Introducing our new Communications and Engagement Officer

Welcoming Kristen Lucas to our team

We have a new Communications and Engagement Officer!

Kristen Lucas has a passion for communications and supporting children and young people to create positive change. Currently in her final year of completing a Bachelor of Media and International Relations, Kristen also volunteers as the Communications Director for United Nations Youth South Australia and is the Social Media Editor for the University of Adelaide’s Student Health and Wellbeing.

With youth empowerment at the forefront of her mind, Kristen believes in engaging young people in decision making and enjoys listening to their imaginative ideas and bringing them to life.

We sat down with Kristen to get to know her more…

Why do think communications is so important to an organisation?

Communications is the way that organisations share their work and connect with people – It’s a part of everything they do. If you’re checking out an organisation’s website, social media, blog, newsletter, upcoming events etc, these are all ways that the organisation is communicating with you! Good communications is essential so that people know what an organisation is up to, and why they should be interested in its work.

What do you like best about working with and for young people?

To me, supporting youth development is one of the most important and rewarding jobs. I enjoy working with young people because they dream up imaginative ideas and are always full of curiosity. What I like best is being able to engage young people in issues that affect them and see them feel listened to and empowered.

What is the one thing you would like to achieve as the Communications and Engagement Officer for the OGCYP?

Before I joined the team, the OGCYP had visions for their future communications but were without the hands on deck to make it happen. This year, I would like to help bring these fantastic projects to life. Starting off, I’m jazzing up the design of the OGCYP’s new website, so stay tuned to check it out soon!

What are three words that best describe you?

Enthusiastic, helpful and motivated.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

My favourite things to do are travel and try new things. Since we’re a little restricted for travel at the moment, I’ve taken to vicariously exploring new worlds and adventures in the huge stack of books I’ve had piling up on my table!

What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?

Live a life true to yourself, not the life others expect of you.

Cost of child protection in SA continues to climb higher than national average

South Australia continues to be the second highest spender on overall child protection services per child although it spends considerably less on preventative and family support services than any other jurisdiction across the nation, according to the latest data from Australia’s Report on Government Services.

At the Office of the Guardian, we have just released our annual analysis of SA’s child protection expenditure and we found that in 2019-20, while SA spent 23.8% higher than the national average on child protection services overall, nearly 80% of that expenditure was on ‘care services’ (i.e. the cost of caring for children once they have been removed from their families, such as residential care).

Our report found that only 20% of the state’s child protection budget was spent on protective intervention services, family support services, and intensive family support services, which are all aimed at supporting families so children can stay safely with them at home.

“The latest data from South Australia’s child protection spending shows we need to change how the state invests in vulnerable children and young people,” Guardian for Children and Young People, Penny Wright, said.

“Many young people in care come from families who face significant personal difficulties as a result of domestic violence, mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction, and these difficulties are often intergenerational. COVID-19 has only increased these pressures, with people becoming more isolated, losing their jobs and struggling to find housing in a tight rental market. Unfortunately the number of young people being removed from their families is likely to get worse.”

“The best place for kids is at home, if they can be looked after and safe. We need to better invest in intervention services to support families who are at risk of having their children removed from them, with a goal of reducing expenditure at the care end when the numbers begin to decrease.”

“I am glad the state government has recently made the decision to invest more money towards providing tailored support to parents who are experiencing these hardships. I hope that in time we will see noticeable changes as a result of this reform and there will be better outcomes for these young people and their families,” Penny said.

Our report also highlighted that:

– On 30 June 2020, there were 4,136 children and young people in out of home care in South Australia. Of those, 601 were living in residential care, which is 14.5% of the care population. South Australia continues to have the highest reliance on residential care in Australia, with the national average being 6.5%.

– This reliance is especially apparent when examining South Australian expenditure on care services, which accounted for $458,764,000 (or 79.9%) of child protection services spending. Of expenditure on care services, 58.2% (or $267,458,000) was spent on residential care services.

– Real expenditure on care services per placement night in South Australia is 35.1% higher than the national average.

