Statistics about children in care – June 2016

13 October, 2016

graphic of little graphThe year 2015-16 saw the number of South Australian children under care and guardianship-to-18 orders increase by 324 or 12 per cent since June 2015.

.Also increased was the proportion of children in care of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage from 29.4 to 32.8 per cent and the proportion in kinship care from 37.6 to 39.5 per cent.

.There is also data on where children in care live, gender and age breakdowns as well as data on the numbers of children held in secure care in Statistics about children in care and secure care – June 2016.

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Go to your room! – the use of seclusion in youth detention

picture of young person in isolationIn some households at some times, giving a child time-out in their room may be a good solution.  It makes the parents’ point in a non-violent way and it imposes a modest and temporary penalty.  It allows time for emotions to cool. When the child returns to the family setting, there is the opportunity to revisit the issue and start resolving it, with luck, in a calmer frame of mind.

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To a child in one of Australia’s youth detention centres, seclusion (also known as separation, segregation, isolation or solitary confinement, depending on the jurisdiction) is quite different.  Most children entering youth detention are already traumatised before they arrive.  Many have a history of of abuse and neglect at home or being in state care.  They are further stressed by their contact with the youth justice system followed by their removal to a secure environment. Being put in seclusion, even where the removal is not physical, is another isolating act in the life of a child where deprivation and isolation may well have been the norm..

And the door is locked..

The people in charge of youth detention facilities can make a strong case for seclusion

The traumatised state of many detained children means that they will sometimes resort to violence. Removing them to somewhere where they cannot harm themselves or others can be the only option.  Some also argue that the use of punishments (often called consequences) is necessary to maintain order and to train the recipient into a better way of behaving.  This claim is on less solid ground. The literature of trauma shows it is more likely that forcible confinement will reinforce a traumatised child’s view of the world as a harsh, arbitrary place and, perversely, perpetuate the anti-social behaviour that is their response to it..

Most Australian youth detention facilities would describe their role in terms of rehabilitating children

They would do this by addressing the situations, behaviours and attitudes that led up to children being in detention. By combining disempowerment and deprivation, seclusion is a powerful punishment – but poor therapy. Seclusion should be used minimally and instances of its use should be diligently recorded and monitored to make sure that the wellbeing and rehabilitation of the child remains the central reason for its use. Where seclusion fails to address a child’s undesirable behaviour it should not be taken as a prescription for even more seclusion.  From a rehabilitation perspective, each incident that leads to seclusion can provide insights for skilled workers into the child’s state of mind and incorporated into a proper therapeutic response..

Seclusion can easily become a tool in the exercise of coercive power

This is most true in closed institutions, especially where insufficient properly skilled staff or unsuitable facilities can make it seem like the only viable option. Children in seclusion for long periods risk missing out on important socialisation, education and recreation opportunities. Strict protocols governing the use of seclusion, diligent monitoring and careful recording of instances of seclusion are needed to safeguard children in a situation where their rights and freedoms are already curtailed..

Where seclusion is frequently used it may point to a poor social climate in a youth detention centre

Detained children have little or no voice and so are easy to put at fault. If the widespread use of seclusion has failed to curtail generalised antisocial behaviour in a youth detention centre then one should question its effectiveness. There is the opportunity and responsibility to initiate new approaches drawn from a wide range of positive and proven ideas about the rehabilitation of child offenders from around the world.1

.So seclusion of children can  be part of a response to dangerous, disruptive or antisocial behaviour in youth detention centres but its widespread and inadequately monitored use can be an indicator of a poor social climate and anti-therapeutic practice that undermines the community’s goal of returning socially adjusted, law abiding children to society.

1 The Missouri Approach

Do Rehabilitation Programs ReallyWork?

Transforming Youth Custody in the UK

Youth Justice Administration Bill passes the SA Parliament

Youth justice in South Australia took a significant step forward yesterday with the passage through Parliament of the Youth Justice Administration Bill 2015.

Speaking to the Bill, the Hon. Zoe Bettison, Minister for Social Inclusion and Communities, said that the legislation sought to –

consolidate all youth justice administrative functions into one clear, concise legislative framework while, at the same time, contemporising other relevant legislation to better reflect best practice in this area, particularly in respect of the detainment of children and young people.

The Bill provides additional sentencing options for young offenders, for a charter of rights for young people in youth justice detention and directs the establishment of an Official Visitor scheme.

In anticipation of the passage of the Bill, Minister Bettison signed off on the Charter of Rights for Young People Detained in Youth Justice Facilities in December 2015. The Charter is based on a model Charter developed by Australia’s Children’s Commissioners and Guardians which itself draws from UN rules covering young people in youth justice detention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In 2015, the Guardian’s Office conducted 15 workshops seeking views on the content and promotion of the Charter.  A total of 149 people participated, including 22 residents and a version of the model charter adapted for local conditions was forwarded to the Minister.  The Charter is available for download.

