The Guardian’s Newsletter – May 2019

Check out the May 2019 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter:

  • young artists making a final contribution to the mural celebrating young people in state care
  • a new focus on family in child protection brings opportunities and challenges
  • a Charter of Rights for Children and Young People Detained in Training Centres
  • and more…


The Guardian’s Newsletter – February 2019

In this edition:

  • why Parliament needs to take deep breath and start again on Youth Treatment Orders
  • how we can make children feel safe and secure in residential care
  • what the children we spoke to said about their experiences in residential care

…and much more in the February 2019 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.


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 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.

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

What Youth Training Centre residents want from their community visitor

AYTC residents going for a football mark

Young footballers in the AYTC going for a mark at the Reconciliation Week game.

Community visits to the Adelaide Youth Training Centre will start this month.  Back in April we asked groups of residents about what they would like from the visits and what they hoped might result.

These are some of the things they said:

‘Why don’t you have a day when you are here each week – like a program?’

 ‘Speak to us as a group.  We might all have the same problem.’

‘Two weeks between visits is too long – you’ll miss all the lovely stories!’

 ‘There’s always stuff going on in the centre that we need more support on.’

‘[We need weekly visits because] anything could be happening in here.’

 ‘We ask the staff to contact you but then we have to wait a few days.’

‘Everyone should have your [phone] number as a pre-set when they come in.’

 ‘If I’m going through a rough patch or I’m not feeling confident, I won’t talk to you.’

‘Advocacy is making time easier.’

 ‘After you talk to the bosses, they treat us better.’

 

The Guardian’s Quarterly Newsletter – May 2018


In this edition of the Guardian’s Quarterly Newsletter:

  • The Guardian on the necessity for collaboration and cooperation in child protection
  • A community group doing fantastic work providing backpacks for young people in care and escaping domestic violence
  • The short but eventful history of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Some things we can learn from Commissioner Lander’s inquiry into events at the Oakden nursing home.

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

Download the May 2018 Newsletter.

Community visitor programs – what we can learn from Oakden

[Oakden residents] lacked any voice themselves. They were entirely dependent upon others for their care and their safety”. – Commissioner Lander, p190 1

There are many lessons to be learned from the report by Commissioner Bruce Lander QC on the events at the Oakden nursing home, many of which can be applied to other facilities in our state.

Residents of the Oakden facility should have been protected from abuse and mistreatment by layers of overlapping protections which were the the domains of many different people at different levels of government, administration and service provision.

They, their families and the community, would have expected government and senior departmental officers to provide adequate resourcing and oversight and to have policies and procedures in place to ensure suitable levels of care, management and supervision. The training and professional standards of the staff working there should have provided another level of protection. Effective complaints procedures for residents and concerned others should have provided additional safeguards as should have accreditation inspections by external bodies.

Finally, the residents of Oakden relied on community visitors to bring an independent and critical eye to the conditions they experienced.

Commissioner Lander set out in forensic detail how each of these layers of protection failed and his report sounds a warning for any organisation that provides care for vulnerable people in a closed or secure environment.  Regarding the operation of the relevant community visitor scheme (CVS) –

…consideration needs to be given as to whether the CVS in its current form is an appropriate safeguard for those suffering mental illness who are housed or treated in treatment centres, limited treatment centres, or authorised community mental health facilities. [p307]

Commissioner Lander’s critique of aspects of community visiting at Oakden raised questions for all such schemes, not just those visiting mental health services. The Guardian’s Office is currently in the process of establishing two separate community visitor schemes, so the issues he described are instructive as we attempt to craft models for the protection and wellbeing of young people in residential care and in youth detention. These are some of the issues.

Should schemes use volunteers or paid visitors?

Volunteers are assumed to bring into the institution expectations and standards reflecting those of the broader community. Because volunteers are not paid, that could potentially mean larger numbers of visitors within a given budget allowing more frequent visits.  But is it reasonable to expect volunteers to accept the rigorous selection process, training and complex tasks required of a visitor? Commissioner Lander noted that some visitors to Oakden may not have had the necessary skills and support to identify problems, report them and intervene on behalf of residents. He favours a model in which visitors are paid, comprehensively trained, and operate within a rigorous model that has sound documentation and effective accountability mechanisms…


This is the first part of a longer paper which goes on to consider the use of volunteers as visitors, the concept of visiting versus inspection, unannounced visits, visitor independence and the place and value of visitor programs. For the full version, download Community visitor programs – what we can learn from Oakden.

1 Oakden: A shameful chapter in South Australia’s history.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is 70 in 2018 and of it’s many grandchildren, the most widely ratified is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). To mark the anniversary, this is the second in the series of short articles about understanding, promoting and safeguarding rights, particularly those of children growing up in care or detained in youth justice facilities.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the foundation of international human rights law and has inspired more than 80 international human rights treaties and declarations.  As time passed, and with reflection and experience, international human rights instruments have become more focused and specialised, to address the circumstances of specific social groups and their issues.