– South Australia ranks second after outlier NT for total child protection services real expenditure per child aged 0-17 in the population in 2019-20, with national average expenditure being 23.8% lower than in South Australia.

– South Australian real expenditure on care services per child aged 0-17 in the population has increased by 39.6% from $888.8 per child in 2015-16, to $1,241.2 per child in 2019-20.

Read the Guardian’s South Australian Child Protection Expenditure Report 2021.

New rights for children and young people in care

We have a new Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care! The revised Charter has just been approved and will replace the existing rights that sets out what children and young people can expect and experience while they are in care.

The nine new rights reflect what children and young people said was important to them, and they are…

– I have the right to be safe and well cared for

– I have the right to be listened to and have a say in decisions that affect me

– I have the right to be myself and to be treated with respect

– I have the right to connect with my culture

– I have the right to have contact with people who matter to me

– I have the right to good health, fun and play

– I have the right to privacy

– I have the right to a good education

– I have the right to get the support I need so I’m ready to leave care and feel good about my future.

The Charter also provides explanations about what each of the rights mean – based on what young people told us – and includes contact details for children and young people if they don’t think their rights are being respected and they need someone to talk to or make a complaint.

Read the Charter of Rights in full.

You can also read the full report about the review process and consultation feedback from the review participants that was provided to the Minister for Child Protection in January this year.

We are so grateful to the wonderful children and young people who worked with us to help create the revised Charter. A big thank you to everyone who supported and participated in the review process.

We will continue to consult with children and young people in the coming months to create a new set of resource materials, so stay tuned.

Endorsing the revised Charter

If your organisation currently endorses the Charter you will need to reapply to endorse the revised Charter and nominate Charter Champions for each of your organisation’s sites. We will be in contact with endorsing organisations in the coming weeks to begin this process.

If your organisation does not yet endorse the Charter and you would like more information about what it means to endorse the Charter, please contact Mardy McDonald at Mardy.McDonald2@sa.gov.au.

New project to explore growing numbers of dual involved young people

Conrad Morris, Senior Advocate, Dual Involved

A new project within the Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People is underway, looking into the growing number of children and young people under guardianship orders who are also caught up in the youth justice system. Despite rates of detention for children and young people in South Australia improving, this has not been the case for young people coming from a care background.

Since we started collecting data in 2017 on the number of admissions to the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre, there has been a 20.9% increase of individual children and young people admitted to the centre who were in care at the time of their admission, with this cohort making up a third of the centre’s average daily population in 2019-20.

Based on data from our last Training Centre Visitor annual report, in 2019-20, 28.3% of all individuals admitted to the centre were in care, with many of these young people admitted to the centre on multiple occasions, at a rate much higher than those not in care.

What is contributing to these young people offending and, in some cases, reoffending on multiple occasions? To better understand what is going on, we have launched the South Australian Dual Involved (SADI) project. Headed up by Conrad Morris, who was previously our Advocate for Aboriginal Children, the project will primarily look at children and young people living in care who are currently detained in the justice centre, although those in care who have previously been detained and are at risk of reoffending will also be included in the scope of the project.

“Unfortunately we are seeing more and more young people who are from residential care coming into the centre,” Conrad said.

“As part of this project we want to look at why the numbers are increasing and what is causing the young people to offend. Whether this is because the young people are being caught up in peer offending within their placement, or how their behaviours are being managed within the house.”

“Some young people have also told us they would rather stay in the centre than go back to their placement, which is really concerning. We need to look into why this is and provide support and advocacy to these young people,” Conrad said.

The project is still in its infancy, however Conrad is working to build relationships with dual involved young people and will provide direct advocacy to them as required, while also supporting our other Advocates when dealing with children and young people in care who are currently detained in the centre or are at risk of being admitted.

Conrad hopes to collaborate with other community or service provider stakeholders involved in the life of the child or young person to help put the necessary supports in place to stop their offending and consequent admissions into the centre. The project will also identify, develop and implement systemic interventions on behalf of individuals and groups of dual involved children and young people, as required.

