There’s still time to register to be part of the Charter of Rights review!

cartoon circle of children

Have you registered the children and young people in your care to have a say about their rights? As part of the review of the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care, we want to know what matters most to these young people.

We have a bunch of activities for all ages, from being part of a workshop, chatting to one of our advocates, to sharing their thoughts on our online survey. We also have a fun activity book – filled with colouring-in sheets and puzzles to solve – to educate young children about their rights, and to ask them what makes them feel happy and cared for.

If you would like a copy of the activity book, or to register for any of our other activities, just complete the online Youth participation form by 5pm on Friday 3 July.

Don’t miss the opportunity for the young people in your care to have a say about what matters most to them!

If you would like any more information about the activities or the review project please contact Mardy McDonald at [email protected].

Register for children and young people to have a say about their rights

We need your help! We are asking all children and young people in care, or with a care experience to have a say about their rights. What they tell us will help shape the revised Charter of Rights for Children and Young People.

Watch the video of Oog and friends asking for everyone’s help. (Please share this video with the children and young people in your care.)

How can children and young people have their say?

Children and young people can have their say by…

  • being part of a workshop*
  • having fun with an activity book
  • telling us what they think in an online survey
  • speaking to one of our advocates.

What you need to do

To help us determine what activity would best suit the children and young people in your care please complete the Youth participation form. Based on the information you give us, we will help you in deciding the most suitable activity. Please register by completing the form by Friday 3 July.

*If you are interested in running a workshop, an existing relationship with the group of young people or experience as a group facilitator with kids in care would be required. If you are unable to facilitate a workshop but think this would suit your group of children and young people, please let us know and we might be able to assist.​

What happens next?

Once we have received your Youth participation form, we will confirm what activity best suits the children and young people in your care. We will then provide you with the materials needed for the chosen activity. Consultation for feedback of the revised Charter closes on Friday 7 August 2020.

Want more information?

If you would like any more information about the activities or the review project please contact Mardy McDonald at [email protected].

Art workshops inspiring more than just a logo

Artist and youth mentor Shane Cook

A group of young people in the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre (formerly the Adelaide Youth Training Centre) recently put their artistic ideas to paper in a series of art workshops.

The workshops gave the young people the opportunity to inspire a new logo for the Training Centre Visitor, as well as providing input into a larger piece of artwork to design and promote the Charter of Rights for Youths Detained in Detention Centres. The added bonus for the young participants was the chance to work with Aboriginal artist and youth mentor Shane Mankitya Cook.

Throughout the workshops, Shane provided the young people, who were selected based on their own interest in art, guidance on getting artistic ideas onto paper and exploring these further. He also shared his own experience of growing up – which he described as ‘full of adversity’ – and how he overcame these challenges through art and connecting with his culture.​

Shane said working with the participants was a great experience for him and everyone involved.

“I’m very passionate about helping others engage in mindful activities such as art, as I have experienced how powerful it can be for our mental health,” Shane said.

“Also assisting young people with an opportunity to create artwork that will then go on to be published is a great accomplishment. The participants engaged with the workshops really well. I am very proud of them and the work they contributed to this project,” he said.

The centre’s Programs Manager Paul Aardenburg was also pleased with the young people’s involvement in the workshops and Shane’s ability to quickly develop a great rapport with them.

“Shane shared his journey with the young people and reinforced to them that positive change is possible,” Paul said.

Shane will now take the ideas created in the workshops and build on these to develop a logo and artwork for the Charter, alongside a graphic designer. This work is part of a bigger project that is currently underway to develop some exciting branding for our office which we hope to launch in a few months.

We would like to thank the young participants, Shane, and Paul and his team for all their efforts in being part of the workshops.

Feedback from all those involved said the workshops were excellent and the young people were especially excited to see the finished product. We couldn’t agree more!

Artwork in the making.

 

Young care leavers tell their story straight up in new podcast

A new podcast made by young care leavers is giving them a space to talk about their life’s experiences and to guide other young people about navigating the world upon leaving care.

With candid conversations covering a variety of topics, from what life has been like during COVID-19, having a child while in care, to a wrap-up of last year’s CREATE Conference, the podcast is aimed at breaking down the social stigma of being in care and creating a community where young people can openly share their stories.

