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Response on announcement of royal commission into youth detention in the Northern Territory

The shocking images and details of the management of Youth Detention in the NT have impacted on our whole community.  These images and the apparent endorsement of this type of brutal regime have shocked us, shamed us and call us to action. 

While a Royal Commission may be the only response that will make our Government accountable, we need to recognise that a Royal Commission in itself will not bring about change.  In 1987 there was a Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, yet deaths in custody continue and many of the recommendations were never fully realised.  In more recent times we have seen the Little Children are Sacred Report, resulting from an inquiry into the Protection of Children from sexual abuse, and then a further inquiry into the Child Protection System in 2010.  Despite these two inquiries we see a child protection system that continues to fail families.  In recent years there have been inquiries or reports into Don Dale including one from the Children’s Commissioner, another from the previous Children’s Commissioner and the 2015 Vita report.   Those in authority who had the power and resources to make changes chose not to.   So while we support a Royal Commission we need to maintain and develop strong advocacy about the changes that need to happen now.

We can confidently say that we do know that early intervention is the most significant way to prevent young people from entering the youth justice system.  This means addressing risks such as poor/failure of education and lack of support for families.  Interventions for young people need to focus on the whole family and community integration.  We need to actively reject quick fix solutions that appeal to the public and respond to negative community perceptions about young people.  This gives rise to popular ‘tough love’ approaches such as boot camps and mandatory sentencing which are costly and have limited effectiveness.

We want services available that support the development of children and have a positive connection to culture; we want services that help young people cope with their environment, give opportunities, and that build family and social connections.  CatholicCare NT is already doing this, our DAISY program in Darwin and Palmerston supports vulnerable young people who misuse drugs and alcohol, our Youth Outreach in Tennant Creek provides support and care for young people experiencing homelessness, our Youth Diversion teams in Wadeye and Tennant Creek support young people to stay away from the justice system.   More broadly, many of our programs focus on strengthening families, working towards families living in homes free from domestic violence and reducing the impacts of alcohol related harm.  But we do need to do more; many of these programs operate with minimal resources and uncertainty of funding.  

We will strongly support the reform process that will no doubt come out of the Royal Commission. In addition we would be advocating for:

  • Broader reform of the child protection system that includes an investment in early intervention, as preventing children from entering the child protection and justice systems is the biggest contribution we can make
  • Transparency in the oversight of children in statutory care and in youth detention that is independent of government and recognises the individual needs of each child and young person
  • Repelling legislation that breaches human rights
  • Engagement with Aboriginal leadership and communities in regards to the reform process

Media Contact:
Jayne Lloyd
Director, CatholicCare NT
(08) 8944 2000

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