Today marks three years since the delivery of the Final Report of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. In handing down the report, Commissioners Mick Gooda and Margaret White said
“The time for tinkering around the edges … must come to an end… only fundamental change and decisive action will break the seemingly inevitable cycle we have found of many children in care continuing to progress into the youth justice system and detention… The failures we have identified have cost children and families greatly, they have not made communities safer and they are shocking.”
CEO of Danila Dilba Health Service, Olga Havnen noted that, unfortunately, three years later, there is very little to celebrate.
“While there have been some improvements to the conditions of young people in detention since the Royal Commission, we are still a long way from the fundamental systemic reforms promised by government three years ago.” Ms Havnen said.
The following are just some of the key issues identified by the Royal Commission that Ms Havnen notes have not been adequately addressed:
- Children are still being detained at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, a facility the Royal Commission found is “unfit for accommodating let alone rehabilitating young people” and a new facility is still two years away.
- Despite significant investment by the NT Government to improve the physical appearance, infrastructure and availability of programs and services at Don Dale, the centre continues to be operated under a punitive ‘corrections’ style model rather than a model that is conducive to supporting young people’s learning, wellbeing and development.
- Almost all young people and children in detention are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, and a high proportion are in child protection.
- The age of criminal responsibility has not yet been raised, despite other states (the ACT) moving in this direction. Children as young as ten can still come before courts and end up in the justice system.
- A single Act containing a cohesive framework for both the youth justice and child protection systems has not been developed.
- There is a high proportion of children in detention with severe cognitive and developmental issues (including FASD), and young people that are unfit to stand trial or that are not guilty by way of mental impairment are still sent to detention centers due to a lack of secure therapeutic facilities.
- Young people are still being regularly transferred between youth detention centers in Darwin and Alice Springs, dislocating them from family, community and essential support networks.
On 21 November 2017, Chief Minister Michael Gunner informed parliament that “The failures of the youth justice and child protection systems as outlined in the Royal Commission report are shocking” and that “there had been a major overhaul of the case management system, reviewing policies and systems to focus on what is important to the child”.
The Chief Minister also said “We are looking at rehabilitation and building our kids up, not breaking them down”. In response to this Ms Havnen says:
“It is difficult to ascertain what systems improvements have been made as a result of the ‘major overhaul’ the NTG promised. Aboriginal people and organisations must be front and centre in driving systemic reforms that make genuine improvements to the health, wellbeing and developmental outcomes of young people in the NT.”
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