The deadly dreamtime story

Creating art was a popular activity during SA’s COVID-19 lockdown, especially for many of the children and young people living in residential care.

We talked to several of the children and young people about how life has been for them during COVID-19. Many told us they used drawing, telling stories and other creative forms to express their thoughts and feelings during this unprecedented time.

An 11-year-old Aboriginal young person living in an Aboriginal Family Support Services (AFSS) residential care facility was keen to share their dreamtime story with us, along with their artwork, that they created during the peak of the restrictions. It is a privilege we can share this with you.

The deadly dreamtime story

One day there was a mob and they got stuck on a land, because of the white people. While they were on the land they hunted in the afternoon so they could get back in time to produce the food for their family. Their favourite things to do were hunting and looking for different kinds of rocks. They liked hunting for animals to shred the animal skin and use it as clothing. They loved making boomerangs, spears, drums and didgeridoos.

If Aboriginal people get in trouble they get punished. If you’re a human and you get in trouble you can get turned into an animal and if you get in trouble when you’re an animal you turn into an object.

Aboriginal people have strict rules and commands to follow. If they disobey these commands and rules harsh punishments will occur.

They love planting things like seeds, nuts, roots and tubers.

 

Do you have a child or young person in your care who would like to share their artwork with us? Email us at gcyp@gcyp.sa.gov.au.

 

The importance of National Reconciliation Week

We would like to acknowledge the Kaurna and Peramangk people, the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which our team members live and work. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.

As we celebrate National Reconciliation Week in a very different way this year, our team reflects on why this week is important to them.

   

Aboriginal children and young people continue to be over-represented in care and detention

The proportion of Aboriginal children and young people in care in South Australia has worsened in the last five years, with Aboriginal children and young people now making up 34.2% of all children in care.

Data from the 2020 Report on Government Services shows that this cohort continues to be drawn into the child protection system at an alarming rate. Worse still, many of these young people are likely to remain in care for extended periods of time, and only 62% are living with someone from their family, community or cultural background.

When it comes to youth detention, the over-representation is even worse.  In 2018-19, Aboriginal children and young people made up a daily average of 60.7% of all young people in detention in SA, despite Aboriginal children being detained at their lowest rate since 2014-15. (While the rate of detention of Aboriginal children fell, the detention rate for non-Aboriginal children declined even further.)

Every year the Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People and Training Centre Visitor takes a ‘snapshot’ of the data from the Report on Government Services to see how it relates to South Australian Aboriginal children and young people in care and/or detention.

Four aspects of the data are particularly noteworthy.

Aboriginal children and young people are still seriously over-represented

  • Despite Aboriginal children and young people making up only 5% of the state’s total population of children and young people, they make up more than a third, 34.2%, of children and young people in care services (as at 30 June 2019).
  • Over four years (2014-15 and 2018-19) the rate of Aboriginal 0 to 17 year olds in care services (per 1,000 children in the SA population) increased from 49 to 76.7%. This compares with an increase from 5.6 to 7.4% for non-Aboriginal 0 to 17 year olds.
  • 5% of Aboriginal children who are in care have been so for five or more years.

How do Aboriginal children’s placements reflect the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle? 

  • At 30 June 2019, only 62.7% of eligible children (854 of a possible 1,363) were placed in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle.
  • Over the last 10 years, there has been a decline in the proportion of Aboriginal children and young people placed in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, in out-of-home care in both South Australia, and nationally.

Aboriginal children and young people in residential care

  • At 30 June 2019, 208 Aboriginal children and young people were living in residential care, making up 36.6% of all the children living in that care type. This was higher than the proportion of Aboriginal children living in care services overall (34.2%), meaning that Aboriginal children and young people are more likely to be placed in residential care than non-Aboriginal children.

Aboriginal children and young people in detention

  • 7% of the average daily population in detention in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre were Aboriginal
  • Aboriginal children and young people are 32 times more likely to be in detention than non-Aboriginal children and young people in South Australia
  • South Australia spent less, on average, per child aged 10 to 17 years in the SA population, on detention-based youth justice services compared with the national average.
  • The number of Aboriginal 10 to 17 year olds in detention in South Australia during 2018-19 declined to its lowest rate in four years and was lower than the Australian average for the first time since 2014-15.

You can read our full report here.

