Northern Territory Council of Social Service

2020 NT Election

Children and Youth

In the next term, the NT Government to deliver a Single Act for children across the Northern Territory incorporating care, protection and justice.

In 2017 the Royal Commission into the Detention and Protection of Children in the Northern Territory report found systemic failures to deliver good outcomes for children and their families. The Royal Commission’s report provided an opportunity to create significant positive reforms to improve the lives and outcomes of children in the NT.

The NT Government’s commitment to implement the Royal Commission’s recommendations is outlined in Safe, Thriving and Connected, and significant improvements have been made to the care and protection and youth justice systems, and key areas of reform have commenced.

The introduction of a Single Act for children across the NT, incorporating care, protection and justice, is key to empowering children and families, and is an essential component of the reform process. It is vitally important that the incoming NT Government re-commit to the reform program with renewed vigour.

NTCOSS supports the Making Justice Work coalition’s priority areas for action, each of which has the potential to beneficially impact on children and their families:

  1. Supporting children to be in community rather than detention
  2. Culturally safe, therapeutic courts and processes including family group conferencing
  3. Investing in Community-led early intervention and reintegration programs
  4. Hold the line on alcohol harm-minimisation measures
  5. Resourcing the Aboriginal Justice Agreement

In the next term, the NT Government to increase investment in prevention and family support programs, so that it matches the investment in child protection services.

As noted in the Productivity Commission’s report on Expenditure on Children in the NT, the largest proportion of funding for services directly relevant to the prevention of harm to children is allocated to statutory child protection services.
In 2018 – 2019, the NT Government spent $134 million on Child Protection Services, and the Commonwealth and NT Government jointly spent $113 million on crime, justice and legal type services, and $60 million on family support services.
Investment in harm prevention and early support for children and their families is a social and economic priority for the NT. Early support for families strengthens our communities and reduces the need for costly, statutory child protection services.

In the next term, the NT Government to increase investment in early support services that strengthen families and support children to remain with their families, led by providers that have the capacity to deliver culturally appropriate services

In the next term, the NT Government to continue its work in transitioning out-of-home care (OOHC) from Territory Families to the non-government sector.

Where a child enters, or is about to enter, the care and protection system, the system should support families and children to thrive through measures that react meaningfully, flexibly and considerately to them. It should seek to reduce the wider social drivers of social disadvantage, and foster the wellbeing of children and young people to ensure they remain safe and connected with their families.

NTCOSS calls for the NT Government to continue its work in transitioning OOHC from Territory Families to the non-government sector, with investment proportionate to the engagement of Aboriginal families within the care and protection systems.

In the next term, NT Government to introduce and resource Family Group Conferencing to enable families to fully engage in decisions about and plans for their children

In line with the NT Royal Commission’s recommendations, families must be involved in decision-making processes, to formulate a plan that will promote the safety and wellbeing of children and young people. Culturally appropriate supports are paramount in service delivery and a child’s extended family should be adequately engaged in decisions about children.

In the next term, NT Government to make legislative change to ensure that all young people in the NT are eligible to remain or return to living with the caregiver, up to the age of 21.

Young people in out-of-home care have experienced vulnerability, and without ongoing support many young people are at high risk of ongoing and entrenched vulnerability.

Young people outside the care system typically access parental support and resources well into their mid-20s, particularly during post-school education and training and their first experiences of employment, and just an extra 3 years of care, up to the age of 21, for vulnerable young people leads to a positive, graduated move to adulthood, with proven better outcomes in education, health and employment. Research commissioned by Anglicare found there are clear social and economic benefits for extending care, with a return of $1.94 for every $1 invested in extended care, and savings to the NT Government of $9.5 million over 4 years.

The NT Government has committed to continued support for young people and has strengthened the obligation on the CEO of Territory Families to provide assistance to a young person up to the age of 25 years in transitioning to independence. However, this continued assistance is at the discretion of the CEO and does not provide clear, mandatory responsibility for care to be continued past the age of 18.

“Parents don’t abandon their kids once they turn 18 and neither should the Territory,”

Cheryl Schmidt, Home Stretch NT Co-chair.

In the next term, NT Government to expand on the commitment to diversionary and preventative reforms, including increased support for programs proven to deliver successful reintegration into the community.

The youth justice system has both short and long term negative impacts, and reduced opportunities for family and community support to assist in improving child wellbeing and behaviour. Youth justice and law and order debates are central to NT election campaigns, with public perceptions generally overestimating the scale of youth offending. These perceptions are prevalent despite the fact that in the past ten years, youth offending rates have almost halved in the NT:

Despite recent reforms and the introduction of promising, evidence-based programs, the representation of young people in youth detention is still disproportionately high, particularly for Aboriginal young people. In 2018 – 2019:

In the next term, the NT Government to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years.

In order to achieve a youth justice system that works for the whole NT community, we must continue the reform process and invest in programs that work.

“I learnt about what they [the victim] went through. I didn’t know that doing one little thing would impact them so much. It made me feel sad – she [the victim] went through so much because of what happened. I learnt about what happens when I steal ages ago, but this meeting, actually seeing the owner rather than other people tell me, it’s changed the way I think about things. Now I think, ‘What would happen if I do that thing? Who’s going to be affected?”

Participant, Youth Justice Group Conferencing

A continuum of responses is necessary for children under the age of 14 who engage in harmful or inappropriate behaviour, ranging from early community-based family support with lower risk cases, to assessment; evidence-based, therapeutic intervention; and intensive, therapeutic work for children demonstrating the highest risk and needs. Recent reforms and the introduction and expansion of diversionary and family support programs in the NT have the potential to provide the operational and practice responses to underpin raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

“Raising the age of legal responsibility would be life changing for primary school-aged children here in the NT. It would mean that primary school-aged children would be supported in their communities, with their families, where they belong.

It would mean that they are given the opportunities to develop really positive pro-social pathways in life. Because we know the earlier a child has contact with the youth justice system, the more likely they are to have persistent contact as they’re growing up, and as an adult as well.”

Youth Justice Programs Coordinator

At a minimum the NT Government must ensure that young people under the age of 14 years are not incarcerated other than with the approval of the head of jurisdiction of the Youth Justice Court, in exceptional circumstances where the child has committed a serious and violent offence and is assessed as being a serious risk to the community;

In the next term, NT Government to exclude children and young people from the full operation of offence to breach bail, and provisions in the Police Administration Act must be strengthened for the protection of the rights of children

‘The young people we work with don’t want something different to the broader community, they want to live in a place that is safe, where they can thrive.”

Youth Justice Programs Coordinator