NZ remand homes emphasise culture and connection

In 2017-18, half of the young people detained in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre were on remand, awaiting trial or sentencing.  Though not convicted of an offence, they are removed, often far, from family, community and culture adding to their stress and social dislocation and placing them into contact with young people already experienced in serious offending.

Faced with a similar situation, youth justice authorities in New Zealand have trialed a different approach.

Te Whare Awhi or ‘the home of support’ is a community-based remand home in Palmerston North in New Zealand’s north island. It opened in late 2017 and is one of five of its kind across the country. It provides an alternative to youth justice detention or police cells for young people on remand.

The intention is to create a safe home-like environment for young people going through the court process without taking them away from their community.

The length of stay depends on the circumstances, but the average is 30 days.

Kyle Kuiti is the Operations Manager of Youth Justice Residences and was previously Manager of Youth Justice Residence in Palmerston North, including Te Whare Awhi.

‘Taking them away from community strips them of everything…’

Mr Kuiti said this new approach sets residents up for a far more successful transition back to community.

‘Taking them away from community strips them of everything and then we’re left wondering why they fail,’ he said.

Initially, the remand homes were for young people on the lower end of the offending spectrum but they now house those charged with more serious offences for whom it is judged likely to be effective.

Before remand homes were established, there were few options for young people on remand. As in South Australia, young people were placed in youth justice detention because there was nowhere else for them to go.

The remand homes keep young people charged with minor offending away from more serious offenders and help prevent them returning to the justice system.

During their time in the remand homes, young Māoris remain part of the community. They’re encouraged to get involved with sporting clubs and other positive social activities and encouraged and supported to engage with education.

Kyle Kuiti said that initially communities were tentative when the remand homes were opened but now attitudes have changed.

‘When we do community projects now, the neighbours come in to give their support,’ he said.

New Zealand’s Māori young people are over-represented in the youth justice system, as are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in Australia.

‘Everything we do is wrapped around culture…’

Mr Kuiti said incorporating Māori culture in youth justice is vital and that it’s at the centre of their practice.

‘Everything we do is wrapped around culture. Prior to this, we would talk about culture but we didn’t invest in it,’ he said.

Te whare tapa whā is a Māori model of care. It identifies four areas of Māori health—taha whanau (family health), taha tinana (physical health), taha hinengaro (mental health) and taha wairu (spiritual health).

The model envisages each of these as the four walls needed for the house to be strong. If one wall is weak or out of balance, the house is not stable.

Kyle Kuiti said this approach and model of care works with all young people, not just young Māoris.

‘We might just need to adapt it a little to fit with their culture. It’s not about trying to squeeze a family to fit into the model, it’s about working with them to make it fit for them.’

The remand homes are part of the community, not removed from it. Across New Zealand, iwi—Māori communities or extended kinship groups deliver a range of social services. Kyle Kuiti said it involves working with communities, rebuilding trust and connecting families with available services.

‘It’s about empowering communities to take care of themselves and working with families to determine their needs.’

‘We want to help young people realise they would rather be in communities than in a youth justice residence,’ he said.

The importance of a strong connection to culture

From observations and conversations with young residents, the Training Centre Visitor Unit has stressed the importance of a strong connection to culture for residents of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre – and the New Zealand model has appeal.

‘Allowing young people awaiting trial or sentencing to stay close to their community in a homelike facility would mean they could maintain vital kinship and cultural connections,’ said Training Centre Visitor Penny Wright.

In May this year, New Zealand’s Office of the Children’s Commissioner conducted a review of Oranga Tamariki—Ministry for Children and looked at remand decision-making for young people and their whānau (extended family or local community of related families). Its recommendations include that Oranga Tamariki significantly increase the number of community-based remand and specialist care options and that these facilities be located close to whānau and staffed by people experienced in working with young people.

Aboriginal children and young people in care and juvenile detention 2017-18

Aboriginal[1] children and young people are vastly over-represented in out-of-home care and the youth justice system. The Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services 2019 (ROGS 2019) demonstrates that South Australia is no exception.

Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care

Aboriginal children make up a third (33 per cent) of children and young people in out-of-home care in South Australia. This is despite constituting less than five per cent of the state’s total population of children and young people.