If you would like more information about the SADI project, contact Conrad at conrad.morris@sa.gov.au.

Community forum to highlight the need for more foster carers

ac.care Out of Home Care Executive Manager, Dan Mitchell, ac.care Foster Care Manager, Dani Atkinson, and Chief Executive Officer, Shane Maddocks

As the number of children coming into care continues to grow, so too does the need for families to open their doors, and hearts, to these vulnerable children. Due to the lack of foster families, many children caught up in the child protection system have to live in residential care facilities, with other children they don’t know and a constant rotation of carers.

A free community forum hosted by ac.care next week is hoping to change South Australia’s  over‑reliance on residential care and is calling for more people to become foster carers in the Murraylands, Adelaide Hills and on the Fleurieu Peninsula. The forum will focus on child protection issues within these local areas and talk about how the wider community can support children who are unable to live with their birth families.

A highlight will be the premiere of a short film about two dedicated foster carers from the Adelaide Hills and their emotional caring journey. They will also be there on the night – to answer questions from the audience following the screening of the film.

Guardian Penny Wright is also looking forward to presenting at the forum.

“I strongly believe ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and I’ve seen the transformative power of children going to live in foster families that nurture them, respond to who they are as a unique person and are consistently there for them – the difference, even after a short time, can be astounding,” Penny said.

“Unfortunately there are not enough family based placements to go around and over 500 children and young people currently live in residential care placements, with rotational carers, plus there are more children coming into the system every year, so we desperately need to grow the number of families who can help out.”

“We all have the power to make a difference and offering a home is a very special kind of difference.”

The forum will be held at the ac.care Murraylands Centre at 29 Bridge Street in Murray Bridge at 6pm on Tuesday 16 March.

Anyone interested in this topic is welcome to come along. The event will be livestreamed on ac.care’s Facebook page for those unable to attend in person.

To register, visit www.mlfostercareforum.eventbrite.com.au and for more information visit accare.org.au.

‘First ever’ forum gives young people power to call for change

A group of incredible young adults with a care experience got the chance to share their personal stories last month in a bid to influence policy change, at CREATE Foundation’s first ever Hour of Power in SA.

The forum, which was led by the young adults themselves, provided an opportunity to tell the audience of their life experiences while in care and to offer ideas to key decision makers, including the Minister for Child Protection, about how to improve the care system.

Sibling contact and cultural connection were the themes for the day.

For those presenting, their siblings were important in maintaining their identity and mental wellbeing, and yet many of them did not live with them while they were in care and/or had issues keeping in contact with them.

“When you don’t live with your siblings, it can be hard to connect with them when you do see them,” one young person said.

After reflecting on their experiences with their own siblings, the young people offered ways in which the system could change to improve sibling contact for those who are still in care, which included:

– DCP must place greater significance on sibling connection and the importance of sibling relationships

– siblings should be able to stay together, wherever possible

– if siblings cannot stay together, they must be able to maintain connection with one another while in care

– sibling connection arrangements should be included in case planning

– the term ‘sibling’ needs to encompass other cultural and social interpretations to include other important relationships like cousins and foster siblings.

The young people then asked the panel to reflect on the issue. Guardian Penny Wright was among the panellists, along with April Lawrie, Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Helen Connolly, Commissioner for Children and Young People, and Cathy Taylor, Chief Executive of Child Protection.

Penny told the audience one of the biggest concerns from young people who call our office for advocacy support is about sibling contact not occurring (or occurring infrequently and much less often than children/young people are requesting) and outlined the barriers that standi in the way of this happening.

“There are a number of factors behind why sibling contact isn’t occurring. They include carers or case managers in disagreement about sibling contact, the challenge of siblings living in distant geographical locations, lack of transport and time pressures on carers,” Penny said.

“Managing sibling contact among children in care can be complex. This doesn’t mean we don’t do it, it just means we have to work harder.”

Cultural connection was the next topic for the forum. One of the young adults said they didn’t know how to connect with culture while they were in residential care and weren’t given the opportunities to do so, but once they got to connect to family, land and their culture they said “it was natural”.