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The Bill also mandates the appointment of an independent Official Visitor to report on the treatment of residents and the management of the youth training centre. The Bill directs the Visitor to pay particular attention to the needs and circumstances of young people in state care, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people and young people with disabilities.

The Bill now only awaits the Governor’s signature to become law.

 

Young people in state care are much more likely to enter youth justice detention

The just-released Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Report Young people in child protection and under youth justice supervision 2013–14 has confirmed the concerning trend that young people who are in state care are much more likely to enter youth justice detention.

Data from the participating states* shows:.

  • young people who were the subject of a care and protection order were 23 times as likely to be under youth justice supervision in the same year as the general population
  • 7% of those who were the subject of a care and protection order were also under youth justice supervision in the same year (although not necessarily at the same time), compared with just 0.3% of the general population aged 10-17
  • youth justice supervision was most likely for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) young people: ATSI males were 1.4 times as likely to be under supervision as non-ATSI males, and ATSI females were twice as likely
  • just over one-quarter (26%) of those in detention were also involved in the child protection system, which is 13 times the rate for the general population
  • the level of child protection involvement for those under community-based supervision in 2013-14 was also high: more than one-fifth (22%) were also in the child protection system.
  • the younger someone was at their first youth justice supervision, the more likely they were to also be in child protection in 2013-14

*This report drew on data from South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and the ACT.

This summary is drawn from the Office’s internal policy briefings. It should not be taken to indicate the Guardian’s position on the subject matter and policy implications should only be drawn from a reading of the full report.

Rights may be the key to improving youth detention

ACCG Charter graphic 1

In July, the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) released a Model Charter of Rights for Children and Young People Detained in Youth Justice Facilities. The model charter is based on international agreements to which Australia is a signatory, and provides children and young people in custody with an easy to understand guide to their rights, and what they are entitled to while in custody.

‘Here, in one document we have some of the key rights that apply to young people in detention’, said Mr Bernie Geary, OAM, Principal Children’s Commissioner in Victoria and the national convenor of ACCG.

‘They may seem basic to most of us, like being treated with dignity and practising your religion, or not being unfairly punished, but most children and young people who are locked up don’t know what they are entitled to, or what to do if they have been treated unfairly.

‘Each of the Commissioners and Guardians will use the charter within their own jurisdiction, but will adapt how the information is conveyed in plain language to young people in custody depending on the individual circumstances in their State or Territory’, Mr Geary said.

Mr Alasdair Roy, ACT Children and Young People Commissioner said that the ACCG hoped that the Charter would assist to highlight the importance of rights in any discussion about youth justice.

‘Many people think that human rights are only relevant to people living overseas, or are simply an abstract concept in international law, but they are not. Human rights are relevant to everyone in Australia, including children and young people in custody, and they are a very useful yardstick by which we can measure the quality of service delivery for children and young people’, said Mr Roy.

‘I was pleased to hear that the ACT Government has announced that it intends to undertake an audit of the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre, using the model charter as a guide, and that they will also be holding discussions with Bimberi residents about how the Charter can best be promoted within the Centre’, said Mr Roy.

A copy of the model charter has been provided by the ACCG to youth justice administrators in each State and Territory.

‘We hope that each State and Territory will see the benefits of a rights based approach, and will use the charter to monitor and guide service improvement within their own jurisdiction’, said Mr Roy.

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Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians Meeting

Present at the meeting were Pam Simmons, Guardian for Children and Young People, South Australia (chair)
Aileen Ashford, Commissioner for Children, Tasmania
Howard Bath, Commissioner for Children and Young People, Northern Territory
Kerryn Boland, Guardian for Children, New South Wales (11th only)
Bernie Geary, Child Safety Commissioner, Victoria
Megan Mitchell, Commissioner for Children and Young People, New South Wales (11th only)
Alasdair Roy, Children and Young People Commissioner, Australian Capital Territory

The rights of young people in juvenile justice detention and the management of the use of psychotropic drugs for vulnerable children were among a wide range of topics discussed at the October meeting of the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) in Adelaide this week.  The ACCG promotes children’s rights and participation and ensures the best interests of children are considered in public policy and program development across Australia.

The ACCG meeting communique, October 2012 is available in PDF.

For further information on the ACCG and the work of Children’s Commissioners and Guardians from across Australia, contact the ACCG National Convenor, Elizabeth Fraser (07 3211 6992).

For immediate access to reports as they are published, join our Twitter feed.

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Monitoring conditions for detained young people

Independent monitoring of conditions in institutions and residential facilities that house vulnerable people is used as a protective measure against abuses of power. It also serves to improve the quality of care and to make more transparent what is hidden.

In 2006 the Office of the Guardian commenced regular visits to residents in the youth training centres. Advocates from the Office visit the residents in one unit in each of the centres each month and twice a year they conduct audits of records that relate to the safety of residents.1 Young people can also phone an advocate at other times.

