Podcast highlights the importance of connecting to culture

In recognition of NAIDOC Week last week, CREATE Foundation interviewed Isaiah Dawe, a young Aboriginal man who spent 18 years in care, for their latest Voices in Action podcast – a podcast giving voice to young people in care or with a care experience.

In this inspiring and insightful interview, Isaiah shares his story about life in the care system and the importance of being connected to culture and family. This episode addresses a number of issues faced by Aboriginal children and young people in care, including being disconnected to culture and family and having a lack of wholistic support and mentoring services available.

Isaiah says he didn’t know what it meant to be Aboriginal when he was growing up in care, and it wasn’t until he was 18 and left care that he finally reached out to his extended family.

Isaiah talks about the courage it took to connect with his family and community but as a result he now knows who he is and has a bigger direction in life.

“Once you connect with your Aboriginal culture and your family you will truly fill that void that you have in your heart, it will be filled up with all that love and respect… you’ll be able to feel the healing journey,” Isaiah says.

Isaiah is also the CEO and founder of ID. Know Yourself, an organisation supporting young Aboriginal people with a care experience to connect with their culture. Although ID Know Yourself is currently based in NSW, they are looking to expand to provide support to all Aboriginal children and young people in care across Australia.

Check out the podcast of the interview at CREATE Foundation’s website.

Nunga Oog is taking shape

The long-awaited safety symbol for Aboriginal children and young people in care, Nunga Oog, is taking shape after our face to face workshops kicked off earlier this month.

A group of Aboriginal children and young people joined artist Sasha Houthuysen during the October school holidays to start designing what Nunga Oog could look like. These sessions came on the back of art boxes we sent to selected residential care facilities in July to invite young people to come up with some initial designs.

After the delay in workshops due to COVID-19, it was great to be able to sit down with the young people and see and hear their ideas in person. They told us that:

Nunga Oog should…

– look different to Oog

– have some black on it

– have the Aboriginal flag on its belly

– have colours of the Aboriginal flag

– be cuddly

– be gender free

– not be so round

– have big ears to listen to children and young people

– tell a story of safety by using symbols

– be brown with symbols and dot work (journey lines).

The workshops also provided opportunities for the children and young people to take away some new-found art skills and learn about Aboriginal symbols and how they can tell stories using these symbols. The young people were keen for us to share their designs with you.

And after the second workshop, the draft outline of Nunga Oog began to take shape…

Workshops will be continuing in the January school holidays to help design Nunga Oog, with sessions being planned across the state in collaboration with Aboriginal artists. If you know an Aboriginal child or young person in care who would like to get involved, please register their interest by emailing Leila at leila.plush@sa.gov.au or Conrad at conrad.morris@sa.gov.au by Friday 13 November.

The deadly dreamtime story

Creating art was a popular activity during SA’s COVID-19 lockdown, especially for many of the children and young people living in residential care.

We talked to several of the children and young people about how life has been for them during COVID-19. Many told us they used drawing, telling stories and other creative forms to express their thoughts and feelings during this unprecedented time.

An 11-year-old Aboriginal young person living in an Aboriginal Family Support Services (AFSS) residential care facility was keen to share their dreamtime story with us, along with their artwork, that they created during the peak of the restrictions. It is a privilege we can share this with you.

The deadly dreamtime story

One day there was a mob and they got stuck on a land, because of the white people. While they were on the land they hunted in the afternoon so they could get back in time to produce the food for their family. Their favourite things to do were hunting and looking for different kinds of rocks. They liked hunting for animals to shred the animal skin and use it as clothing. They loved making boomerangs, spears, drums and didgeridoos.

If Aboriginal people get in trouble they get punished. If you’re a human and you get in trouble you can get turned into an animal and if you get in trouble when you’re an animal you turn into an object.

Aboriginal people have strict rules and commands to follow. If they disobey these commands and rules harsh punishments will occur.

They love planting things like seeds, nuts, roots and tubers.

 

Do you have a child or young person in your care who would like to share their artwork with us? Email us at gcyp@gcyp.sa.gov.au.

 

The importance of National Reconciliation Week

We would like to acknowledge the Kaurna and Peramangk people, the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which our team members live and work. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.

As we celebrate National Reconciliation Week in a very different way this year, our team reflects on why this week is important to them.

   

Aboriginal children and young people continue to be over-represented in care and detention

The proportion of Aboriginal children and young people in care in South Australia has worsened in the last five years, with Aboriginal children and young people now making up 34.2% of all children in care.