Aboriginal children and young people represent 34 per cent of those in residential care, with the majority placed in foster and relative-kinship care.

As the number of Aboriginal children and young people entering care has increased, the percentage placed in accordance with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle (ATSICPP) has fallen. ATSICPP seeks to place Aboriginal children (in order of priority) with their family or relatives, within their communities, with other Aboriginal people, or near their community. In 2018, 65 per cent were placed in accordance with the ATSICPP, down from 74.4 per cent in 2009.

At 30 June 2018, 31 per cent of Aboriginal children and young people had been in continuous out-of-home care for between two and five years. At the same time, 41 per cent had been in continuous care for five years or more, which is actually lower than the percentage of non-Aboriginal children and young people (46.7 per cent).

Aboriginal children and young people in youth justice

In 2017-18, Aboriginal children and young people comprised two-thirds (66 per cent) of the daily average of 10 to 17 year olds in detention. This is considerably greater than the national average of 57 per cent.

The number of Aboriginal girls and young women in detention is lower than Aboriginal males, but make up a high proportion of all girls and young women detained.

Spending on youth detention

Our analysis of ROGS 2019 finds South Australia’s spending per child on detention-based youth justice services has moved increasingly closer to the national average in recent years. In 2017-18, South Australia’s spending per child was $213.83, compared to the national average of $215.50. South Australia had the third lowest rate of expenditure per child when compared to other states and territories across the country.

Charts, statistics and more analysis in our Snapshot of South Australian Aboriginal Children and Young People in Care and/or Detention from the Report on Government Services 2019, available for download below.


[1] Aboriginal community preference in South Australia is that the term Aboriginal is inclusive of Torres Strait Islander people, a usage we generally adopt in our reports.

Aboriginal children and young people in care and detention

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A new focus on family

By Guardian Penny Wright and Malcolm Downes

The State Government’s newly announced strategy An Intensive Support System for South Australia’s children and families promises a more sustained and holistic response to child protection by shifting the focus to families.  Under the strategy the Child and Family Assessment and Referral Networks (CFARNs), the Child Wellbeing Practitioner and Strong Start programs will be brought together in a new Intensive Support Unit to be formed in the Department for Human Services.

The family, in its many styles and structures, remains at the core of human society.  It is how we care for each other, a basic economic unit, a basis for our sense of who we are, a psychological comfort and a vehicle for raising our children.  It is also the site of some of our greatest problems, of violence, abuse and neglect.  Over generations it can perpetuate our noblest aspirations but also nurture our darkest failings.  For some families, problems with poverty, debt, unemployment, drug misuse, mental illness, family violence, insecure housing and contact with the justice system combine to create major barriers to the enjoyment of the relative wellbeing and wealth that our community has to offer.

Informed by the research commissioned on the back of the Nyland Royal Commission into the Child Protection System in SA, the Department’s planned Intensive Support Unit promises to focus squarely on the families with the most entrenched and challenging issues.  It aims to work with families to identify issues they face and coordinate the services and supports they need in sustained way.  In the past we have striven to ‘rehabilitate’ the individual young offender or ‘cure’ the person with a mental illness without regard for the social circumstances they came from and to which, in all likelihood, they will return.  The Department’s new strategy will refocus the bulk of the family support, domestic violence and children’s support services that it provides and contracts on these families.

‘Troubled Families’

The rationale and structure resembles the Troubled Families program that has been in place in the United Kingdom since 2012. The program recently released its National evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme 2015-2020: Findings Evaluation overview policy reportIn the UK program, intervention is based on a keyworker who builds an understanding of problems and of the individual family dynamics. They look at the totality of what’s going on and use what the report calls ‘a persistent and assertive approach establishing a relationship with the family and working closely with them to make sure the family resolve their problems’. The keyworker agrees on a plan with the family and local services so that interventions are sequenced and coordinated and there is a shared ownership of outcomes among service providers.

The evaluation report shows some headline gains including an almost one-third reduction in children being taken into care after a 19-24 month intervention and a one-quarter reduction in young people receiving custodial sentences.  The economic benefits and net budget savings modeled in the report make a strong argument for the UK Government to persist with the program.