Photograph by Magill Youth Training Centre resident, September 2009.

Despite the infrequency of visits, significant changes to conditions have resulted from the cooperative relationship between the Office and the Department. A major change is the construction of a new detention centre which will open in September and replace the sub-standard Magill centre. Other changes include the introduction of a complaints process and residents’ advisory groups, a shift in the emphasis of staff training from operations to relationship-based skills, shorter periods for residents in detention rooms and increased hours for the health services. Investigations of allegations of abuse are now concluded more promptly and access to independent advocacy has improved.

Recent media reporting of alleged assaults of staff at both centres, and the consequent investigation, will draw attention to a few specific incidents within a period of a few months but will not fairly represent the conditions or practices that increase or diminish the likelihood of violent incidents.

The Office’s regular monitoring and feedback on critical incidents shows that the vast majority of violent acts are not directed at staff, but at other residents or themselves (self-harm). The likelihood of violent incidents is greatly influenced by the communication skills of staff and by individualised intervention for the residents. The re-occurrence of violent outbursts depends on the staff’s response to the first incident. Where a resident understands that punishment (consequences) is proportional, not arbitrary, is reviewed by management and is open to appeal, it is less likely to be repeated. Debriefing with residents following an incident also helps them understand the impact of their behaviour and learn that there are other ways to deal with strong emotions. Violent incidents are reduced by attention to the social atmosphere and the emotional state of residents, and by consistency and fairness in the application of rules.

The Office’s tracking over six years of critical incidents indicates that:

The rate of violent incidents has risen over that time, but only at the Magill centre.2

The rate of incidents in any six month period can rise or fall significantly. This is usually as a result of one or two residents with very high needs, management inattention to resident and staff dynamics, or the absence of professional advice and intervention to help staff in responding to individual needs of residents.

The rate of physical restraint of residents as a response to incidents rose at a steeper rate than the number of incidents. This suggests that the impact of a new approach to behaviour management involving less use of physical restraint has yet to be realised. Overall, physical restraint was more likely to be used in a critical incident at the Cavan centre than at the Magill site.

In May 2009 Australia signed, but has not yet ratified, the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention Against Torture. The Optional Protocol allows for international inspection of all places of detention. In 2009, the then federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland noted that a ‘national preventative mechanism’ will be required so that all detention facilities are monitored by an independent body. Consultation with the states and territories on how this will be done has commenced.

1. As at 1 July 2012 the Office now combines visiting residents once a month with an audit of records.

2. It is possible that the auditing of records has resulted in improved recording of incidents so that part of the rise is attributable to this.

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Tracy Rafanelli on being a Charter Champion

picture of Tracy

Tracy Rafanelli

Charter Champions typically have a strong commitment to the rights of children and a belief in the value of a rights-based approach to ensuring their welfare and happiness.

Tracy Rafanelli, Program Co-ordinator at Magill Youth Training Centre* is no different.  She says ‘Being a Charter Champion is an opportunity to promote the Charter within Magill and provide information and advice on the rights of children and young people in care.

‘I am a strong advocate for the rights of young people and I make sure Charter material is available and accessible to all young people and staff across the Centre.’

Champions come from all levels and roles within endorsing organisation.  Youth workers, supervisors, managers and chief executives are all represented in the ranks of the Champions registered with the Guardian’s Office.

‘By endorsing the Charter, our staff are committed to supporting the rights of young people and acting on their behalf if they identify a need. Young people in Magill now have a clearer understanding of their rights from a range of sources,’ says Tracy.

As a Charter Champion at Magill, Tracy has made sure that the Charter of Rights posters and information sheets for staff and young people are posted in all of the units and program room.   Water bottles and stress balls with rights messages have been provided to staff for distribution to young people in the units.  Boxes of the rights flash cards are in units and available to be used by staff during a young person’s induction.

Tracy has spoken to the Centre’s Training Officer to arrange a presentation about the Charter to be made to Centre staff in the near future.

‘Young people at Magill are encouraged to contribute to their future by better understanding their rights, responsibilities and their options for the future.

‘They are able to better seek out opportunities if they are not provided with them,’ says Tracy.

There are 47 agencies that have endorsed the Charter of Rights and the registration of 19 new Champions since December 2011 brings the total to 135.

The full range of materials available to endorsing agencies for distribution to young people in care is available on our website materials page.

* Tracy is temporarily Acting Supervisor at Restitution Services South with the Community Youth Justice Program.

All the Charter news is first on our Twitter feed.

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Wellbeing of children and young people in care 2008-09

The Guardian for Children and Young People monitors the circumstances of children under the guardianship, or in the custody, of the Minister for Families and Communities. The feedback and findings of monitoring activities are reported directly to the agencies involved and to the Minister.

The Report on the wellbeing of children and young people in care in South Australia – 2008-09 summarises the information in one place and makes the general conclusions available to a wider audience.  We will publish a written response from Families SA in the near future.

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