If you missed our review of SA’s government spending on child protection services, check out our previous blog post.

SA the second biggest spender on child protection services

Data from the latest Report on Government Services 2020 which looks at how Australian governments are spending their money, shows that SA spends more on child protection services per child than all other states except the Northern Territory. In fact, in 2018-19, SA’s expenditure on child protection services was 25.1% higher than the national average.

We looked at how SA spends the money, this is what we found:

SA spends more on care services than intervention and family support

  • 6 per cent of all SA’s child protection services expenditure in 2018-19 was committed to care services* rather than intervention and family support services.
  • The national average on family support services per child was 10% higher than the South Australian average, despite SA increasing its expenditure for these services 168% since 2014-15.
  • It is important to note that these intervention and family support services include services managed by the Department for Human Services as well as the Department for Child Protection.

SA spends 87% more on care services per child than in 2014-15

  • SA’s expenditure on care services per child aged 0-17 has increased by 87% from $643.9 per child in 2014-15, to $1,204.4 per child in 2018-19

SA relies on residential care more than any other state/territory

  • South Australia also uses residential care^ at a higher rate than any other Australian jurisdiction, with just over 60% of total expenditure being spent on residential care.
  • SA children living in residential care make up 14.9% (including those in independent living) of children in care, which has decreased since 2018.

Aboriginal children continue to be over-represented in care services

  • Once again, Aboriginal children continue to be over-represented in care services. At 30 June 2019, 34.2% of children in care services placements were Aboriginal (1363 of 3988), and they comprised 37% of all children and young people in residential care (208 of a total of 568). This will be explored in more detail in a forthcoming companion paper which we will release next month.

You can read our full analysis of SA’s child protection expenditure here.

* Care services refers to the provision of out-of-home care services and other supported placement
^ The term ‘residential care’ in the ROGS report now includes all children in independent living placements as well as residential care and commercial care.

Investigation calls for review of isolation practices in Adelaide Youth Training Centre

A troubling new report into the treatment of two young people in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC) has highlighted the need for Youth Justice to review their use of isolation and how they offer rehabilitation for the young people detained in the centre.

The latest Ombudsman SA report which was released early this week has criticised the Department of Human Services (formerly Department for Communities and Social Inclusion) for its treatment of two young people in the AYTC by subjecting them to inhumane treatment, including extended periods of isolation and solitary confinement as a form of punishment for their behaviour.

In 2017, based on concerns shared by our office, the Ombudsman investigated the treatment of the young males (both 17 at the time) who were confined to their cells for more than 22 hours per day. The young people were not provided sufficient access to exercise, education, contact with family and experienced a lack of cultural recognition and support.

Training Centre Visitor Penny Wright has expressed her great concern these practices occurred and says that these are not isolated examples of the inappropriate use of seclusion and isolation.

“Isolation and segregation can be very, very damaging – especially to young people who have already experienced trauma in their lives – that’s why there are serious restrictions on these practices.”

“As the Ombudsman noted, rather than this particular segregation always being a response to the young people’s behaviours, their poor behaviour was often actually due to long periods of isolation.”

The Ombudsman referred to the views of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry that-

“Punitive approaches to the management of youth justice services… are unlikely to resolve the behavioural issues of detainees; instead, they serve to reinforce the sense of mistrust experienced by many children and young people in custody. Without a trauma informed approach to the management of youth justice centre, at-risk children and young people will continue to face significant obstacles in their paths to recovery and rehabilitation, and staff in youth detention centre will continue to face significant difficulties in managing children and young people in their care.”

According to the Ombudsman, “A functioning youth justice system should not cause the young person further harm or contribute to their reoffending. The system should not do any harm to a young person and young people should leave the youth justice system in a better life position than when they entered it. In my view, the youth justice system failed [these two young people].”

The investigation concluded the treatment of the two young people was ‘unreasonable, wrong, oppressive, unjust and contrary to law’. The Ombudsman made 20 recommendations, all of which the Department of Human Services has accepted.

Penny acknowledges the department has made some improvements since these events in 2017 and has agreed to make further changes.

“I do think Youth Justice has a new willingness to look carefully at their practices and make real changes,” Penny said.

