Growing concerns for Aboriginal children and young people in care and youth justice

A new report summarising the trends relating to Aboriginal children and young people in the child protection and youth justice systems has raised concerns about the trajectory of some these vulnerable young people.

Based on data provided by the latest Productivity Commission Report on Government Services, the Office of the Guardian’s Snapshot of South Australian Aboriginal Children and Young People in Care and/or Detention from the Report on Government Services 2021 has reported the number of Aboriginal children in care is so high that this group now makes up 36.7% of all children in care although they make up only 5% of the population under 18 in the state. This means that just over one in every 11 Aboriginal children in SA is now living in state care.

If the continued worsening rate of Aboriginal children and young people being drawn into the child protection system continues, SA will not meet its Closing the Gap target of a 45% reduction in the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children and young people in care by 2031.

There is some good news, though. Despite the proportion of Aboriginal children and young people in detention in South Australia being 22.7 times higher than for non-Aboriginal children, this rate is declining, and SA is looking to surpass the Closing the Gap target of a 30% reduction in the over-representation of Aboriginal children in detention by 2031. This has triggered a call from Guardian and Training Centre Visitor, Penny Wright, to implement a more ambitious target.

“Aiming higher than the current target would benefit the whole community because of the significant cost of detention, at 32.3 times more per day than community supervision. This cost is even more concerning when almost all children and young people held in detention in SA are there on remand,” Penny said.

Youth diversions by police

Alarmingly, the Guardian’s report has highlighted a gap between youth diversions for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alleged offenders is at its widest point since reporting began.

When police apprehend children or young people who may have committed an offence, they have a variety of options available. They can charge the child (and proceed to court) or they can use their discretion to divert them away from this potentially costly, time consuming and stressful situation (for both the child or young person and victim).

Diversions include actions to move children and young people away from the courts through formal cautioning by police, community, diversionary or family conferences and other programs (such as drug assessment/treatment).

According to our new report, the rate of youth diversions by SA police in relation to Aboriginal children and young people who are alleged to have offended is at its lowest point since records began, with 23.3 per cent of alleged Aboriginal offenders being diverted away from court. This contrasts with the rate of 55.6 per cent for non-Aboriginal youth, the highest rate since records began.

“We don’t know why Aboriginal children and young people are being treated more harshly, but this systems bias could be contributing to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in the youth justice system, and would certainly lead to their overrepresentation in detention,” Penny said.

“We need to be brave and take assertive steps to keep Aboriginal children and young people out of the youth justice system, and away from a path towards adult prisons.”

“Despite the Council of Attorney-Generals passing back the decision to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to individual states last month, SA needs to commit to significant reforms, such as raising the age to 14, and investing in culturally safe family support and early intervention, if we really want things to change for these young people and their families,” Penny said.

To view the report in full, download it here.

Out and about with Oog and friends

Over the last few months, we have had the opportunity to get out and about and have fun with some of the amazing children and young people we work for. From lunch at Parliament House, kicking the footy at AFL Max, to getting messy with paint at the Nunga Oog art workshops, here are some of our favourite photos.

Lunch at Parliament House

In March, Guardian for Children and Young People, Penny Wright, held a lunch at Parliament House with a group of CREATE’s youth consultants and other young people in care who had helped our office over the last few years. The young people were treated to a three-course meal and a tour of Parliament House by former MLC, Mark Parnell. A trusted source told Penny that the young people ‘had a ball’ and enjoyed being treated just for who they were (without having to provide their views on anything!) The conversation flowed, they enjoyed some very special food and one young person even had three hot chocolates! Thanks to the wonderful staff at Parliament House who were so accommodating to their special guests.

   

CF&KC Family Fun Event at AFL Max

Oog delighted more than 180 fans at Connecting Foster and Kindship Carers’ AFL Max family event last month, showing off some slick dance moves and expert footy skills. It was great to see the smiling faces of many young people. It seems everyone wants to hug Oog, including older kids (and even some of the ‘dignitaries’!)

 

Would you like Oog to attend one of your events? Contact us at gcyp@gcyp.sa.gov.au to find out how.

Nunga Oog art workshops

After another round of art workshops with young people and Aboriginal artist David Booth, Nunga Oog is coming to life! We’re so excited to watch colours and designs being added to the canvases by the young people themselves.

   

Our Nunga Oog workshops are heading further afield to regional areas over the next six months. If you know of any Aboriginal young people aged 10-18 years in care who would like to be part of creating Nunga Oog, then please get in touch with Conrad at conrad.morris@sa.gov.au.

Recent Developments in Education for Children and Young People in Care – Part 2

Positive changes to Inclusive Education Support Program (IESP) Funding

Over the last two years the Department for Education has introduced and refined the Inclusive Education Support Program (IESP) which provides funding to government schools to support children and young people with disability. Unlike some diagnosis-driven responses, the Department’s IESP model focuses on supporting a child’s functional needs (ie what they need to be able to participate and function in school) rather than their disability ‘label’, which may not always be simple to determine.

In our 2009-2019 education report released last year, we reported that a greater proportion of children and young people in care had learning disabilities compared to the overall government school student population, notably in speech and language skills. As well, the proportion of children and young people in care with an intellectual disability was over eight and a half times, and the proportion with complex social/emotional/behavioural needs was nine times, higher than the overall government school student population.

