Cultural training project gives young people their voice


Martin Hinton and Travis Thomas

Last week our office celebrated the work of two young people who shared their experiences across the courts, child protection and youth justice systems to better educate Judges and Magistrates when dealing with Aboriginal people who appear before the courts.

The video, featuring the young people who were previously detained in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre, is part of a bigger project from the Courts Administration Authority (led by Martin Hinton, Director Public Prosecution, formerly Justice Hinton) to improve existing cultural awareness training for Judges and Magistrates. This video aims to provide an insight into what life is like for these young Aboriginal people and the role the courts can play in ensuring their voices are heard.

While only one young person was able to attend our celebration, we wanted to acknowledge both of the amazing young people who were willing to share their stories for this project and tell the courts what they wanted to see changed.

Training Centre Advocate, Travis Thomas, and Advocate, Aboriginal Children, Conrad Morris, supported the young people in the lead-up to and throughout the project.

Conrad noted the planning and workshop that was held prior to the filming was essential in providing the young people with a safe space where they were confident to share their voice. The footage of the two young people was shot in just one take which is a mighty impressive effort!

At our afternoon tea celebration, Martin said he was impressed by all the work Conrad and Travis had done to help pull this video together. He also said how proud he was of the two young people, and how brave they were in sharing their stories.

“If the young people don’t stand up for themselves, then we [Judges and Magistrates] can’t get better,” Martin said.

“That’s the reason I did it [to change the mindset of the courts],” the young person said. The young person called for Judges to ‘listen to what we have to say’ and ‘give us more opportunity to do the right thing’.

The young person also told us that since the making of the video ‘the judge actually talked to me’ when they were last in court.

For privacy reasons, we are unable to share the video but we expect and hope the flow-on effects of the project will be evident when the voices of young people are more vigorously sought and heard during court processes.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Report finds children in care overrepresented in youth justice

Almost one quarter of children and young people who are detained in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre are under the legal guardianship of the state and are likely to be living in large residential care homes, a new report from our office has found.

A PERFECT STORM? Dual status children and young people in South Australia’s child protection and youth justice systems is the first report from a series of papers looking into the disproportionate number of children and young people who enter the youth justice system from residential care.

The report highlights that it’s not that these individual children and young people are inherently ‘criminal’ but that systems make their criminalisation more likely.

This suggests the state’s child protection system is struggling to undertake its core function of keeping children and young people safe – a concern that our office raised last week in the wake of the release of our annual report.

This new report finds that inadequate planning, policy, procedure, and communication across government and non-government systems mean that children and young people in care who need therapeutic support are instead being drawn into the criminal justice system.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recently stated that Australia’s child protection systems are insufficiently resourced, resulting in poorly supported staff, inadequate placement matching, and excessive reliance on police interference and youth justice systems to manage behavioural problems without providing appropriate therapeutic intervention.

Guardian for Children and Young People and Training Centre Visitor Penny Wright states that each of these factors contribute to the overrepresentation of those in care entering the youth justice system.

Ms Wright notes these vulnerable children and young people have been exposed to significant trauma and abuse prior to entering the child protection system and are not being provided with the care and support they need to heal.

“Instead of being provided with the essential therapeutic care they need, these young people are being put into homes and looked after by inadequately supported staff with other young people who come from troubled backgrounds. The young people’s behaviour is ‘managed’ by police and the youth justice system, and then at the end of the day they are taken back to the same environment in which the criminal behaviour took place,” Ms Wright said.

“What these children and young people need is a system that focusses on their safety and well-being first and foremost, keeping in mind the difficult circumstances that brought them into the system in the first place.”

“As one dual status young person eloquently said: ‘They kept putting us in the same situation but expecting a different outcome’.”

Download the first dual status report.

Further reports from this series will be made available in the coming months.

Training Centre Visitor team wraps up pilot inspection

The Training Centre Visitor Unit has wrapped up its pilot inspection of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC).

As November marked the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is timely this inspection – which assesses the conditions and management of the children and young people who are detained there, and ensuring their rights are being upheld – was carried out.

Training Centre Visitor Penny Wright said the inspection is the cultivation of two years of hard work from the TCV Unit staff in establishing the TCV program and building relationships with the residents and staff.

“My dedicated team has worked hard, visiting the training centre every fortnight to advocate for the rights and best interests of the residents. Through this consistent visiting program we have been able to get an accurate picture of what life is like for the children and young people detained in the centre,” Penny said.