“We know of a number of young people with complex needs in AYTC today who will benefit if the department acts on these recommendations swiftly. As part of my role as Training Centre Visitor, my staff and I will be monitoring the extent to which the reforms are taken up.”

TCV Unit prepares for pilot inspection to be held next month

The Training Centre Visitor (TCV) will conduct a pilot inspection of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC) in late November. Such inspections, which are independent of government, aim to monitor standards and prevent abuse in places of detention. They are common around the world and elsewhere in Australia.

This pilot inspection is the first since the establishment of the TCV role and has been designed to provide oversight of the management of the training centre and the conditions of residents in the context of the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Youth Justice Principle and the Charter of Rights for Youths Detained in Training Centres. Ultimately it is about ensuring the rights of the children and young people detained within the centre are being met and that the environment is conducive to meeting the objective of the Youth Justice Administration Act, including rehabilitation.

 What is the Training Centre Visitor Program?

The TCV Program was established in November 2017 to provide oversight of the rights of children and young people sentenced or remanded in custody in the AYTC. The role of Training Centre Visitor is held by Penny Wright (who is also the Guardian for Children and Young People) and she is supported by her staff in the TCV Unit to carry out functions outlined in the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016:

  • conduct visits to training centres
  • conduct inspections of training centres
  • promote the best interests of the residents of a training centre
  • act as an advocate for the residents of a training centre – to promote the resolution of issues to do with their care, treatment and control
  • inquire into and provide advice to the Minister in relation to any systemic reform needed to improve the care, treatment and control of residents or the management of a training centre, and
  • inquire into and investigate any matter referred by the Minister.

When is the pilot inspection?

The pilot inspection will be held over a week at the end of November.

How will the inspection be conducted?

Activities during the inspection week will include scheduled visits, individual interviews with residents, staff and management, focus groups and analysis of TCV and Departmental records from the past 12 months. These activities will be conducted at different times of the day and night, including the weekend, to give core stakeholders (e.g. residents and AYTC staff) the opportunity to be involved and have their say.

Information acquired, and observations made in the inspection process will then be complemented by information obtained through the TCV’s ongoing advocacy, visiting programs and reviews of records over the past 12 months. This will enable us to build a picture of life for children and young people detained at the AYTC during that time, not just those who are detained during the inspection week.

What will the inspection look at?

The inspection will address 10 Standards, and associated indicators, that have been drawn from the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Youth Justice Principle and the Charter of Rights for Youths Detained in Training Centres.

These standards cover topics such as resident safety, health and access to proper health care, cultural rights (particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people, who are seriously over-represented in detention), respect and dignity, education and training, case planning and access to grievance processes.

The standards and associated inspection methodologies have been developed specifically for this pilot inspection process.

Is the inspection complaint with OPCAT?

The inspection has been developed  to meet the requirements of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). Australia finally ratified this international agreement to prevent mistreatment in places of detention in late 2017 and must put measures in place to implement its requirements by the end of 2020.

These measures include setting up a National Prevention Mechanism (NPM) that must be independent from government and responsive to the needs of those held in various ‘places of detention’, including youth justice facilities. The role and functions of the TCV in the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016 were drafted to complement OPCAT requirement. The pilot inspection has been similarly designed, to the extent that current resources allow.

What will happen after the inspection?

Findings from the pilot inspection will be analysed and documented in a formal report that will be provided to the Minister for Human Services for presentation to Parliament in early 2020.

The inspection is a milestone in the establishment and implementation of the Training Centre Visitor Program. As such, the formal report will detail learning from the inspection and related processes and also make proposals about how best the TCV program and an inspection regime can develop in future years.

More information

If you have any questions about the upcoming inspection please contact the Training Centre Visitor Unit at gcyp@gcyp.sa.gov.au or by phone on 8226 8570.

Children’s Week – a safe place where children can thrive

picture of Penny Wright

By Guardian Penny Wright

As I reflect on this year’s theme for Children’s Week, that all children have the right to be healthy and safe, I wonder what this really means for the vulnerable young people who fall within my mandate as Guardian for children and young people in care.

Although there are many South Australian children and young people who have continuous access to nutritious food, quality health care and a safe home, there are many others who don’t. And for those who don’t, the consequences are far reaching, not only to their health but to the very core of their identity, family connections and faith that the world can be a good place.