Data from the 2020 Report on Government Services shows that this cohort continues to be drawn into the child protection system at an alarming rate. Worse still, many of these young people are likely to remain in care for extended periods of time, and only 62% are living with someone from their family, community or cultural background.

When it comes to youth detention, the over-representation is even worse.  In 2018-19, Aboriginal children and young people made up a daily average of 60.7% of all young people in detention in SA, despite Aboriginal children being detained at their lowest rate since 2014-15. (While the rate of detention of Aboriginal children fell, the detention rate for non-Aboriginal children declined even further.)

Every year the Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People and Training Centre Visitor takes a ‘snapshot’ of the data from the Report on Government Services to see how it relates to South Australian Aboriginal children and young people in care and/or detention.

Four aspects of the data are particularly noteworthy.

Aboriginal children and young people are still seriously over-represented

  • Despite Aboriginal children and young people making up only 5% of the state’s total population of children and young people, they make up more than a third, 34.2%, of children and young people in care services (as at 30 June 2019).
  • Over four years (2014-15 and 2018-19) the rate of Aboriginal 0 to 17 year olds in care services (per 1,000 children in the SA population) increased from 49 to 76.7%. This compares with an increase from 5.6 to 7.4% for non-Aboriginal 0 to 17 year olds.
  • 5% of Aboriginal children who are in care have been so for five or more years.

How do Aboriginal children’s placements reflect the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle? 

  • At 30 June 2019, only 62.7% of eligible children (854 of a possible 1,363) were placed in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle.
  • Over the last 10 years, there has been a decline in the proportion of Aboriginal children and young people placed in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, in out-of-home care in both South Australia, and nationally.

Aboriginal children and young people in residential care

  • At 30 June 2019, 208 Aboriginal children and young people were living in residential care, making up 36.6% of all the children living in that care type. This was higher than the proportion of Aboriginal children living in care services overall (34.2%), meaning that Aboriginal children and young people are more likely to be placed in residential care than non-Aboriginal children.

Aboriginal children and young people in detention

  • 7% of the average daily population in detention in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre were Aboriginal
  • Aboriginal children and young people are 32 times more likely to be in detention than non-Aboriginal children and young people in South Australia
  • South Australia spent less, on average, per child aged 10 to 17 years in the SA population, on detention-based youth justice services compared with the national average.
  • The number of Aboriginal 10 to 17 year olds in detention in South Australia during 2018-19 declined to its lowest rate in four years and was lower than the Australian average for the first time since 2014-15.

You can read our full report here.

If you missed our review of SA’s government spending on child protection services, check out our previous blog post.

SA the second biggest spender on child protection services

Data from the latest Report on Government Services 2020 which looks at how Australian governments are spending their money, shows that SA spends more on child protection services per child than all other states except the Northern Territory. In fact, in 2018-19, SA’s expenditure on child protection services was 25.1% higher than the national average.

We looked at how SA spends the money, this is what we found:

SA spends more on care services than intervention and family support

  • 6 per cent of all SA’s child protection services expenditure in 2018-19 was committed to care services* rather than intervention and family support services.
  • The national average on family support services per child was 10% higher than the South Australian average, despite SA increasing its expenditure for these services 168% since 2014-15.
  • It is important to note that these intervention and family support services include services managed by the Department for Human Services as well as the Department for Child Protection.

SA spends 87% more on care services per child than in 2014-15

  • SA’s expenditure on care services per child aged 0-17 has increased by 87% from $643.9 per child in 2014-15, to $1,204.4 per child in 2018-19

SA relies on residential care more than any other state/territory

  • South Australia also uses residential care^ at a higher rate than any other Australian jurisdiction, with just over 60% of total expenditure being spent on residential care.
  • SA children living in residential care make up 14.9% (including those in independent living) of children in care, which has decreased since 2018.

Aboriginal children continue to be over-represented in care services

  • Once again, Aboriginal children continue to be over-represented in care services. At 30 June 2019, 34.2% of children in care services placements were Aboriginal (1363 of 3988), and they comprised 37% of all children and young people in residential care (208 of a total of 568). This will be explored in more detail in a forthcoming companion paper which we will release next month.

You can read our full analysis of SA’s child protection expenditure here.

* Care services refers to the provision of out-of-home care services and other supported placement
^ The term ‘residential care’ in the ROGS report now includes all children in independent living placements as well as residential care and commercial care.

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.”

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 gcyp@gcyp.sa.gov.au or by phone on 8226 8570.

