Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) Meeting

The Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians’ (ACCG) first meeting for 2012 was held in Brisbane on 31 May and 1 June.  The ACCG aims to promote children’s rights and participation and ensure the best interests of children are considered in public policy and program development across Australia.

The Meeting Communique is available for download.

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Privacy Commissioner’s ruling allows SA NGOs to use the ISG

The Commonwealth Privacy Commissioner has ruled that as long as South Australia’s NGOs follow the Information Sharing Guidelines (ISG) approach to information sharing they are considered to not be in breach of National Privacy Principles (NPP 2.1 and NPP 10.1) regarding collection and sharing of client information.

The determinations came into effect on 16 February 2012 and were in response to applications by Wesley Uniting Care Adelaide and other non-government organisations that were limited in their ability to apply the ISG by Commonwealth privacy legislation.

It is important to note that is all other respects the privacy principles in the Commonwealth Privacy Act still apply.

The determinations means that by following the ISG, South Australia’s NGOs can now share information with other South Australian NGOs and government agencies when there is serious risk of harm and it is in the public interest that they join in coordinating services for vulnerable families.

The determinations are required to be registered on the Federal Register of Public Instruments before they come into force, which will happen in the next few days.

Legislation that will change national privacy laws to allow the sharing of information to protect children and families is expected to be presented to Federal Parliament later this year.

Information on the Guidelinesis now at www.ombudsman.sa.gov.au/isg/.

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Why You’re Important to Me

The ten minute video DVD Why You’re Important to Me was delivered this week to all Families SA Offices, the DFC School of Learning and Development and the Flinders and UniSA schools of social work.  It is based on the Report on the Inquiry into the Significance of Quality Contact Between Children and Young People in Care and their Case Workers and  was made with the assistance of Families SA, the Guardian’s Youth Advisors and UniSA.

The DVD can be used for individual or group study in conjunction with materials on the Why You’re Important to Me resources page .

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New Youth Advisor, Thomas Manning

""Welcome to new Youth Advisor, Thomas Manning.  Thomas joins the other four Youth Advisors who provide advice to the Guardian and raise issues affecting children and young people in care.

Thomas was  in care since age 12 and has experienced a number of placements and a period of independent living.   He recently graduated very successfully from the Australian Science and Mathematics School and will be majoring in English and Economics when Adelaide University commences in 2011.

Thomas has a keen interest in education and the role it can play in society and for the individual and has in the past contributed his ideas via YACSA and CREATE.  Currently he volunteers for Meals on Wheels and World Vision and enjoys travel, reading and sailing.

The close of 2010 saw the end of the terms of two of the Guardian’s longest serving of the four Youth Advisors, Ed King and Rachel Hopkins.   Their input  to the work of the Office over several years has been invaluable and we wish them the very best in their future endeavours.

Sara presents rights book to PM

Youth Advisor Sara Bann presents ‘How Australian Kids See the World’ to the Prime Minister as part of this year’s Australia Day celebrations.  The book, produced by the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians,  commemorates  20 years of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child with quotations and artwork gathered from children around Australia.

Changes to the powers and functions of the Guardian

Pam Simmons Guardian

In late 2009 the Children’s Protection Amendment Bill passed both Houses of Parliament. Most of the attention leading up to this had understandably been on the extension of child safety practices to a wider range of organisations.

Also in the amendment bill, prepared as part of the government’s response to the Mullighan Inquiry Report recommendations, were changes to the powers and functions of the Guardian. Among other things, the amendments expressly recognise the independence of the Guardian, require the establishment of a Youth Advisory Committee, strengthen the Guardian’s powers to obtain and use information and create offences for obstructing or providing false or misleading information.

Everyone we have worked with over the past five years has cooperated fully and willingly, and backed the independence of the Guardian’s position. I anticipate that the new powers and penalties established in the amendments will be invoked only in exceptional circumstances and that the current spirit of open collaboration will be our predominant way of working.

Magill photo expo

This photo is just one of the dozens of remarkable images created by the residents of Magill Youth Training Centre in September.

Photographer and tutor Jeremy Watson said the images, produced after only a few hours of tuition and practice, were as good as those produced by some of his other students over many days and weeks.

