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.

What’s been done: September 2016 – February 2017

In preparation for the Government’s response to The life they deserve, Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report, the Office regularly released concise summaries of issues and recommendations on major themes identified as priorities for children and young people in care. Immediately prior to the Government’s response, the Office released a consolidated Child protection reform checklist.

We continue to receive applications from agencies – government, non-government and private – to endorse the revised Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care. To date, 73 agencies have endorsed the revised Charter, and an additional six have commenced the endorsement process. There are now 410 Charter Champions.

The Office submitted a comprehensive response to the Children and Young People (Oversight and Advocacy Bodies) Bill 2015 and worked in collaboration with a number of agencies to successfully effect changes prior to it becoming legislation. The Office also submitted a response to the draft Children and Young People (Safety) Bill 2016 that is intended to replace the Children’s Protection Act 1993.

The Office’s report The circumstances of children and young people in care, a report on the 2015-2016 Audit of Annual Reviews was released. This provides some factual balance to the reported stories of crises in child protection and out of home care.  It is written from the ‘auditor’s’ point of view and includes the participation of children, placement stability, allocation to caseworker and use of Individual Education Plans

In the second half of 2016, the Office received 122 requests for intervention about children under guardianship, involving 166 children. The Senior Advocate audited 31 annual reviews and the Advocates made 10 official visits to residential or youth justice units. The Office’s ability to undertake more audits of annual reviews and monitoring visits was reduced by the continuing demand in and protraction of complex individual advocacy.

The GCYP welcomed the return of Kendall Crowe to the staff team as a Senior Policy Officer and commenced recruitment for a new position, Assessment and Referral Officer, and a temporary vacancy for the role of Senior Advocate.

In February we farewelled Tony Minniecon who returned to Child and Youth Mental Health Service. Our warm thanks to Tony for his great contribution to the life and work of the Office.

This article also appears in the February 2017 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

Emergency care – numbers are not the whole story

picture of Amanda Shaw

Amanda Shaw Guardian

14 February, 2017

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love statistics.

‘Without data you are just another person with an opinion’ – W. E. Deming [1]

So it was with growing unease that we dutifully recorded each month over the last few years the steady growth in the numbers of children and young people being placed by the state into what is called ‘emergency care’.

In emergency care children are looked after in temporary accommodation by rotating shifts of workers with minimal training, provided mostly by commercial companies. In the popular shorthand they have become known as ‘kids in motels’ although their ages vary and the places in which they reside include bed and breakfasts, caravan parks and short-term rentals.

We have frequently reported, and Commissioner Nyland’s investigations reached the same conclusion, that emergency care is very unsuitable for children. It does not and cannot support their psychological needs and social development and potentially places them at greater risk of abuse.

There are now nearly 200 children and young people living under such arrangements so we need to get the numbers down – yes?

Well, yes – but with a very strong proviso.

Finding a suitable alternative placement is much more than just finding a bed. In a complex calculation, the child or young person’s age, gender, cultural identity, maturity, previous experiences, psychological state, personality and disabilities all form part of the planning. A placement in home-based or residential care must have the best chance to make them feel safe, secure, accepted and support them to reach their full potential. As well, a good placement has to consider not just the best for the child or young person being placed but, equally importantly, what is in the interests of those who already live in that placement.

Getting this right has consequences for the safety, happiness and wellbeing of the children and young people being placed, not just now but for the future and perhaps for the rest of their lives.

In the past we have seen efforts to ‘get the numbers down’ lead to children being placed into unsuitable home-based or residential care placements. They were often hastily planned and executed, poorly matched and ignored the views of the children.

We need to acknowledge the community and media pressure on the new Department to ‘get the numbers down’ but the safety, wellbeing and interests of children and young people must come first. A number of matters coming before the Office’s Advocates recently have raised my concern that an emphasis on ‘getting the numbers down’ is once again coming at the expense of good placement matching. Placement options are being discussed that appear very unsuitable, that children and young people do not want and that may place them at risk.

There is also some evidence that children and young people in settled circumstances are being shuffled among the residential care houses in order to create places. There is a dilemma in taking action for the greater good – making more placements within the same resources available – while not losing sight of the individual’s rights, wellbeing and, importantly, their voice.

South Australia already has the highest average number of placement changes per child in Australia and we have previously documented the negative effects of forced placements changes in reports and in young people’s own words.

There is no shortcut to creating suitable quality care placements in foster care, relative care and residential care. It will take time, resources and sustained effort but creating suitable alternatives is the only acceptable way to reduce the numbers in emergency accommodation.

In the end it will be the stories of the children and young people behind the statistics that will be the evidence of our success or failure.

1 William Edwards Deming was a notable American management innovator and champion of evidence-based decision making. Wikipedia

This article also appears in the February 2017 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

The Guardian’s Newsletter – February 2017

link to newsletter 13 February, 2017In this edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter…

The Charter of Rights signups break records

The Guardian cautions about just focusing on numbers in emergency care

Aboriginal culture and connection in residential care

The reforms to watch for in home-based care

Young people speak about having a say

…plus a summary of what the Office has been up to in the last six months.



Poster of rights for Aboriginal young people in care

18 October, 2016

Our Office’s experience talking with Aboriginal children and young people was confirmed in a consultation with young people earlier this year. They told us that the same messages and artwork that appeal to other young people may not connect with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.