“To know your cultural identity, at least for me, is seeing family regularly, getting a chance to go out to the bush often, learn about bush tucker, connection and cleansing, learn about dreamtime, totems and spend time with the old fellas and nanas,” the young person said.

To improve and maintain cultural identity and connection for young people in care, the youth presenters were clear that DCP needs to prioritise connections to family and strengthen the commitment to all of the five elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle. They also said more funding needs to go to enriching cultural experiences, as well as employing more Aboriginal workers within the sector.

The event was a fantastic platform for empowering the young adults to share their thoughts and suggestions and play a positive role in creating change for the many thousands of children and young people who are still in care today.

Jacqui Reed, the CEO of CREATE, observed that the Hour of Power was a unique way of bringing children and young people’s voices to decision makers so they could better understand the perspective of those with a lived experience within the care system.

“I was thrilled with the first ever Hour of Power in South Australia. The energy in the room buoyed all those present to make the system better for children and young people,” Jacqui said.

CREATE is currently working on a summary report about the forum, along with its key outcomes, which will be available soon.

Celebrating the rights of young people on Care Day

It’s “Care Day” today. On the 19th of February every year – all around the world – we celebrate the awesomeness of children and young people with a care experience. Here are our greetings to all of South Australia’s children and young people in care. PLEASE SHARE this video from our Advocates, far and wide, and especially with any young people in your care.

 

 

 

Law intern finds doli incapax is not protecting children from entering youth justice system

We were lucky enough to have our first law student complete an internship with our office last year. We set Brooke the task to research the concept of doli incapax and how it is applied to children under the age of 14 who come before the youth court.

But first, what is doli incapax? If a child is between the ages of 10 and 14, they are presumed to be doli incapax (from the Latin ‘incapable of evil’) and cannot be convicted of a crime, unless the prosecution can prove the child had the mental capacity to understand what they did was seriously wrong, and not just ‘naughty’.

Through Brooke’s research and hearing first-hand accounts of how doli incapax operates in South Australia from various stakeholders, it has become clear that doli incapax is not working as it is intended.

Brooke found that, instead of the prosecution meeting its requirement to prove the child did have the necessary mental capacity, doli incapax is commonly viewed as a ‘defence’. This means that defence lawyers are having to prove the child did not have the mental capacity to tell the difference between serious wrongdoing and naughtiness. Although the common law presumes that children under the age of 14 do not have capacity to commit a crime, this reversal of the onus means that, in practical terms, those under 14 are assumed to have capacity and defence lawyers must disprove it.

Brooke also found that:

 – Doli incapax assessments, which are commonly relied upon to establish a child’s doli incapax status, can be difficult to get, take a large amount of time to complete and can see children and young people remanded and bailed from Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre multiple times       while they are undertaken

– There is a lack of understanding as to how the presumption should be applied throughout the youth justice community, especially from SAPOL

– Children and young people who are Aboriginal, in the care of the Department for Child Protection, have a disability and/or live in regional, rural or remote areas are particularly disadvantaged by the youth justice system

– There are limited services available to help children and young people who are doli incapax (ie do not sufficiently understand the nature of their behaviour) to correct their behaviour and avoid reoffending in the same way

Based on her research findings, Brooke made the following recommendations on how this law could better protect children from entering the youth justice system in the first place:

– Raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years of age

– Alternatively, insert the principle of doli incapax into legislation to clearly outline its application

– Increase referral services for doli incapax children and young people to teach them why their behaviour was wrong and help them to change it

– Ensure that the meaning and implications of doli incapax is included in SAPOL interview procedures

– Ensure that those who use children and young people below the age of 14 to commit crimes on their behalf are held criminally responsible

Brooke’s research and recommendations offer a valuable insight and perspective into how we can ensure better outcomes for children under 14 years old who find themselves before the courts. Unfortunately, there is extensive evidence that the younger the child is when they come into contact with the youth justice system, the more likely they are to reoffend – and start on a path to life-long involvement in the criminal justice system. This issue only highlights our ongoing call to urgently raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years – a concern which was also raised by the United Nations last month.