‘We started out by getting the young people to pick out a couple of photos from a collection I brought and asking them to say why they had picked them and how they made them feel.

‘From the start the interest and enthusiasm were great.’

Very soon the discussion progressed to the genres of portraiture, landscape and close- up and then onto mastering the controls of the digital cameras newly purchased for the project.

‘After shooting we brought all the kids back and they had the chance to look at and evaluate their work on the monitor.’

In the words of some of the young people involved:

Taking pictures, it was fun.

I learnt how to hold steady the camera and how to use macro.

It’s not always about a front on photo, you can take them in all different ways.

It felt like we had freedom and fun with the photos.

I learnt how you can find good photos anywhere.

Program Coordinator at Magill, Julie Wright, said that it was great to be able to introduce a new activity for the residents and one which was so interesting and accessible to all of them.

‘Everything went off without a hitch, and since we bought the cameras staff are finding other ways to use them as part of unit activity and to document events.’

At the end of Child Protection Week, a photo exhibition of prints of selected pictures was staged for all residents, some staff and guests from the Office of the Guardian.

Viewers were very impressed by the originality and technical quality of the images produced by the young photographers while the residents were enthusiastic.

‘Now that it has gone so well’, says Julie, ‘we’ll be trying to organise more photography activities in the future and we are already looking for opportunities for some residents who’ve shown a real interest to continue their photography when they leave juvenile detention..’

View the Magill residents pictures collage in PDF.

 

A better way to manage young offenders

Public debate on crime usually goes something like this. Crime rates are soaring. Crime is worse than ever. The criminal justice system is soft on crime. The criminal justice system is loaded in favour of criminals. There should be more police. The police should have more powers. Courts should deliver tougher penalties. Greater retribution against offenders will satisfy victim’s demands.(1)

This should sound familiar. With some rare exceptions, it is the extent of the public debate we have in this state about what to do about crime. It is simple, satisfying and hooks into people’s fear and loathing. It has been used recently to argue a tougher line on young offenders.

The risk with a law and order response is that we may make a far greater crime problem when more young people are caught up in the criminal justice system and live with the label of young offender. Most young people grow out of committing crime and a no- or low-intervention approach is best. (2)

But what is to be done about those who are well and truly caught up in a lifestyle of crime? If I thought that longer sentences and more time in detention would work to reduce serious crime I would support it. But it won’t. (3)  It stops crime only for the period of time the young people are in custody. Imprisonment is no deterrence for repeat offenders and besides, they don’t expect to get caught. Boot camps, wilderness and scared-straight programs also won’t work. And doing nothing won’t work.

Targeted intervention works. Engaging those who are at most risk of re-offending, working with what puts them at most risk and working on what can be changed. This spells individualised plans and programs, delivered in a way that makes sense to the young person. If you think this sounds demanding and costly, it is. But it’s a sneeze next to the costs of a life-time of criminal behaviour.

There are successful proven rehabilitation programs which help repeat young offenders develop their moral understanding, to know what impact their crime has had, to learn to deal with problems differently, and to learn to think about and treat others as they themselves want to be treated. But these on their own also won’t work if the young person is homeless, scared, without money and hanging out with older offenders.

Returning then to the idea of incarceration, it seems an ideal time to work with offenders because, to put it bluntly, they are captive. The problem is that this is not their regular world so on release everything changes. The transition to living within the law in the community is critical to success. Indeed, the more that can be done outside of custody the better, including assisting with the very real problems of unemployment, low income, insecure housing and destructive family relationships.

It’s not easy being a youth justice worker. Everyone working within the youth justice system has to work with dissonant community expectations of punishment and rehabilitation. The problem is that approaches that rely on punishment don’t rehabilitate and instead increase the likelihood of a young person re-offending.

So, keep young people out of prison, wherever possible. Offer judges some real choices in sentencing. If young people are in custody, then use that time to help them learn. When they are released, assist with the problems on the outside.

If you want to read more about young offender programs see the Literature Review or Consultation and Recommendations from our Review of Programmes in Youth Training Centres.

