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CREATE’s Influence on the Recommendations from the NT Royal Commission

Written on November 28, 2017

The final report from the Royal Commission and Board of Inquiry into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, has demonstrated a litany of concerns for the wellbeing of young people held in youth detention in the Northern Territory.

There are over 200 recommendations covering a range of issues including information sharing, monitoring systems, arrest and bail procedures and detention procedures. They also cover child protection issues and the issues related specifically to what are referred to as ‘crossover’ children and young people; that is, children and young people who are subject to a child protection order as well as a youth justice order including detention.

CREATE was an active participant in this Royal Commission. Not only did CREATE provide a submission that has been directly referred to throughout the final report, but CREATE also provided a witness statement to the hearings for this Royal Commission. As a result, CREATE is quoted throughout the final report and a number of final recommendations can be attributed to the evidence and submission material from CREATE. In addition, a significant number of other recommendations have been influenced by CREATE’s involvement.

CREATE programs and resources including Go Your Own Way kits, Speak Up and CREATE Your Future were mentioned in the report and CEO Jacqui Reed was noted for her robust evidence where she told the Commission that, “there is no accountability to State or Territory governments if standards are not met” (p. 379).

1. Inclusion of the voices and views of young people

CREATE’s submission called for the inclusion of the voices of children and young people at all levels of policy and service development. The report notes that Territory Families told CREATE that it was working on a round table process that would allow the views and lived experiences of young people to contribute to future policy and services development. CREATE also noted that governments often fail to seek the opinions of children and young people about their care experience, and recommended formal mechanisms for this to occur.

Further, CREATE raised throughout its submission that care planning required close attention and needed to be inclusive of children and young people.

RESULT:

Recommendation 33.1; Territory Families develop strategies to give better effect to section 11 of the Care and Protection of Children Act (NT) at all stages of their engagement with children in their care.

Recommendation 33.2; Care plans must be kept up to date and provided to parents in clear and understandable language, with an interpreter if necessary, about what is required for reunification with their children.

Recommendation 35.7; A detailed plan for information-sharing and collaboration between workers in the child protection and youth justice sectors of Territory Families, and other relevant agencies, be developed.

2. Reunification and support

CREATE has long argued that families need comprehensive support and that all people involved in the care of the child, also need to be involved in any intervention. This point was quoted in the NT Royal Commission’s final report and it was noted that CREATE has previously pointed out that reunification often occurs before thorough interventions and support have been completed. CREATE also noted strongly that many young people report not having a care plan, or not even know if they have a care plan, and further, that they may not understand many of the child protection processes that affect them.

This appears to have been a significant issue and one that the Royal Commission appears focussed on rectifying. This can be seen in the recommendation below and the focus and attention to ensuring that the needs of the child or young person are met, and that their views are included.

RESULT:

Recommendation 33.4; To ensure timely and quality care plans are developed and implemented for each child in out-of-home care:

      • the Care and Protection of Children Act (NT) be amended to the effect that: an application to the court for a ‘protection order’, as that term is defined in the Act, be accompanied by a care plan for the relevant child
      • if the application is not accompanied by a care plan, the court may set a date by which the care plan is to be filed with the court that is no longer than three weeks after filing the application for a protection order, and
      • any subsequent care plan developed and approved by the Chief Executive Officer of Territory Families during the course of the proceedings must be filed with the court within 14 days of its creation or review

Section 130 of the Care and Protection of Children Act (NT) be amended to provide that a court may not issue a protection order unless satisfied that the Chief Executive Officer has developed, approved and filed with the court a care plan that meets the needs and best interests of the child

      • the Northern Territory Government collect care plan data in a form that will allow it to provide such data to the Productivity Commission for comparison with other states and territories
      • section 74(4) of the Care and Protection of Children Act (NT) be amended to provide that the Chief Executive Officer ‘must obtain, to the extent reasonably practicable, and have regard to the views expressed’ by the specified persons, and
      • section 70 of the Care and Protection of Children Act (NT) be amended to include a requirement that a cultural component of a care plan must be included in all care plans specifically tailored to the child.

3. Leaving care

CREATE’s submission focussed on the issues related to young people transitioning from care. CREATE was acknowledged several times within the report as a ‘service provider’ in a range of areas related to the care experience of children and young people. For example in one instance, CREATE was acknowledged as a support to 7 out of 10 young people. This is because young people identified that they were supported by CREATE and more directly, because of the development of the Go Your Own Way kits, as noted within the report as a direct resource to young people preparing to transition from care. This highlights that more needs to be done to support vulnerable young people.

A section of the report (pages 454-455) spoke directly to the Go Your Own Way kits and the issues CREATE has raised related to housing and homelessness for young people leaving care.

This resulted in further recommendations related to leaving care and ensuring young people are adequately supported.