At the time, Guardian for Children and Young People, Penny Wright noted there needed to be more, targeted and skilled support for children in care in schools, particularly those with a disability or complex social, emotional or behavioural needs (which most often eventuates from their trauma) – in order to improve their academic outcomes.

Some recent, welcome changes to IESP funding have meant an increase in funding to better support children in care while they are at school and when they are moving between stages of education.

So what are these changes to the IESP?

The changes include:

– A $64 million increase, over the past 2 years, to the funding to schools and preschools for children with disability and complex needs

– Pausing IESP reviews of existing funding for individual students for at least two years (including pre-approved decreases) to allow for the consideration of feedback that has been received about the IESP. This may enable the program to be further streamlined and practice guidance developed for schools on how best to use the funding, and funding will continue in the meantime

– New applications or applications to vary the funding (because the child’s needs have changed) will still continue

– Funding to preschools, primary and secondary schools when a child in care transitions/moves to their school, to support the child’s transition (if the child is not already receiving individualised IESP funding)

– One-off funding to schools to support children and young people in care who are already enrolled in schools – with the idea that it will provide the school with ‘space’ to determine the best way to meet their individual learning requirements, including the specific needs of Aboriginal children in care

Some of the ways schools funding can be used to support children or students is:

– through supporting staff training in trauma-informed practice

– providing additional staff resources for individual children (such as allied health professionals, youth workers or Student Services Officers)

– offering targeted programs to support inclusion and belonging

– purchasing equipment and individual tools (sensory, calming)

– releasing staff from other duties to enable them to establish relationships with children, assess their functional needs and develop plans, facilitate support groups or lunchtime clubs or undertake professional development

Who is eligible to receive IESP funding?

Eligibility for IESP funding aligns with national disability legislation and guidelines, focussing on a child’s needs rather than their disability or learning difficulties – this includes mental health, trauma, complex behaviours and complex health care needs.

Schools will receive $3250 per child in care (if that child is not already receiving individualised IESP funding) to help support the child’s transition to their school, while preschools will receive $1000 per child in care.

Where can I get more information?

For more information visit the Department for Education’s website.

Looking forward

Based on future data we receive from the Department for Education and what young people tell us, we would hope to see significant improvements in participation and improved learning outcomes for children and young people in care who attend government schools, as a result of the new changes to the program.

Through this increased support, as well as the SA government’s recent announcement to phase out suspensions and exclusions in government schools, the Office of the Guardian looks forward to seeing some real and measurable benefits for young people in care and their education.

Stay tuned for our 2021 report looking into the education participation of children and young people in care who attend government schools, which is expected to be released mid-year.

Recent Developments in Education for Children and Young People in Care – Part 1

Independent inquiry finds young people in care overrepresented in state school disciplinary action

The right to a good education and being better supported at school was a key theme for the children and young people who participated in our recent review of the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care. Young people also told us they wanted their teachers to understand their own particular circumstances but not treat them any differently from students who were not in care.

The importance of school for many of these young people is in stark contrast to the reality that children in care make up far too many of the students being suspended or excluded from South Australia’s government schools.

The recently released ‘Graham Report’ –  from an independent inquiry into the suspension, exclusion and expulsion processes in SA’s public schools – found that children and young people in care were increasingly overrepresented in ‘take home’, suspension and exclusion categories over time.

The report noted that despite children and young people in care making up only 1.3% of the total enrolments in government schools in 2019 – (an increase of 58.7% over the 10 years since 2010) – they constituted:

– 8% of ‘take homes’ – students who are sent home for the day due to extreme behaviours or emotional responses that continue for extended periods of time even with staff support

– 5% of suspensions – a doubling between 2010 and 2019

– 9% of exclusions – an increase of 67.3% between 2010 and 2019.

These young people also face 4.1 times the risk of being suspended and 6.7 times the risk of being excluded compared to any other student in a government school.

The independent inquiry questioned the effectiveness of a ‘team around the child’ approach, stating that a child’s support staff at school are often not involved when decisions are made about disciplinary action for the child, especially for Aboriginal students, students with disability and students in care. It has called for best practice so that all relevant support staff are mandated to be involved and that factors relating to the student’s disability, trauma background or culture are considered.

The inquiry has called for a ‘whole-scale, evidence-based systematic reform’ to address the state’s disciplinary processes. This is consistent with recommendations coming from previous inquiries, including the 2016 Nyland Royal Commission Report, which proposed a review into ‘Education’s policies regarding school suspension, exclusion and expulsion to ensure that they are used as strategies of last resort for children in care’.

Minister for Education’s response to the Graham Report

In response to the inquiry’s findings and recommendations, the SA government has announced an additional $15 million to be invested over four years to phase out suspensions and exclusions in government schools, with a particular focus for children in reception to year two, Aboriginal children and children with disability or who are in state care.

The reform, which is aimed at providing better supports to students, teachers, parents and carers to help children and young people stay at school, is expected to be rolled out from 2023. The Education Minister’s statement can be found here.

Part 2 of our consideration of Recent Developments in Education for Children and Young People in Care will look at changes to the Inclusive Education Support Program (IESP), next week.

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.