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 [email protected] 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.

Office of the Guardian celebrates NAIDOC Week

This NAIDOC week we were fortunate to be involved in a number of events celebrating the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

This year’s theme ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s work together for a shared future‘ acknowledges that Indigenous Australians have always wanted a greater role in the nation’s decision making processes.

Office of the Guardian and Training Centre Visitor staff at the NAIDOC Family Fun Day

Office of the Guardian and Training Centre Visitor Unit staff joined in the celebrations at the South Australian NAIDOC Family Fun Day at Tarntanyangga (Victoria Square). The event followed the NAIDOC March and included more than 40 stall holders from government and non-government organisations.

Unfortunately, the rainy weather kept Oog away, but the staff team had valuable discussions and shared some of our resources.

Voice. Treaty. Truth. poster painted by Arrin Hazelbane

Arrin Hazelbane from the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People kindly allowed us to display his poster at our stall after the march.

Office of the Guardian resources at the stall

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.