The podcast is part of the GOM Central Project and is led by Relationships Australia South Australia Communication and Development Project Officer Eleanor Goodbourn, backed up by a team of young care leavers.

The podcast team have spent countless hours working through topic ideas, and then finding other young people who are happy to share their stories. With the help of an external consultant, the team has also been getting hands-on learning about the art of making a podcast, from the basic principles of storytelling, to the editing and publishing of the final audio.

Young care leaver Jamie-Lee who has played a large role in the making the podcast said the name Straight Up comes from being as up front as they can be.

“There’s nothing people can’t talk about it. It’s about being real and giving young people the respect to talk about things without being judged,” Jamie-Lee said.

“It’s about young people knowing their rights and us providing resources, breaking down topics, and making the information accessible for them,” Jamie-Lee said.

Jamie-Lee said the podcast enables young people to access information, advice and firsthand stories no matter where they are, especially those people who would prefer to just sit back and listen in the comfort of their own home.

“The podcast is aimed at filling in the information gaps for young people. There was so much we [young people in care] wished we knew,” Jamie-Lee said.

Eleanor agreed that young people often felt they are not provided with enough information to fully understand things, and as a result feel lost and disempowered.

“In care young people are often not given full explanations of things. They feel like they are treated as children with certain topics being avoided [like that of pregnancy and drug use],” Eleanor added.

Eleanor and Jamie-Lee said the project has been a big learning curve, with so much more to learn and explore.

“It’s been great learning about other people’s stories and looking at things from a different perspective,” Eleanor said. “And of course, the process of making podcasts has been a huge lesson.”

Jamie-Lee said the team has only just touched the tip of the iceberg of topics that they can delve into and is looking forwarding to the podcast’s future.

The team are already working on Season 2 which will have a focus on financial wellbeing, and hope that in the near future the podcast will be solely created and produced by the young people themselves.

You can listen to the latest episodes of the Straight Up podcast at the GOM Central website.

If you are a young care leaver or know someone who is and they would like to be part of the next series of the Straight Up podcast, contact the podcast team on 0491 091 702.

New virtual monitoring program is switched on

Hearing the voices of children and young people in residential care will be the focus of a new monitoring program that has kicked off this week. Our team of GCYP advocates will be conducting virtual meetings with children and young people living in residential facilities to find out what life is like for them, especially in the context of COVID-19. Face-to-face visits will follow once COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.

The virtual visits will enable children and young people to share their thoughts about how things are going at their placement, from what they like and don’t like about living there, to how their lives have been affected by COVID-19.

“We’re going directly to the voice of young people to find out what life is like for them in residential care,” Principal Advocate Merike Mannik said. “The real benefits of running the virtual visits with children and young people is that their voice is up front and centre.”

Principal Advocate Merike Mannik

“While these virtual meetings will give us the voice of the child, they will also help our advocates to build relationships with children and young people, as well as increasing the profile of our office and the work we do,” Merike said.

“Prior to COVID-19 we had planned to personally visit residential facilities once we had conducted a review of records and staff surveys. However, over the last few months we have re-assessed how we want the program to run, with the main focus being hearing the voices of children and young people. With the additional stresses created in young people’s lives from the pandemic we believed it was vital that we commence visits sooner rather than later and connect with children and young people online, with the plan to meet with them face-to-face in the future,” Merike said.

Choosing which residences to visit will combine a random selection and a more targeted approach based on feedback from young people, the Department for Child Protection and non-government service providers.

Children and young people will be provided with information about the visit and can decide whether or not they would like to participate. There is also the option for them to call our office, before or after the visit, to raise any private or sensitive matters.

If there are children and young people living in a residential facility who you think would particularly benefit from a virtual visit by one of our advocates, please let us know the name of the facility by emailing [email protected]

 

Review of rights of young people in care is set to begin

We are excited to announce we will be embarking on a project next month to review the rights of children and young people in care. Every child has rights but children who can’t live with their birth parents are entitled to a special set of rights to ensure their safety, health and wellbeing.

In 2006 our office worked with some children and young people in care – or with a care experience – and relevant stakeholders to develop this special set of rights, outlining what a child in care deserves and needs to live a safe and happy life. And so, the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care was born.

