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Commission Website: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

the NSW Association of Community

Based Children's Services (NACBCS)

The National Association

of Community Based Children's Services (NACBCS) represents long day care,

preschool, occasional care and outside school hours care services that

are community owned and managed. The members of NACBCS predominantly work

in direct contact with children and families in the services and advocate

for quality childcare services for young children.

NSW NACBCS is extremely

concerned about the detention of children of asylum seekers and unaccompanied

minors who are seeking asylum in Australia. A number of children have

also been born in detention. Many of these children have spent years behind

razor wire. This is not an appropriate environment for children. Detention

of children contravenes the United Nations Convention of the Rights of

the Child that states that no child should be held in detention.

The detention of

these children clearly breaches other obligations of Australia as signatories

to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. These include

a child's right to family life, the right to the highest attainable standard

of health, protection from all forms of physical or mental violence and

the right to recover and be rehabilitated from neglect and abuse, the

right to practise their culture, language and religion, the right to play

and recreation and the right to education. Detention denies children access

to these basic human rights and to social justice that is available to

other children in Australia.

Reports from people

who have visited children in detention centres over a number of years,

such as Trish Highfield, and people who have worked in detention centres,

such as Barbara Rogalla provide compelling evidence that detention is

no place for children. Food is eaten only when given out, usually after

standing in a queue. Infants and young children are placed in a physically

harsh and restricted environment with razor wire, high fences and double

gates. Children's daily experience is one of sirens and loudspeakers,

routine waking by guards on night patrol and muster at any time of the

day and night (Rogalla & Highfield, 2001).

There is inadequate

space and facilities for safe play and development. For example playground

equipment at Villawood is old, rusty, exposed to extreme temperatures

and with no shade cloth or soft fall area - conditions that would not

be allowed in a community child care facility (Highfield, 2001). Highfield

notes that children in detention at Villawood lack stimulation and play

equipment and instead occupy themselves by shaking the perimeter fence.

Children in detention also have no access to trained child care staff

who are qualified to develop appropriate programming for their care and

education. These are not appropriate facilities for young children at

a crucial stage of their development. Early brain research provides scientific

evidence that during the first three years of life the brain develops

to 90% of adult size and is extremely sensitive to environmental influences.

However, it is not

enough to bring more play equipment and early childhood staff into detention

centres. Detention is no place for children. In detention children are

exposed to stress and trauma and to an institutional system that is inherently

violent. They are exposed to detainees who are depressed, angry and often

suicidal. The lack of privacy means that parents are unable to protect

their children from witnessing the violence and despair of adults living

with them. "Some children respond to this environment by showing

signs of physical, social or psychological maladaptive behaviour"

(Rogalla & Highfield, 2001:8) which will have long term detrimental

effects on their mental wellbeing.

Refugee parents frequently

experienced torture, imprisonment, persecution and institutional violence

in the process of fleeing their country of origin. They arrive in Australia

already suffering from stress and trauma. They experience further trauma

and depression when they are placed in detention and suffer at the hands

of a mechanistic and bureaucratic system (Rogalla & Highfield, 2001).

Detention leads to a day to day mounting of stress and undermining of

an individual's mental state (Silove, Steel and Mollica, in Rogalla &

Highfield, 2001) caused by the nature of the detention environment.

Research clearly

indicates that parents who suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress

disorder are unable to provide the sorts of interactions necessary to

nurture children (Shore, 1997). The effects of institutionalisation further

undermines parents' capacity to provide a positive, nurturing environment.

Children need a safe, secure, stimulating environment in order to grow

and learn. Detention does not provide children with any of these.

The first three years

of life in particular are the time when a young child's brain is most

vulnerable to disruptive and traumatising experiences (Shore, 1997). A

key aspect of early social and emotional development is attachment. A

secure attachment to caregivers is essential for emotional wellbeing.

When detainees are moved from facility to facility, family members are

separated it is difficult for children to form secure attachments.


We urge the Australian

Government to meet its international obligations under the United Nations

Convention on the Rights of the Child to the children currently held in

immigration detention and to new arrivals and to

  • Release children

    and their families currently held in detention into the community and

    house newly arriving families and children in the community whilst their

    claims for refugee status are assessed.

  • Maintain the best

    interests of the child in all actions concerning children of asylum


  • Provide appropriate

    support services for children and families seeking asylum, including

    access to culturally and linguistically appropriate child care and health

    programs within the community as well as support to address stress and



Highfield, T. (2001).

No play camp. Australian Children's Rights News, No. 28, March.

Rogalla, B. &

Highfield, T. (2001). The systematic incarceration of children in immigration

detention centres of Australia: A modern form of torture. Paper presented

at the Children, Torture and other Forms of Violence conference, Tampere,

Finland, 27 November - 2 December.

Shore, R. (1997).

Rethinking the brain: New insights into early development. New

York: Families at Work Institute.


Updated 10 October 2002.