Footnotes

1 Hogg, R and Brown, D (1998) Rethinking Law and Order, Pluto Press: Sydney cited in Cunneen, C and White, R (2002) Juvenile Justice: Youth and Crime in Australia, Oxford University Press: Melbourne

2 In this letter I am writing about serious and repeat offending. We do pretty well in this state with the one-off incidents of breaking the law through diversion strategies such as police cautions. One in five young people will face law enforcers within a formal setting and all but a few will not repeat the experience.

3 See, for example, Weatherburn, D, Vignaendra, S and McGrath, A (2009) The specific deterrent effect of custodial penalties on juvenile reoffending, Australian Institute of Criminology, report no 33 www.aic.gov.au

What’s been done – September to November 2009

The inquiry into the policy and practice of use of physical restraint in children’s residential facilities is nearing the end. The draft report has been written and is with Families SA for discussion. More than 45 people external to this office were directly involved in the inquiry and we received ten written submissions. Thank you to all who participated for your openness and commitment to improving practice.

The Charter of Rights Committee is reviewing the next stage of implementation beyond endorsement and promotion. It is likely to focus more now on compliance and reporting. As a result of this, some members of the committee will retire and we want to thank everyone who has participated in the past three years for your expertise and enthusiasm for seeing children’s rights honoured in your work setting.

The Report on the 2008-09 Audit of Annual Reviews was written and sent to Families SA and the Minister.  A summary of the report is available on our website.

Stage 2 agencies for implementing the Information Sharing Guidelines are well on their way to completing their agency procedures. The agencies within the Justice portfolio, Centacare and Australian Red Cross are participating in stage 2.

We received great entries from residents in the youth training centres for the Christmas card competition and, as usual, it was hard for the Youth Advisors to choose just two from among them. The Christmas cards are distributed this month to Families SA district centres for children under guardianship.

In September we welcomed Belinda Walker to the team of advocates. Belinda is a social worker with wide experience of working with young people and most recently as a witness assistance officer at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Physical restraint – what the literature tells us

In April 2009 the Guardian commenced an inquiry into the use of physical restraint of children in SA residential facilities. As part of the inquiry the researchers, Associate Professor Andrew Day and Dr Michael Daffern, reviewed the written evidence and theory on the effectiveness and safety of restraint.
Restraint can take several forms. Most think of ‘hands-on’ restraint, where one or more people take hold of the person to control them.
Restraining devices to limit movement are sometimes also used, as is seclusion in a room and chemical restraint with drugs to manage extreme behaviour. This inquiry focused only on ‘hands-on’ restraint.
The use of restraint on children or young people is regulated to some extent by conventions, legislation and procedures which, if not actually contradictory, come from different perspectives. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care, regulations to the 1993 Children’s Protection Act and government and non-government procedures all have implications for practice and the legality of practice. The tension lies between the rights of a child to freedom from coercion or force and the right to safety from harm.
There is little empirical basis to determine when restraint is appropriate. There is no evidence to support the view that physical restraint assists children or young people to learn self-regulation or that it helps them to acquire useful and appropriate interpersonal skills. Physical restraint is a potentially dangerous practice and discussion on its use is highly charged. Restraint can appear to a child like abuse, frightening them and alienating them from care givers who administer it. Restraint can lead to serious injury and death, and the evidence from overseas confirms the high risk and the adverse psychological impact on staff and residents. However restraint can, and is, used to prevent immediate and significant harm.
Attitudes to the use of restraint are divided among the young people in residence. In a recent Scottish study, for example, residents agreed with staff that physical restraint would ensure young people’s safety in some circumstances. They advocated the use of non-physical alternatives to de-escalate situations and reserving the use of physical restraint to a last resort.
Some researchers have noted a major reduction in the use of restraints when the behaviour management practices of care staff are examined and modified. Training and ongoing support for workers and carers in applying behavioural techniques has been shown to produce major reductions in the need for physical intervention in several settings accommodating young people. This suggests that regular review of practice is needed to ensure that restraint is only used when all else has failed and where there is a high risk of serious harm.
The inquiry is due to conclude in early 2010 and further information will be available in future newsletters.