We should anticipate that the South Australian strategy, like Troubled Families, will encounter some challenges as it is rolled out.  Services will need to adapt their practice, data collection and information sharing to a family-based way of working – and being funded.  We can look to the NDIS as an example of the difficulties a change of service and funding model can produce for clients and providers if not well managed, no matter how well intended. The shift to a payment-by-results model can produce distortions in the provision of services and a gaming of the system if not well-conceived and managed from the outset.

Aboriginal families

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the new strategy will be how well it addresses the outcomes for Aboriginal families. The last Closing the Gap report confirmed that, after more than ten years of investment, we still struggle to provide services to the Aboriginal community that are culturally safe, trusted and effective.  If we shift the focus to families we will have to understand and embrace an Aboriginal concept of family which is very different in how it operates to the white European model on which much of our current system is based.  On top of that we will have to translate what words like ‘disadvantaged’, ‘troubled’, ‘struggling’, ‘complex’, and the many other policy terms governments use, mean to Aboriginal families. It will need to develop an understanding of how Aboriginal families define their needs and what success means to them.

To its credit, the new DHS strategy explicitly acknowledges the necessity for serious Aboriginal involvement in the design and governance of the new system and in the decisions that affect the lives of Aboriginal families and children.  Getting this right for Aboriginal families will be a touchstone for the success of the strategy as a whole and its ability to serve the very diverse set of groupings and relationships that we call ‘family’ in the 21st Century.

Some gaps closed but many remain for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

More than a decade on from the original report, the 2019 Closing the Gap report shows only two of the seven original targets are on track to be met.

Important targets around education, health and employment have expired before they were met, while other targets to halve the gap in life expectancy remain off track.

These shortfalls perpetuate Aboriginal disadvantage and contribute directly and indirectly to the high proportion of Aboriginal children and young people coming into state care and coming into contact with the youth justice system.

What’s been achieved?

The target to see 95 per cent of all Indigenous four year olds enrolled in early education by 2025 is on track to be met. In 2017, South Australia had education enrolments about the 95 per cent benchmark with universal enrolments.

Halving the gap in Year 12 attainment, or equivalent, by 2020 is on track to be met. Nationally, the gap has decreased from 36 percentage points in 2006 to 24 percentage points in 2016.

What’s remains to be done?

A number of the original targets expired last year, on the tenth anniversary of Closing the Gap. These included a target to halve the gap in child mortality. While the rate has declined by 10 per cent since 2008, the gap has widened because the non-Indigenous rate has declined faster.

The national school attendance rate was around 82 per cent for Indigenous students in 2018. There has been no improvement in school attendance rates for indigenous students in South Australia in the last four years. While there has been improvement, targets to close the gap in literacy and numeracy have also not been met.

Large gaps remain between the life expectancy of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The target to close the gap within a generation, by 2031, is also not on track to be met.

Targets to halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade have not been met. The gap has not only not narrowed, but it has widened.

After 11 years of Closing the Gap significant gaps remain. Ambitious targets were set but many observers have noted that the failure to work closely with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and to make the necessary structural, systemic changes have led to a largely disappointing result.

What’s next?

The latest Closing the Gap report promises a new collaborative approach.

Last year, the council of Australian Governments (COAG) developed Closing the Gap Refresh. It commits the Commonwealth Government to creating a partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives to ensure the next phase is driven by principles of empowerment and self-determination.

Indigenous advocates have pushed for new targets to address the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in out-of-home care.

Nationally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are ten times more likely to enter out-of-home care than their non-Indigenous counterparts. It’s predicted the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care will more than triple over the next 20 years without intervention.

In South Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are seven times more likely to be in care than the same age group in the general population and Draft Closing the Gap Refresh Targets mandate targets that will see significant and sustained program to eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are still over-represented in the justice system, making up more than 50 per cent of young Australians in detention. Another state led target is to reduce the rate of young people in detention by 11 to 19 per cent by 2028.

Under the new framework, different levels of government are held accountable and responsible for different priorities. State and territory governments will also be required to make annual reports on its Closing the Gap strategies and progress.