‘ hand drawn images – they are made by heart, computer generated images are made by nothing’

Aboriginal young person at the
Tandanya consultation in January 2016

Charter of Rights coordinator Nicole Pilkington said, ‘We wanted to create something that Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander young people, all Aboriginal people, would not only read but would be happy to have on their walls.

‘We were fortunate to connect with Ramindjeri/Ngarrindjeri artist Teresa Walker.

‘Teresa’s work has strong cultural influences and also has a modern vibrancy and energy that makes it stand out.

‘The messages about the rights of children and young people in care will be essentially the same but tailored to the culture and aesthetics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.’



Teresa’s work will form the basis of a large poster that talks about four main rights that will also be available in smaller sizes. She will be working closely with designers Sue and Chris from SD Design who produced the new booklets and posters for the 2016 re-launch of the Charter of Rights.

The posters will be published in October and will be available to agencies that have endorsed the Charter of Rights via the Guardian’s materials ordering page.

This story was first published in the Guardian’s August 2016 Newsletter.

Download the August 2016 Guardian’s Newsletter in PDF now.

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Dreamtime bags

26 September, 2016

Children and young people first come into care unprepared, with little notice and sometimes with not much more than the clothes they are wearing.

Two young people decided to help.  Ngarrindjeri woman Olivia Brownsey and Wagadagam woman Loyola Wills hit upon the idea of providing overnight bags containing essential items to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people coming into emergency care.

They called it Dreamtime Bags.

‘It’s all being done with grants and donations and volunteer labour, a lot from our friends and family members’,  explains Olivia,’ and everybody has been incredibly generous.

‘We started out with a $5,000 grant from Oxfam’s ChangeCourse  program and then started asking around to find out just what sort of things needed to go into the bags.

‘The ones for toddlers needed to be quite different from those for children and teenagers and the ones for girls and boys had to be different as well.

‘We sent letters requesting help to major retailers and many were very generous.

‘Just as an example, we had gift vouchers, toys from unsold magazines and other offers and a big box of perfectly good products that couldn’t be sold because the packaging was damaged.

‘We’ve now filled up two spare rooms and will probably fill a third before we finish shopping in the next couple of weeks.

‘We will be packing between 100 and 150 bags and tagging them with the age and the gender of the people they are for.’

Olivia and Loyola are partnering with Aboriginal Family Support Services who will arrange for the distribution via social workers as children come into care, starting in August.

You can find out more about Olivia and Loyola’s work on the Dreamtime Bags Facebook page.

Oxfam ChangeCourse is a community development program led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.  Details are on their website.

This story first appeared in the August 2016 Guardian’s Newsletter.

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The August 2016 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter


2 September 2016

pictur eof front conver of the August 2016 guardians newsletterThis edition of the Guardian’s Quarterly Newsletter features:

> The story of Ngarrindjeri  woman Olivia Brownsey and Wagadagam woman Loyola Wills and their project to provide overnight bags containing essential items to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people coming into emergency care.

> How new posters promoting the Charter of Rights specially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are being developed featuring the work of Ramindjeri/Ngarrindjeri artist Teresa Walker.

> The Guardian’s thoughts on Commissioner Nyland’s report on child protection and the hope and prospects for major reforms.

> The Office’s monitoring of residential care is now to have a greater focus on cultural support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents.

> Seven young people give us seven lessons on ‘Having a Say’.

> What the Guardian’s Office has been up to in June, July and August.

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New indicators focus on Aboriginal culture and connection

New indicators to be rolled out by the Guardian’s Office in the last quarter of 2016 will  strengthen and sharpen the focus on Aboriginal[1] culture and community connection in its monitoring of residential care.

In her report last week The Life They Deserve, Commissioner Margaret Nyland recognised the over-representation of Aboriginal young people in the child protection system and the significance of maintaining community and culture for them.

Aboriginal children flourish best when they can safely enjoy their land, language, community and culture…

… some Aboriginal children need to reside with non-Aboriginal carers.  Supporting the cultural needs of these children is not tokenistic, but profoundly important…

There is a need to re-focus cultural support in Families SA (…) to ensure that all practitioners have access to advice and support in specific cases, as well as more strategic guidance and training. [2] 

The new indicators have been in development since 2015 when a consultation with young people and the Murraylands community and a review of the literature made clear the importance of maintaining cultural connections in the development of a healthy identity in young Aboriginal people in care.

Senior Policy Officer Alan Fairley said, ‘The indicators align with the Standards of Alternative Care in South Australia which emphasise the right of Aboriginal children in care to know about their cultural identity and their community and to live in a place where people understand and respect their culture.

‘The new Indicators will help us decide whether the care arrangement:

  • makes the child or young person central by helping them understand their current situation and how they can contribute to decision making
  • promotes contact with appropriate people and activities
  • uses appropriate service methodologies and tools
  • enables the effective involvement of a range of carers and other service providers, and
  • has a culturally supportive physical and social environment.

‘And most of all, Advocates will be listening and talking with young people and reporting on how they see their cultural connection being supported.’

For further information about the development of the new Culture and Community Indicators, contact Alan Fairley, GCYP Senior Policy Officer, at [email protected] 

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[1] We will use the term Aboriginal to include people of Torres Strait Islander descent in this article.

[2] From Chapter 16 of the Child Protection Systems Royal Commission, The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report, Volume 1: Summary and Report (Government of South Australia, 2016) available at

This item was also published in the August 2016 Guardian’s Newsletter.

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