The just-released Family Matters Report, which describes the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care, notes that a family’s access to safe and healthy housing has a profound impact on their ability to provide safe and supportive care for their children. When families cannot provide this kind of environment, it is often seen as ‘neglect’ and children are removed so they can be ‘safe’.  The paradox, as we know from my office’s own data, is that too many children and young people continue to feel, and remain, unsafe while in care.

According to the report, nearly one third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are living below the poverty line, noting that poverty and homelessness are significant factors in decisions to remove children from their homes.

This alarming statistic reflects the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care; nearly 35% of children currently in care in SA are Aboriginal, with the nationwide rate being similar to that in SA.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children who are removed from their homes suffer greatly from disconnection from their culture, destabilising their sense of identity and undermining relationships with their family and wider community. They are also more likely to be in care for the long-term and are less likely to be reunified with their family than non-Indigenous children.

Children don’t necessarily care for the fancy house and toys.  In fact, as highlighted in the SA Commissioner for Children and Young People’s latest report Leave No One Behind children weren’t so much concerned about the home in which they live and its contents as the emotional toll that ‘poverty stress’ creates in their families not being able to afford the basic necessities to run a household and provide safe care.

This presents us all with a wider, more systemic issue: how to ensure that families can afford to live sustainably and with dignity? There is now a chorus of voices across the social and political spectrum calling for an increase in Newstart, for instance, which has not been raised in real terms for 23 years.  From the OECD to local councils, from KPMG, former Prime Minister John Howard, the Business Council of Australia and the South Australian parliament (with unanimous multi-party support) to ACOSS and many organisations devoted to helping families in need, they all recognise that no-one can live adequately on Newstart. At a time when we have the highest number of children ever living away from their families under care and protection orders in South Australia, this is not an issue we can afford to look away from.

One of the recommendations from the Family Matters Report is to focus on preventative action and early intervention by ensuring families can obtain the resources and supports they need to provide safe care to their kids.

We all know that children can thrive when their parents are supported, and that prevention and timely intervention can be the key to children’s health and wellbeing. Rather than a future that sees more and more children taken away from their families, culture and community because of ’unsafe’ environments, it is crucial to invest in the resources families need for the healthy and safe environment in which their children can thrive. Not only will this benefit every child or young person who can ultimately stay at home with their family – but SA as a whole, as thriving kids and families contribute to a stronger, safer community.

 

ANZCCG commends documentary ‘In My Blood It Runs’

An upcoming documentary that tells the story of Dujuan, a 10-year-old Arrernte/Garrwa boy, as he tries to overcome systemic injustices, has been given full support by the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ANZCCG).

As SA Guardian and Training Centre Visitor, Penny Wright is a member of this peak body, which is made up of those entrusted with safeguarding the rights and interests of children and young people in Australia and New Zealand. After watching an advanced screening of ‘In My Blood It Runs’ earlier this year, the ANZCCG have issued a joint statement commending the documentary and highlighting the ‘value and importance of listening to and understanding children’s voices and experiences from their own perspective’.

‘In My Blood It Runs’ follows the charismatic young ‘healer,’ Dujuan, and his family as they share their experiences trying to prevent Dujuan from entering the criminal justice system. After becoming increasingly disengaged from school, Dujuan soon comes under the watchful eye of the police and welfare agencies. But through the love and support of his family and community, Dujuan has been able to avoid falling into the justice system and has begun a powerful campaign to raise the awareness of addressing systemic racism that young Aboriginal children too often face.

Dujuan travelled to Geneva earlier this month and gained significant media coverage when he became one of the youngest people ever to give a speech to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. He shared his experiences about the youth justice system to build support for Aboriginal-led education models that would help prevent youth offending and support their connection to their culture and language. You can watch his speech here.

The ANZCCG encourages all Australians to watch this film and to share its message of ‘children having access to culturally safe, inclusive schools; addressing systemic racism in all our institutions; and preventing the criminalisation of young children like Dujuan, including reforms to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility’.

‘In My Blood It Runs’ will be in cinemas in February 2020.

Read the full ANZCCG statement.

Young people share cultural considerations in court project

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people continue to be overrepresented in South Australia’s youth justice system. In 2017-18, Aboriginal children and young people made up 66 per cent of the average daily 10 to 17 year olds in detention in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre. This is despite constituting less than five per cent of the state’s total population of children and young people.

