Better system for children can exist Sunday Territorian 18/9/22

By Deborah Di Natale – CEO – Northern Territory Council of Social Service – Sunday Territorian newspaper 18/9/22

Last week I visited Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre and I was appalled by what I saw.

Here we are, five years since the NT Royal Commission handed down its 227 recommendations: including a trauma-informed therapeutic model of youth detention and that children only go into custody as a last resort.

I didn’t see any evidence of the improvements we’re told have occurred.

I saw cell blocks and conditions that are unfit for any purpose let alone housing children.

I cannot reconcile how in a wealthy, developed country we can keep children in such dehumanising conditions devoid of a therapeutic approach.

The Labor Government promised to close Don Dale.

We found out in the NT News this week that Acting Children’s Commissioner Nicole Hucks had written to the Chief Minister this year to raise “grave concerns” about the safety and wellbeing of detained children.

There has been a 200 per cent increase in mostly our kids in detention in two years and a lack of youth justice officers to cope with the rise.

We heard reports that girls in detention are unsafe and having to shower in full clothing because there are no doors on cubicles.

The families of these child prisoners, some as young as 10, are terrified about their childrens’ safety.

Children don’t belong in prison, we must invest in services outside the youth justice system to deal with the drivers of offending behaviour.

John Paterson, the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT CEO said this week he was angry and so am I about what we say are breaches of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

We have been working in good faith with governments to fix the system and implement the Royal Commission recommendations and what we see is self-harm incidents going up 400 percent.

If that is not enough to act I am at a loss to know what it will take.

Serious questions must be asked about what reform has been achieved in five years.
I saw online comments on news articles last week from some readers of this newspaper who want children locked up and say the rights of the victims of crime should be prioritised, to make the streets safe.

I empathise with victims, and I know it is traumatic, but when you put kids in detention you are not stopping crime, you set people on a path of criminal offending guaranteeing an increase in crime.

NT Government statistics indicate that 77 per cent of children released from detention return within 12 months. In contrast, 64 per cent of children who complete a diversion program do not reoffend within 12 months.

The Royal Commission found that the majority of children that end up being found guilty of an offence had been previously reported to child protection and placed in out-of-home-care.

Detention exacerbates their lifelong trauma.

It costs nearly $83,000 in taxpayer money to detain a child on remand for 25 days, About 80% of children in detention are held for long periods waiting for their court cases despite not having been found guilty of an offence. t.

Multiply that by how many young people are in detention and it could pay for meaningful therapeutic services that investigate and address the underlying psychological issues affecting the children.

A better system to treat our children can exist, that addresses the causes of crime, that treats children with dignity and puts victims firmly at the centre and works for everyone, but it will take bravery to stay the course.

The Labor Government buckled to pressure to look tough on crime when it introduced laws last year that made it tougher for children to receive bail, despite no evidence it worked and going against the Royal Commission recommendations.

We cannot wait until late 2023 for the new detention facility to open, we must urgently act.

Or will it take a tragedy to force some action?