Before the Convention on the Rights of the Child

The CRC was not the first international attempt to protect the rights of children.  It was preceded in 1924 by the Declaration on the Rights of the Child made by the League of Nations.  The League was a forerunner to the United Nations which folded when it was unable to prevent the onset of World War Two. The Declaration was re-adopted in an extended version by the UN in 1959 as the Declaration on the Rights of the Child.

The date of its adoption, 20 November, has been adopted as Universal Children’s Day.

These earlier Declarations, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are acknowledged in the preamble to the CRC.

Like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the CRC is a global document that has been translated into over 500 languages and several child-friendly versions.  Nearly 200 countries are now party to the treaty, including every UN member except the United States.  The US contributed significantly to the drafting of the CRC and signed it in 1995 but successive administrations, including those of Presidents Clinton and Obama, have failed to pass the necessary legislation to ratify it.

The CRC took 10 years to draft.  It sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children.  It defines a child as any human being under the age of eighteen, unless the age of majority is otherwise defined locally.  It was adopted by the United Nations in 1989.  It entered into force in 1990 when it had been ratified by a required number of UN member states which had passed enabling legislation.

The Optional Protocols

In the succeeding years, three Optional Protocols (OP) have been added to the CRC to address particular issues affecting children. These are treaties in their own rights that provide for procedures with regard to the treaty or address a substantive area related to the treaty

The OP on the involvement of children in armed conflict, sometimes known as the ‘child soldier’ treaty came into force 2002 at the same time as the OP on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

The OP on a communication procedure, which came into force in 2014, sets out an international complaints procedure for child rights violations, which enables children and their representatives to bring complaints about violations of their rights to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child if they have not been fully addressed in national courts.

Supporting documents

The UN has also produced other documents to enhance the implementation of the CRC by member states.  Two examples that are especially relevant to child protection and juvenile detention are the 1985 Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (known as the Beijing Rules) and the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children.

Most UN documents tend to be discouragingly dry and text-heavy but we have a liking for the colourful material produced by the Scottish Children’s Commissioner, especially this poster of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Working together for children in care

photo of Penny Wright

Penny Wright Guardian for Children and Young People in Care

When the state takes over the parenting of a child, that parent has many faces, many hands and, hopefully, many hearts.

Pointing the way to a new and better child protection system, Commissioner Margaret Nyland wrote in her preface to The Life They Deserve

The new agency cannot operate in isolation. It should coordinate and collaborate with all other relevant departments and organisations, both government and non-government, to give children better outcomes.  It must also be proactive and engage the community to play its part in developing programs and systems…

Many of the good things we see happening for children in state care, and we do see many good things happening in our work, happen when the hearts and the hands of adults come together to recognise and understand a child’s needs and stay together to work through to a good outcome.  The joy for the child, but also for the adults, is palpable.  It is one of the reasons we do the work we do.

Sadly, some of the worst results we see for children are when people and organisations fail to work together closely and respectfully in the child’s interests.

Our recent survey of the state of cooperation and collaboration in child protection asked respondents to rate levels of cooperation and collaboration.   We chose 19 different relationships drawn from those identified in the work of Commissioner Nyland as being crucial to an effective child protection system.  In analysing the results, we applied the standard that cooperation and collaboration should occur either ‘frequently’ or ‘always’.  By that standard only one of those critical relationships was scored as achieving a pass mark by 30 percent of the respondents.  Most of the others were scored much lower and many were in single figures.   There were two areas that had improved since an identical survey conducted in June 2017 but it’s fair to say the improvements were small and were from a very low base.  Allowing for the limitations of the survey, it is clear that respondents thought that we are still far short of Commissioner Nyland’s ideal.

Just as useful for me, were many of the comments.  There were a few heartening stories of good and effective cooperation but there were many more of key stakeholders being omitted from case planning and decision making and important information remaining unshared.  Many attributed the failures to workload issues but others referred to organisational culture, policy and training.

My office observed a sample of the Annual Reviews of young people in state care over a period of ten years to 2017.  Annual reviews have been long mandated in the Department for Child Protection, and its earlier incarnations, in order to review the situation of each child and young person in state care.  It is a time to reflect and review and plan for the child’s future outside of the day to day pressures. It is a time to place a child at the very centre of thinking and caring. Annual Reviews occurred for up to 80 per cent of children in care in most years but attendance at the planning sessions by other than social workers and supervisors was rare.  In our report Office of the Guardian Audits of Annual Reviews 2007- 2017 we summarised:

Most offices have, over the 10 years of these audits, conducted annual reviews with only Department staff present with carers represented occasionally and birth parents and other professionals very much the exception.

If, as Margaret Nyland concluded, cooperation and collaboration are essential to an effective child protection system then major cultural and practice change is essential.  I look forward to supporting and contributing to such relationships, as my office grows into its new roles.