In response to these concerning statistics, the Courts Administration Authority (CAA) called on Training Centre Advocate Travis Thomas and Advocate, Aboriginal Children Conrad Morris from the Office of the Guardian to assist with a project to interview Aboriginal young people about their experiences in the youth justice, child protection and courts systems.

Travis and Conrad were asked to identify young people that could be involved in the project. They then held an initial workshop to brief the young people on what the process would involve and what kind of questions they may be asked. This created a safe environment that allowed the young people to open up about their experiences.

Despite being initially surprised at being asked to participate, both young people were eager to get involved and share their stories.

Training Centre Advocate, Travis Thomas, behind the scenes of filming

Led by Justice Martin Hinton, this was part of a larger project that aims to bridge the gap in existing cultural awareness training for Judges and Magistrates. The project interviewed Aboriginal South Australians of different ages and from different mobs, including Stolen Generations. It aimed to draw on the experiences of Aboriginal people who have come into contact with the justice system and bring to life the findings of many reports published.

‘That would help us to overcome things like systemic racism and ethnocentrism, and to better understand what we needed to do to deliver justice to Aboriginal people appearing in our courts,’ Justice Hinton says.

The CAA wanted to speak with young people in care and custody because of the known correlation between care experience and imprisonment later in life.

One of the key things Justice Hinton took away from the project is the understanding that things started going wrong for the young people when they were removed from their family and community.

‘Being taken into care and into custody separates them from family, many family members are also in custody. The effect on culture, identity and self-esteem is devastating. They struggle to know who they are,’ Justice Hinton says.

Both young people shared pride in their Aboriginal heritage with one saying, ‘it’s good because it makes me feel like I belong somewhere. Not every person can say I belong to these people and everything like that.’

With maturity and conviction beyond their years, they shared their lived experience of the system and dealing with the intergenerational trauma they have experienced as young Aboriginal people.

Another take away from the project was that young people don’t feel like they’re being listened to when they’re in court.

‘Children and young people in particular can lose their voice in the systems—they are talked at, not too or with. This is a familiar experience within the court system where children and young people rely on their representative to talk for them,’ says Travis.

This was affirmed, with one of the young people saying, ‘sometimes when I’m in court I’ll tell my lawyer to say stuff, he says it but he doesn’t say it in the way that I want him to say it’ and ‘I never understand what they say in court. I always ask to speak to my lawyer after to tell me what happened… You’re just in and out and then you have to be like what just happened, I don’t know.’

The young people involved voiced their opinions on what cultural considerations the Judges and Magistrates need to think about when working with Aboriginal young people.

When asked what they think the Judges don’t understand about being Aboriginal, one of the young people replied, ‘they don’t understand us. They don’t take the time to talk to us properly or talk to people that know us. Like if the Judge sat there and talked to my Nana, I reckon they would think different about me.’

Justice Hinton acknowledges that this program is, of course, not a silver bullet. However, he hopes the understanding taken from project will have a knock-on effect on the profession and begin to filter back into society generally.

‘This project will be a step in the all too slow process of the change that must happen,’ he says.

When asked what they would change about the system, one young person said it would be to ‘employ people who’ve already been through law and that. They could come in and help. Like other Indigenous people, non-Indigenous people, but still that’s been through the jail system. They would have a better understanding.’

Many others assisted the CAA and the Office of the Guardian in the project’s development and consultation. These included Steven Van Diermen from CAA, Shane Tongerie from Youth Justice and the Department of Child Protection for supporting the two young people to participate.

Connect to Culture Children’s Day

Last Friday staff from the Office of the Guardian joined in the celebrations of this year’s national Children’s Day at the Aboriginal Family Support Services’ Connect to Culture Children’s Day event.

Now in its third year, the event, which was held at the Parafield Gardens Recreation Centre, was a great way to celebrate the culture and strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and learn about the importance of culture, family and community in their lives.

There were a number of activities for children and adults alike, including weaving, painting, boomerang making, face painting, balloon twisting, jumping castles and live music.

To the delight of the children (and adults), Oog also made a surprise appearance and even busted out a few moves on the dance floor.


Aboriginal Family Support Services Cultural Advisor, Barbara Falla organised the third Connect to Culture event.