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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.
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.