The Charter was tabled in parliament in 2010, with the requirement that every organisation and person who works with children and young people in care applies these rights to their everyday practice and dealings with these young people. The Charter is reviewed every five years to ensure the rights are still as important and relevant to this young cohort today.

Over the next few months we will be asking anyone who is interested, including people who have previously been under guardianship or in care, children and young people who are currently in care and others who have an interest, about their thoughts on the existing Charter.

This will be an opportunity to share any new ideas and thoughts you may have to reflect the rights of young people currently in care. There will be many ways you can have your say so stay tuned to our weekly blogs.

If you would like to receive updates about the review and be part of the project, we would welcome your interest and you can email Mardy McDonald at [email protected]. 

We look forward to working with you all to help shape a brighter life and future for these young people.

Call to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility

boy leaping in the air

Across Australia a child as young as 10 can be locked up in detention for breaking the law. Time in detention is meant to ‘teach them a lesson’ and to change their criminal behaviours, but all the evidence tells us detention does nothing to deter the child from committing future crimes. In fact, the younger the child is to have contact with youth justice, the higher the chances they have of further offending and starting on the path to a life-long involvement in the criminal justice system.

Last financial year, 51 individual children and young people aged between 10 and 13 were admitted to the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC). They were admitted a total of 131 times, meaning that on average, each was detained at the centre more than twice. It is important to note most children held in the AYTC have not even been convicted of committing a crime.

This raises a significant concern that these young children are not getting the right support they need to address their offending behaviours, both in detention and out in the community. Studies show that to help rehabilitate these young children they need access to family, culture, education, support for individual disabilities, and opportunities to promote healing from past trauma that many of this cohort have experienced.

There is a growing momentum in Australia to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14. This is supported by the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners and Guardians and backed up by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child who late last year called for Australia to raise the minimum age. The just released documentary, In My Blood It Runs, is also calling for change.

The Council of Attorneys General has set up a working group looking into the age of criminal responsibility. Last month our office provided feedback into the review, urging the working group to raise the minimum age to 14 as we believe the current practices do not provide the best outcomes for these vulnerable and disadvantaged young children.

Outlined in our submission we stated that the number of children detained disproportionately affects Aboriginal children (for example, in SA during 2017-18, there were 37 Aboriginal 10-13 year olds detained compared to 17 non-Aboriginal 10-13 year olds).

Children with a disability and those in care also made up a disproportionate number of children detained. We know that in 2017-18, almost a quarter of those detained in the AYTC were in care at the time of their admission. What we don’t know is how many of those young people come from a residential or commercial care environment – this is something we will address in our next dual status paper (to be out in the coming months).

In the meantime, we are urging change to protect the rights of these vulnerable young children and to prevent them from entering the youth justice system in the first place.

You can read our full submission to the working group.

Getting to know: our Guardian/Training Centre Visitor

Tell us about your role as the Guardian for Children and Young People and Training Centre Visitor.

These two roles are separate but related.

As the Guardian, I advocate for and promote the rights and best interests of the children and young people who are under the guardianship of the Chief Executive of the Department for Child Protection. In other words, ‘kids in care’. Although it is confusing, it’s important to note that my role does not mean that I am the legal guardian for children in care but I’m essentially here to ‘champion’ their rights.

As the Training Centre Visitor, I have a similar role for children and young people who have been sentenced or remanded to detention in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre. It is my job, with the help of my team, to promote and protect their interests and rights while they are detained.

I have various functions, in both roles, that relate to the safety and wellbeing of children and young people in care and detention. My jobs include monitoring their circumstances and providing advice to the relevant Minister.

As the Guardian and Training Centre Visitor, what are the benefits and challenges of carrying out both roles?

There is a real benefit to holding both roles at once. It means that I can get a broader perspective and unique insight into what life is like for children and young people in care and in detention. And, in fact, some of these kids fall into both categories. On average, about a fifth to a quarter of those who are detained in the training centre come from a care background.

Understanding this cohort of young people who are caught up in both systems, and the circumstances that lead to that ‘dual involvement’, helps me to identify the issues that my office and I really need to focus on if we are going to help them.

The main challenge of holding these two roles at once is that there are not enough hours in the day to do the work involved. My core business is to ensure children and young people, in care and detention, know about their rights and that their rights are upheld by the people and systems who work with them. That is a big ask and a big responsibility.

