Almost one quarter of children and young people who are detained in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre are under the legal guardianship of the state and are likely to be living in large residential care homes, a new report from our office has found.
A PERFECT STORM? Dual status children and young people in South Australia’s child protection and youth justice systems is the first report from a series of papers looking into the disproportionate number of children and young people who enter the youth justice system from residential care.
The report highlights that it’s not that these individual children and young people are inherently ‘criminal’ but that systems make their criminalisation more likely.
This suggests the state’s child protection system is struggling to undertake its core function of keeping children and young people safe – a concern that our office raised last week in the wake of the release of our annual report.
This new report finds that inadequate planning, policy, procedure, and communication across government and non-government systems mean that children and young people in care who need therapeutic support are instead being drawn into the criminal justice system.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recently stated that Australia’s child protection systems are insufficiently resourced, resulting in poorly supported staff, inadequate placement matching, and excessive reliance on police interference and youth justice systems to manage behavioural problems without providing appropriate therapeutic intervention.
Guardian for Children and Young People and Training Centre Visitor Penny Wright states that each of these factors contribute to the overrepresentation of those in care entering the youth justice system.
Ms Wright notes these vulnerable children and young people have been exposed to significant trauma and abuse prior to entering the child protection system and are not being provided with the care and support they need to heal.
“Instead of being provided with the essential therapeutic care they need, these young people are being put into homes and looked after by inadequately supported staff with other young people who come from troubled backgrounds. The young people’s behaviour is ‘managed’ by police and the youth justice system, and then at the end of the day they are taken back to the same environment in which the criminal behaviour took place,” Ms Wright said.
“What these children and young people need is a system that focusses on their safety and well-being first and foremost, keeping in mind the difficult circumstances that brought them into the system in the first place.”
“As one dual status young person eloquently said: ‘They kept putting us in the same situation but expecting a different outcome’.”
Further reports from this series will be made available in the coming months.