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.

 

 

 

Statistics on Aboriginal children and young people in care and juvenile detention 2015-16

Children 10-17 yrs on care and protection orders in SA at June 2016 (n=3448)

South Australia’s Aboriginal[1] children and young people are vastly overrepresented in in state care and in detention centres, according to the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services 2017 (ROGS 2017).

In 2015-16, 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, allowing for their numbers in the population.

At June 2016, Aboriginal children and young people comprised 47.9 per cent of 10-17 year-olds in youth justice detention in South Australia while they made up only 4.5 per cent of that age group in the total population.

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 2017.

Download the snapshot now.

1 In this report we use the term ‘Aboriginal’ to include people  who identify both as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

Aboriginal culture and connection in residential care

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

Margaret Nyland[1]

20 February, 2017When Advocates from the Guardian’s Office start monitoring residential care facilities for children and young people in state care in 2017, it will be armed with a new focus on Aboriginal[2] culture and connection and a new set of tools to complement it. (See the previous item on the Guardian’s website New indicators focus on Aboriginal culture and connection.)

‘Our visit to each residential care house is necessarily quite short’, said Advocate Jodie Evans, ‘and so we try to spend as much time talking and hanging out with the residents as possible.’

‘We take time to review the records of the house before we visit.  This gives us some valuable data and insights  into how things are going at the house before we arrive.

‘Sometimes you can talk with young people about their Aboriginal culture and connections quite freely but for many it can be a sensitive and private subject and not something readily shared with a relative stranger.

‘The really important thing is not that they have those conversations with us but that they are having those conversations with someone and that their needs and wishes are being acted on.

‘How well this is being done can be hard to judge in the relatively short time we have in the young people’s space but there are a few good indicators.

‘Sometimes as an Advocate you can just look around – is there Aboriginal artwork on the walls, pictures of Aboriginal performers and athletes and music and TV shows featuring Aboriginal talent. This can be one indication of honouring and nurturing a resident’s Aboriginal identity.

‘Another indicator is the keeping of an Aboriginal Life Story Book and a memory box. If it’s done well and with the full involvement of the young person, it can show that that the house is making an effort to nurture their Aboriginal culture.

‘Likewise, Advocates will look for evidence of participation, not only in activities linked to popular Aboriginal events such as NAIDOC Week, but also of efforts to link the Aboriginal resident to communities that share personal connections, language and cultural ties.

‘For some young people, a visit to country, their community and their culture is invaluable in developing their Aboriginal identity.  We know that to do it well requires a great investment of effort and cooperation but to have done so is powerful evidence to an Advocate of serious commitment to meeting residents’ cultural needs.

‘We know that residential care staff cannot do this work alone.  Without receiving the information held by others and the practical support from others, their best efforts will be seriously limited.  Our Advocates will be looking for evidence of an active involvement of other professionals such as case workers, Principal Aboriginal Consultants and teachers.

‘We will also be looking out for the use of the new Aboriginal Cultural Identity Support Tool. The in-depth information captured by the tool, if it is passed on sensitively, can be invaluable in helping residential care houses to best direct their efforts in rebuilding and strengthening connections to culture for their Aboriginal residents.

‘We are looking forward to getting out and among the young people and staff in residential care this year and especially to finding and sharing examples of good cultural support.

‘Around the middle of the year, we will also be taking a good look at how effective our monitoring has been in supporting real improvement in the provision of cultural support to young Aboriginal residents,’ she said.

1 The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report, Volume 1: Summary and Report(Government of South Australia, 2016) available at http://www.agd.sa.gov.au/child-protection-systems-royal-commission

2 For this article, where we use the term Aboriginal we shall take it to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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