New Charter of Rights waiting to be approved

We are excited to announce the proposed Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care (Revised) has been sent to the Minister for Child Protection for approval.

The revised Charter was developed over nine months using the voices of 77 children, young people and adults who are, or have been in care, and 6 other stakeholders. The revised Charter details nine rights that reflect what children and young people told us was important to them – this includes being safe in care; connecting to culture, family and friends; and having access to education, play and good health.

Here are just some of the things young people told us about what they want the new rights to include…

“Listen to kids what they want not what you think.”

“[Young people] need more info about why they come into care otherwise the child will start thinking it is their fault.”

“Being a part of decisions about us.”

“Knowing about & connecting to culture.”

“Keeping in contact with family.”

“All children in care need SSO support or extra help with school, even if they don’t have a disability.”

“Learning life skills earlier to prepare for when you go independent.”

As part of the Charter review, our working group collated all the feedback and drafted the new rights, which were later endorsed by 111 children and young people, and other care leavers, aged between 6 and 25 years. As part of the endorsement, children and young people were asked if the new rights made sense and if they reflected their experiences. They were also asked if anything further should be added or changed. The final revised Charter and supporting report was then sent to the Minister to be approved and tabled in Parliament.

Once the revised Charter has been tabled, all organisations who work with children and young people in care will need to endorse the new Charter. We will be in contact with all existing Charter Champions to arrange endorsement so please make sure we have the most up to date contact details for your organisation’s nominated Charter Champions.

While we wait for the Minister’s approval, we will begin developing a raft of new accessible, culturally diverse materials for children, young people and their carers and provide further guidance and support for the agencies who endorse the Charter. We will also be looking at the endorsement process to see what improvements can be made.

If your organisation does not yet endorse the Charter, with a designated Charter Champion, and you would like more information, please contact Mardy McDonald at Mardy.McDonald2@sa.gov.au

We’re looking forward to sharing the new Charter with you all very soon!

Welcoming our new principal advocate

We would like to give a warm welcome to our new Principal Advocate for the Training Centre Visitor Unit (TCVU), Simone Deegan. Simone will be joining the team for the next 12 months while Belinda Lorek is taking leave.

Simone has a background in law and criminology as a researcher and (legal) advocate with a particular interest in the experience of young adults in the criminal justice system. She has previously worked as a defence solicitor for young people and adults charged with a range of offences.

More recently Simone has been researching the circumstances and needs of ‘juveniles’ charged with murder. Her research work has given rise to both systemic and individual advocacy to improve the law and the outcomes for individuals caught up in the criminal justice system. Simone is acquainted with the work of the TCVU and produced a thematic analysis of the voices of the residents for the TCV Pilot Inspection Report last year.

We hope you join us in welcoming Simone to the team. We decided to ask her a few questions to help us get to know her better…

What motivates you to advocate for children and young people caught up in the youth justice system?

Misconceptions about who they are and why they offend. While not discounting the role of personal responsibility or choice in offending behaviour, there needs to be recognition that who, when and where you are plays a large role in the choices that are available to you. My work is also informed by the idea of the juvenile brain as plastic and open to experience.

How do you think learnings from your previous roles will support this new role in advocating for the wellbeing and rights for children and young people in detention?

My background as a solicitor and as a researcher into serious crime, repeat offending and desistance (i.e. why and how do people stop doing crime) gives me the practical skills and the theoretical knowledge of what works well, and not so well, for young people in secure care and prison environments.

What are you most looking forward to in the role as principal advocate?

Working with young people to make a difference, however big or small, in their lives. I am also looking forward to forming successful working relationships with other professional people and learning more about what they do and how the pieces of the puzzle come together.

What are three words that best describe you?

Determined, passionate and driven.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

Anything fitness related: competitive tennis, running, lifting weights … not to mention cooking and eating (but mostly eating!!!).