How do you assess when you should get involved with an advocacy matter, personally?

My office’s advocates do an outstanding job of working with children and young people on a daily basis. They are highly skilled in working with kids, and they do the lion’s share of advocacy, often achieving good results for the young people they assist, and also affirming their voice and their value in the process.

But when there are situations of serious concern that can’t be resolved, I will take on the matter and work with the Chief Executive of DCP or the Minister in question to raise their awareness and offer recommendations to help to resolve the matter.

Can a child and young person call to talk to you?

I love meeting and speaking to kids. But, because of the other work I have to do, the first point of call for a child and young person seeking advocacy from our office is to speak with our Assessment and Referral Officers (ARO). If the ARO identifies that my office has a role to play, they will put the child or young person in touch with the advocates. I work alongside our advocates and have input into complex or systemic issues, including consulting with children or young people and listening to what they have to say.

What is an average day like for you?

Like most office jobs, my day features many meetings and (too) much ‘screen’ time!  Luckily I have a standing desk so it’s not too unhealthy.

I usually catch the train to work and always start my day with a skinny flat white coffee to charge my batteries. First up, I attend to my emails then meet with my staff, read documents that inform me about the issues affecting the children and young people we work with, manage timesheets and leave approvals, consider the law and policy and check and write documents, letters and articles.

Most days I meet with other people who work in DCP, Youth Justice, the Ministers responsible for the roles I hold or people in other organisations. A highlight for me is when I can get out my office and visit the young people in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre or a residential care unit or meet with children and young people to hear their ideas. This helps keep my work ‘real’; I always learn a lot when I do and remember what we are working for in my office.

Sometimes I spend some time speaking to journalists as I think the community has a right to know about the work I do. Often my office is asked for views on a range of inquiries, investigations, forums and projects that affect children and young people.

On a good day my team and I will be able to celebrate a really positive outcome for a child or young person we’ve been helping, or a policy change or an improvement that will help more than one. On a bad day, we will feel frustrated or disappointed that we have not achieved as much as we want. But that just makes us more determined to keep going. An average day for me is pretty long – but never boring!

Natural advocacy – how you can empower a young person

Children and young people in care have not always had the time and support they need to develop the knowledge, skills or confidence to express their views and advocate for themselves. Navigating the child protection system can be a difficult task even for the most seasoned professionals – and much more so for the children and young people who are caught up in it.

The right to an advocate

One of the rights outlined in the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care is that children and young people have the right to speak to someone who can act on their behalf when they cannot do this.

The number of children and young people in care who may need advocacy support far outweighs the resources of the Guardian for Children and Young People. For this reason, children and young people in care need the adults in their existing network (both personal and professional) to advocate for them. Such adults can, and should, act to ensure that the voice and interests of each child and young person in care are represented.

We call this ‘natural advocacy’.

Natural advocacy supports the voice and rights of the child. As well as having their voice heard and their rights addressed, being involved with the advocacy process can allow young people to learn valuable lessons; that they have rights, including the right to be heard, that rights can be negotiated to achieve better outcomes, and the value of persistence.

As a ‘natural advocate’, you can work with a child or young person to help ensure:

  • they have a place to live where they are safe, cared for and respected
  • their views and wishes are asked for, and considered, in planning such as at care team meetings, case conferences or annual reviews
  • they are given the opportunity to participate in decisions that are made about matters such as school changes, placement moves, or family contact
  • they have access to services such as health, housing, mentors, cultural support, recreation and education
  • their interests, aspirations, achievements and strengths are recognised and supported by the adults around them
  • they know about the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care
  • they know how to access a complaints or review process if things aren’t going well for them, or if they disagree with a decision that has been made about their care.

Your advocacy might involve contacting services and decision-makers directly, or supporting the child or young person to do this themselves.

Challenges in advocacy

One of the most significant challenges a natural advocate may face is that advocacy can sometimes be misread by other care team members, colleagues and/or management as disruptive or obstructive to the work of the care team. Natural advocates may also fear that they will not be as powerful as an external, professional, or more senior voice, and so they may not feel empowered to pursue an issue on the child or young person’s behalf.

