changes and, when there is so much going on day-to-day, thinking about the Charter and rights can drift into the background.

‘We have been very successful in FLO making use of games to aid learning in an entertaining and non-threatening way.  It would be good to have Charter tools like that to use.

‘Advocating for a young person with someone from another organisation when you notice something wrong can be difficult. We have had situations where our staff have been unsure of their power to intervene.

‘Transitioning from care is one of the major challenges for the young people we work with.  We like to form partnerships with people in other organisations around the young person but people are busy and sometimes do not get back.

To this time, 85 organisations have endorsed the Charter of Rights.

This item first appeared in the November 2017 Guardian’s Newsletter which is available for download now.

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.