The Productivity Commission’s Indigenous Commissioner will also independently review progress every three years.

There is still much of the new strategy that is uncertain as federal, state and territory governments finalise the draft targets and develop appropriate responses. For example, South Australian government released its Aboriginal education strategy late last year to increase outcomes for Aboriginal students but it remains to be seen how it will work to meet these targets to close the gap of young people in out-of-home care and youth justice.

Australia reports to the UN on child rights

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is one of the most important documents in preserving the rights of children around the world.

Every five years the Australian Government must report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, a requirement of Australia as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Australian Government is currently preparing for its meeting with the Committee, following the release of its report in January 2018.

In this post, we look at two accompanying reports responding to Australia’s report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The Australian Child Rights Taskforce is a peak body made up of more than 100 organisations advocating for the rights of Australian children. Convened by UNICEF Australia, the taskforce released its ‘alternative’ report, which includes the voices of 572 children and young people consulted in 30 locations around the country. It makes 191 recommendations to promote and protect the rights of children in Australia.

Similarly, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), an independent statutory organisation promoting and protecting human rights in Australia, released a report. It was written following consultations with approximately 450 children and a further 22,700 through an online national poll on child rights.

While the Government’s report is no longer available online, these two reports look exhaustively at matters relating to children in Australia. We are considering some of the areas relating specifically to children and young people in out-of-home care.

Since Australia last reported to the Committee, there have been 24 separate inquiries, which have each identified issues with the child protection sector. The AHRC report finds the number of children and young people in out-of-home care has increased by 18 per cent in the past five years. The alternative report identifies problems with inconsistency and a lack of emphasis on frameworks being child centred.

Concerns for care leavers

Both reports identify concerns with young people leaving out-of-home care, with the AHRC report finding nearly 35 per cent of young people who leave out-of-home care become homeless. Last year the South Australian Government committed to extending the age young people leave out-of-home care from 18 to 21 years of age.

However, this does not yet include the 11 per cent of children and young people in residential and emergency care. Both reports recommend the Australian Government increase, or consider increasing, the age children leave care and call on governments to implement policy to prepare young people transitioning to independence.

Over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people

The reports are both concerned with the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in child protection and out-of-home care. Indigenous children are almost ten times more likely to enter out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children.

The alternative report makes a number of recommendations in this area, including the implementation of nationally consistent standards to respect all five elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Placement Principle. It also calls on the Australian Government to commit to ‘Closing the Gap’ targets to reduce the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care.

Transgender and gender diverse young people

Transgender and gender diverse children in Australia can now access Stage 2 medical treatment without requiring court authorisation, but this does not extend to include children and young people in the out-of-home care and juvenile justice systems. These children still require a court authorisation to begin treatment.

What’s next?

The UN Committee will consider the findings of these reports ahead of the formal meeting with Australia. At the end of this process, the UN Committee will provide the Australian Government with its Concluding Observations, which will include progress made by Australia and recommendations for improvement.

While the Committee cannot legally enforce its recommendations, it can provide guidance for the Australian Government to improve its practice and better protect the rights of children and young people. The process is also the opportunity to highlight specific issues, like those discussed above, and create interest for the public and other advocates to hold the Australian Government to account and to take action.

Some favourite artwork from young people in care

We would like to share with you some of our favorite artworks from young Aboriginal people in residential care that have come to our notice in the past year.  Please click on the thumbnails to see a bigger version.

Aboriginal children and young people in care and juvenile detention 2016-17

The proportion of Aboriginal children not placed according to the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle has continued to rise.

South Australia’s Aboriginal1 children and young people are vastly over-represented in in state care and in detention centres, according to the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services 2018 (ROGS 2018) and the trends are not positive.

The ROGS 2018 data on child protection showed that at 30 June 2017, Aboriginal children and young people comprised 33 per cent of all of those on care and protection orders and were 7.3 times as likely to be in out-of-home care as non-Aboriginal young people. In 2010-11 Aboriginal children and young people were 6.1 times as likely to be in care.