This is where the Charter can be helpful. The Charter, which has been widely adopted and endorsed by 88 organisations to date, frames the work of an advocate positively, as a legitimate action that focuses attention on the child or young person’s voice and rights. Grounding your advocacy in the Charter can prompt discussion and reflection, which can in turn promote child-focussed decision-making.

There are a few things to remember if you are going to act as a natural advocate for a child or young person:

  • Wherever possible, it is important to seek the child or young person’s consent to act on their behalf (if they have not asked you to do so).
  • Wherever possible, it is important to seek the child or young person’s voice on matters related to their care, so that this can form the basis of your advocacy.
  • Consider, at the outset, whether it is safe for you to advocate for what the child or young person wants (their safety is paramount).
  • Involve the child or young person in the process as much as possible (depending on their age and developmental capacity), or in accordance with their wishes.
  • Role-model positive communication and team work throughout the process.
  • Be careful not to make promises about the outcome or what you can achieve, but reassure the child or young person that you will do your best to help them have a voice in the process.
  • Be mindful of keeping your own views, complaints or frustrations separate from the child or young person’s voice and needs.

If your advocacy is not successful, be honest with the child or young person about the process and outcome. Support the child or young person to reflect on what they might have learned or achieved through the process, and congratulate them for their bravery, confidence and persistence. In some situations, it might be appropriate to explore whether a compromise can be negotiated, and in other situations, it might be appropriate to pursue a formal complaints or review process.

What next?

If you, or the child or young person, continue to hold significant concerns after you have attempted natural advocacy, you can contact us for advice about other options and/or an assessment of whether advocacy is required from our office.

You can phone us on 8226 8570 (adults) or 1800 275 664 (free call for children and young people only).

Remembering the promise to our children

picture of Penny Wright

By Guardian Penny Wright

30 years ago, world leaders made a promise to all children. It was a promise that stated that children around the world will not be discriminated against, the decisions that affect them will be in their best interests and they will be provided with opportunities to develop and reach their full potential.

This promise is known as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

For the first time, the UNCRC set out 54 rights for all children, and described how adults and governments should work together to ensure these rights are made available to them. This commitment from world leaders changed the way children were viewed and treated. It gave young people a voice and established that they have basic fundamental rights to survival, development, safety, education, to know or have a relationship with their parents and to express their opinion and be listened to.

This is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty in history. Since it was adopted in 1989, 195 countries have signed up. Only two are yet to ratify: South Sudan and the United States.

Since then, the South Australian parliament has established additional rights for children and young people who are in care, away from their parents, and in detention, locked up in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre. These are the children and young people who fall under my mandate as Guardian and Training Centre Visitor.

Unable to be with their parents, these South Australian citizens have special rights above and beyond the rights outlined in the UNCRC. But thirty years on, what does this all mean for them?

Today, in South Australia we are seriously failing many of the children and young people who need our help the most. The world made a promise but 30 years later children continue to be separated from their family and culture, their identity fractured, moved from placement to placement with little say over the conditions of their lives and excluded from school or locked up from as young as ten for behaviour that is a symptom of their own trauma, neglect, abuse and loss.  Many of these young people have undiagnosed disabilities or trauma-related conditions which go untreated. More than a quarter become entrapped in both the child protection and the youth justice system.

Last month, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child called for Australia to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

The Committee critiqued Australia’s child protection systems and its excessive reliance on police and the youth justice system when dealing with children’s behavioural problems, rather than providing the appropriate therapeutic services or intervention. It also highlighted that Aboriginal children and young people continue to be over-represented in both the child protection and youth justice systems.

In September of this year, a 12-year-old Arrernte/Garrwa boy, Dujuan, travelled to Geneva and became one of the youngest people ever to give a speech to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. The young star of an acclaimed documentary, In My Blood It Runs, he shared his experiences about the youth justice system and his alienation from school to build support for Aboriginal-led education models that would help prevent youth offending and support their crucial connection to culture and language.

Dujuan’s speech gave voice to the young Aboriginal people who are at risk or have already entered the youth justice system. It highlighted that somewhere along the way we have forgotten the promise we made to our children that we would protect them and put their best interests at the forefront of everything we do.

As we mark the 30th anniversary of the UNCRC, I call on the government to remember the promise we made 30 years ago and raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years of age so we stop ‘punishing’ young children when their troubled behaviour clearly tells us what they need most is support, nurture and care.