“By combining our learnings from the past two years with the voices of residents and staff we have heard during the inspection, we can create a better understanding of how to work together with Youth Justice to ensure the children and young people have a brighter future and have the capacity to reach their full potential.”

As part of the inspection, the TCV Unit staff met with AYTC residents, staff and management to talk about what life is like in the centre, covering topics such as resident safety, health care, cultural rights, respect and dignity, education and training, case planning and access to grievance processes. They also facilitated focus groups and reviewed documents.

Input from residents was enthusiastic and thoughtful and guarantees that our reporting can reflect their voices loudly and clearly.

Here are some of the things the residents told us:

  • ‘The health centre is my favourite place to go – it makes me happy and comfortable.’
  • ‘I like all the staff really’.
  • Respect is ‘talking to me normally and makes me feel good!’
  • ‘I am scared I will lose my grandpa while I am in here – and I am not able to hold his hand.’
  • Respect is ‘being believed and not made to be a liar.’
  • ‘I wanna pass that [year 11] and go do my SACE.’
  • ‘We should get more elders in.’
  • ‘The staff are heaps good. They talk to you in good ways, help you out. They care about you.’
  • ‘I identify myself as a young offender. The kids aren’t proud, they’re scared…’

We would like to thank the children and young people and AYTC staff and management for being part of this inaugural inspection and sharing their thoughts about what life in the centre is like for them.

Findings from the inspection will help shape the way the TCV program and future inspections are run and developed. The inspection also provides valuable experience as we gear up for the imminent introduction in South Australia of the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT).

A formal Inspection Report will be provided to the Minister for Human Services for presentation to Parliament in early 2020.

Here are some of the artworks the residents created during the inspection.

Training Centre Visitor’s Annual Report 2018-19

The number of children and young people detained in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC) in 2018-19 has decreased, although residents who are Aboriginal or in care continue to be overrepresented, according to the latest Training Centre Visitor’s Annual Report.

Here is a snapshot of the report.

The year by numbers

In 2018-19, there were 608 admissions to the AYTC concerning 299 children and young people. Of these 299 individuals:

  • each resident was detained on average, two times
  • 50.5% were Aboriginal
  • 31.1% were children and young people under guardianship, primarily from residential care
  • 19.3% were females
  • 64 admissions were for children aged 10-12 years (an increase from last year).

Issues of concern

Issues of concern summarised in the 2018-19 annual report had already been identified throughout the year during our visiting and advocacy programs and review of records. The Training Centre Visitor Unit accordingly had made recommendations (based on the voices of the residents) prior to this report, about these concerns, including in relation to:

  • semi-naked searches
  • complaint processes
  • isolation and use of safe rooms
  • inadequacy of Aboriginal programs and cultural support
  • resident right to privacy
  • female hygiene products
  • incidents and use of force
  • room standards
  • unavailability of critical data (e.g. no data is currently available for residents with a physical, psychological or intellectual disability).

Positive changes to enhance wellbeing and safety of residents

The following positive changes have been made by the AYTC staff and management to enhance the wellbeing and safety of residents:

  • a reduction in the frequency, and improvement in recording of semi-naked searches
  • introduction of a ‘Yarning Circle’ (cultural program) for Aboriginal female residents
  • the development of a Medical Locum Attendance Log that tracks each medical incident from point of identification to the attendance of a locum
  • recognition of the need to develop better understanding of the needs of African and Muslim residents through building relationships with their communities.

Advocacy

The TCV Unit received 48 requests for advocacy, with 40 suitable for TCV advocacy on behalf of 31 residents.

The main themes for individual advocacy matters were:

  • use of safe rooms, isolation and lockdowns
  • interactions and access to staff
  • unit transitions and routines
  • placement within the centre and lengthy remand.

The TCV Unit worked with the Guardian’s Advocates (who have a mandate for children in care) to address the needs of nine individuals who required advocacy about their care and treatment within the AYTC and in care.

Looking forward

In the 2019-20 financial year, along with our ongoing visiting program and review of records, we will be:

  • conducting a pilot inspection later this month
  • continuing to address the absence of advocacy protection of the right of children and young people in the justice system while they are outside the walls of the AYTC (currently we are only mandated to advocate and oversee the best interests of this cohort when they are physically within the walls of the centre). We have recommended that the TCV mandate should expand to include these children and young people, ensuring the role meets the requirements of OPCAT (which Australian must put into place in late 2020).

Read the report in full.

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.

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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