The proportion of Aboriginal young people placed according to the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle (i.e. with kin, within their community or with Aboriginal families), has been declining in recent years from 76.4 per cent in 2009 to 62.5 per cent in 2017, below the national average of 67.6 per cent. (See the chart at the head of this story.)

Though comprising 33 per cent of children and young people in care, Aboriginal children and young people comprised 38 percent of the population in residential care.

The ROGS 2018 data on youth justice services showed that in 2015-16, 58 per cent of the population of 10-17 year olds in youth detention were Aboriginal and that proportion has been growing in recent years. South Australia had significantly higher rates of detention of Aboriginal children and young people than the Australian average.

We present more data and charts about this subject from ROGS 2017 in the Guardian’s Snapshot of South Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People in Care and/or Youth Detention from the Report on Government Services 2016-17.

Download the Snapshot of South Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People in Care and/or Youth Detention from the Report on Government Services 2016-17 now.

1 Aboriginal community preference in South Australia is that the term Aboriginal is inclusive of Torres Strait Islander people, a usage we generally adopt in our reports

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.

The government promises to do better for Aboriginal children in care

16 May 2017

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Aboriginal children are disproportionately represented in the care system. They comprise about one third of children in care, and the trend points to further increases. As well as the trauma and dislocation felt by all children coming into care, they face the extra risk of removal from, or loss of access to, their culture, language and community.

Commissioner Nyland’s October 2016 report recommended widespread changes to how child protection services related to Aboriginal children and communities and the Government’s response in December 2016 accepted most of those recommendations.

The Government undertook to:

  • Develop an Aboriginal recruitment and retention strategy in the Department for Child Protection (DCP) as part of the workforce strategy (R 30) to increase the numbers of  and support for Aboriginal staff (R 187 and 188) and non-Aboriginal staff working with Aboriginal children (R 222).
  • Place Aboriginal staff in the Child Abuse Report Line call centre to assist with the assessment of Aboriginal families at the point of notification (R 34).
  • Make reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal children in the child protection system a priority in the work of the planned Early Intervention Research Directorate (R 50).
  • Incorporate the particular needs of Aboriginal children in kinship care when developing the new leaving care model (R 163).
  • Review the selection, training and supervision of kinship carers and placements. (Aboriginal children are highly represented in kinship care and we discussed this reform in detail in our post on home based care from January this year).
  • Ensure that a recognised Aboriginal agency is consulted on all placement decisions involving Aboriginal children (R 189).
  • Set up a a dedicated scoping unit within the DCP to research family connections and prepare genograms (R 190).
  • Provide all practitioners with training, support and clinical supervision to give them the knowledge, skills and techniques to work effectively with Aboriginal children and families (R191).
  • Identify evidence-based service models for early intervention that meet the needs of Aboriginal children and families (R 192).
  • Commission not-for-profit agencies to develop service models that can respond to higher-risk Aboriginal families with multiple, complex needs (R 194).
  • Develop assessment tools to be used in the new child and family assessment and referral networks that specifically consider the needs of Aboriginal children and families and consult with the local Aboriginal community and service providers (R 196).
  • Ensure that at least one Principal Aboriginal Consultant in the DCP has experience and expertise in remote Aboriginal communities (R 202).
  • Implement the Education Dashboard to provide access to information about schools and school students that can be viewed and accessed by staff both in DECD and the DCP  (R 210).
  • Identify evidence-based service models for early intervention that meet the needs of Aboriginal children and families and develop a best practice evaluation framework for existing early intervention and prevention programs R212).
  • Create an early intervention service for families in remote communities who could benefit from support to prevent escalation of issues (R 212).
  • Upgrade facilities at Mimili and Yalata to provide for playgroups, preschools and other services that visit those communities (R 213).
  • Develop and deliver training programs and tools for staff and carers to promote culturally informed practice (R 235).
  • Identify performance indicators on the cultural competency of the agency’s workforce, and regularly review the effect of these recommendations on that competency (R 237).

There is more information about the numbers of Aboriginal children in care in last week’s post Statistics on Aboriginal children and young people in care and juvenile detention 2015-16 .

Watch out for the next posts in this series which set out the Government’s response to the Nyland report in the areas of education and collaboration.