Children’s Week – a safe place where children can thrive

picture of Penny Wright

By Guardian Penny Wright

As I reflect on this year’s theme for Children’s Week, that all children have the right to be healthy and safe, I wonder what this really means for the vulnerable young people who fall within my mandate as Guardian for children and young people in care.

Although there are many South Australian children and young people who have continuous access to nutritious food, quality health care and a safe home, there are many others who don’t. And for those who don’t, the consequences are far reaching, not only to their health but to the very core of their identity, family connections and faith that the world can be a good place.

The just-released Family Matters Report, which describes the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care, notes that a family’s access to safe and healthy housing has a profound impact on their ability to provide safe and supportive care for their children. When families cannot provide this kind of environment, it is often seen as ‘neglect’ and children are removed so they can be ‘safe’.  The paradox, as we know from my office’s own data, is that too many children and young people continue to feel, and remain, unsafe while in care.

According to the report, nearly one third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are living below the poverty line, noting that poverty and homelessness are significant factors in decisions to remove children from their homes.

This alarming statistic reflects the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care; nearly 35% of children currently in care in SA are Aboriginal, with the nationwide rate being similar to that in SA.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children who are removed from their homes suffer greatly from disconnection from their culture, destabilising their sense of identity and undermining relationships with their family and wider community. They are also more likely to be in care for the long-term and are less likely to be reunified with their family than non-Indigenous children.

Children don’t necessarily care for the fancy house and toys.  In fact, as highlighted in the SA Commissioner for Children and Young People’s latest report Leave No One Behind children weren’t so much concerned about the home in which they live and its contents as the emotional toll that ‘poverty stress’ creates in their families not being able to afford the basic necessities to run a household and provide safe care.

This presents us all with a wider, more systemic issue: how to ensure that families can afford to live sustainably and with dignity? There is now a chorus of voices across the social and political spectrum calling for an increase in Newstart, for instance, which has not been raised in real terms for 23 years.  From the OECD to local councils, from KPMG, former Prime Minister John Howard, the Business Council of Australia and the South Australian parliament (with unanimous multi-party support) to ACOSS and many organisations devoted to helping families in need, they all recognise that no-one can live adequately on Newstart. At a time when we have the highest number of children ever living away from their families under care and protection orders in South Australia, this is not an issue we can afford to look away from.

One of the recommendations from the Family Matters Report is to focus on preventative action and early intervention by ensuring families can obtain the resources and supports they need to provide safe care to their kids.

We all know that children can thrive when their parents are supported, and that prevention and timely intervention can be the key to children’s health and wellbeing. Rather than a future that sees more and more children taken away from their families, culture and community because of ’unsafe’ environments, it is crucial to invest in the resources families need for the healthy and safe environment in which their children can thrive. Not only will this benefit every child or young person who can ultimately stay at home with their family – but SA as a whole, as thriving kids and families contribute to a stronger, safer community.

 

ANZCCG commends documentary ‘In My Blood It Runs’

An upcoming documentary that tells the story of Dujuan, a 10-year-old Arrernte/Garrwa boy, as he tries to overcome systemic injustices, has been given full support by the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ANZCCG).

As SA Guardian and Training Centre Visitor, Penny Wright is a member of this peak body, which is made up of those entrusted with safeguarding the rights and interests of children and young people in Australia and New Zealand. After watching an advanced screening of ‘In My Blood It Runs’ earlier this year, the ANZCCG have issued a joint statement commending the documentary and highlighting the ‘value and importance of listening to and understanding children’s voices and experiences from their own perspective’.

‘In My Blood It Runs’ follows the charismatic young ‘healer,’ Dujuan, and his family as they share their experiences trying to prevent Dujuan from entering the criminal justice system. After becoming increasingly disengaged from school, Dujuan soon comes under the watchful eye of the police and welfare agencies. But through the love and support of his family and community, Dujuan has been able to avoid falling into the justice system and has begun a powerful campaign to raise the awareness of addressing systemic racism that young Aboriginal children too often face.

Dujuan travelled to Geneva earlier this month and gained significant media coverage when he became one of the youngest people ever to give a speech to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. He shared his experiences about the youth justice system to build support for Aboriginal-led education models that would help prevent youth offending and support their connection to their culture and language. You can watch his speech here.

The ANZCCG encourages all Australians to watch this film and to share its message of ‘children having access to culturally safe, inclusive schools; addressing systemic racism in all our institutions; and preventing the criminalisation of young children like Dujuan, including reforms to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility’.

‘In My Blood It Runs’ will be in cinemas in February 2020.

Read the full ANZCCG statement.