RESULT:

Recommendation 33.21; Territory Families ensure that all young people between aged 15 and 18 have leaving care plans in compliance with section 71 of the Care and Protection of Children Act (NT).

Recommendation 33.22; The Department of Housing and Community Development and Territory Families jointly develop a new accommodation service model which meets the specific needs of young people leaving out of home care to live independently. The service be responsible for finding and securing acceptable accommodation for all young people who have left the Chief Executive Officer’s care and be available to those young people until they are 25 years old, consistent with section 68 of the Care and Protection of Children Act (NT).

4. Crossover Unit

The Commission heard from CREATE that the results of our national survey on experiences for children in care showed overall that 77% reported having some connection with the youth justice system and 34% of children and young people in care did not receive child protection support during interviews with police. This is consistent with other evidence the Commission heard, where by there was little more than an ad hoc approach to ensuring that a child or young person had adequate support during police interviews, and that often Territory Families workers were not present.

CREATE CEO Jacqui Reed, said ‘there was no continuum of care established for the children by the relevant child protection agency while they were on remand or incarcerated’ (CH35: p. 28)

RESULT:
      • Recommendation 35.5; Territory Families: create a Crossover Unit to oversee and manage children in care who fall within the crossover group
        engage specialised caseworkers with training in both child protection and youth detention in the Crossover Unit to work with children who have been, or are, in care and detention, to deliver and coordinate services targeting the needs of the child, to minimise the risk of offending or re-offending and work in co-ordination with any legal service representing the child, and
      • develop, flexible, dynamic services specific to the needs of crossover youth to include: targeted services of high intensity, designed specifically for children in the crossover group
      • therapeutic models that focus on meeting the needs and changing the behaviour of the child while simultaneously addressing social and environmental risk factors, and
      • a mentoring and/or visitor program, to provide the prospect of additional adult connections for children in the crossover group.

5. Influencing results

In addition to recommendations that were directly influenced by CREATE’s submission and evidence, there are a number of other recommendation that CREATE noted in its submission, and that included reference to CREATE in their formulation.

In the submission, CREATE also called for a number of other reforms in its submission to the Royal Commission:

      • The NT child protection system, (including the OOHC system), requires immediate and ongoing reform in order to improve the life outcomes of children and young people in care. To be fully informed, the Northern Territory, Territory Families must develop systemic procedures that allow the experiences of children and young people in care to play a significant role in informing the on-going review of their policy and practice.
      • Territory Families and the Department of Correctional Services should develop and invest in alternative approaches that divert young people from the justice system, promote best practice, and reduce punitive remedial measures.
      • CREATE believes that a formal mechanism for communicating care issues directly from children and young people in care, to Territory Families would greatly assist the Department in their work to improve safety and life outcomes for these young Territorians.

This included the review of current standards of care to ensure accountability of government and non-government services in their provision of care for to children and young people, as well as issues related to placement instability and case worker turnover. It also included a need for the development of a meaningful and relevant complaints process and other avenues for the voices of children and young people to be heard, after all it is their lived experience that has great value to add to any child protection system.

RESULT:

The Royal Commission has made numerous recommendations and enhancements to the service delivery system to be included or that need to be developed. Some of these include:

      • The development of a ‘crossover Unit’ to address the needs of children and young people subject to child protection orders as well as youth justice orders. This Unit would focus on regular contact with children and young people transition planning and information sharing (Recommendations 35.5, 35.6, 35.7).
      • Increased child protection oversight mechanisms including, a responsive investigations process (Recommendations 37.1)
      • A review team to consider amending part of the act (Recommendation 37.2)
      • A permanent complaints process (recommendation 37.3)
      • A closer working relationship between Territory Families and the Commission for Children and Young People, including the development of materials that young people can understand and that are produced in their languages (Recommendation 37.4).

In addition, CREATE also called for;

              • Develop uncompromised regulatory mechanisms to ensure that children and young people in the care of government departments (Correctional Services and Territory Families) have the ability to communicate with independent third parties in relation to issues of safety and potential violations of their rights. This mechanism ought to extend to complaints, advocacy, monitoring, and advice.

CREATE argued that there was a significant need for an independent organisation with expertise in communicating with children and young people, be used and resourced to hear the experiences of children and young people and ensure their safety and wellbeing.

RESULT:

Chapter 40 of the report deals with the establishment of new and broader powers for a Commissioner for Children and Young People.

This will now include a robust complaint s process that reports directly to the Minister and Parliament, as well as a monitoring and complaints mechanisms related to police involved with children and young people. In addition, there will be a specific Commissioner for Indigenous Children and Young People.

The roles of the Commissioner will include: Advocacy, hearing and dealing with complaints about the systems and police involvement, holding Inquiries, monitoring and inspecting. Further, it will include an Official Visitor Program, something that CREATE directly called for in its submission.