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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

the Social

Justice In Early Childhood Group (SJIECG)

The Social Justice

In Early Childhood Group (SJIECG) was formed in 1996 and is made up of

early childhood professionals focussed on social justice issues as they

relate to children and their families. The group aims to raise the awareness

of social justice issues within the early childhood profession. The group

membership includes teachers, students, childrens services managers, additional

needs workers and administrators. Group members are based in Sydney, but

work in local, state and national services.

In carrying out its

aims SJIECG liaises with peak organisations to promote social justice

issues to ensure that the rights of children are paramount within the

professional and political arenas.

SJIECG is very pleased

to have the opportunity to submit our concerns to the Human Rights and

Equal Opportunity Commission Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

Centres (IDC) and endorse the attached submission from Ms Trish Highfield.

Over the last 18 months Ms Highfield has been a regular visitor at Villawood

IDC. Ms Highfield is a member of SJIECG. We understand that Ms Highfield

has forwarded her original submission to HREOC, we have enclosed a copy.

We wish to express

our extreme concern for the psychological and physical health of all the

detainees. As early childhood professionals we are particularly concerned

about the children and their families. Our concern is both for their immediate

and future well being.

The poignant descriptions

in Ms Highfield's submission illustrate the overwhelming grief, loss,

sadness, depression and sense of hopelessness that the detainees are experiencing.

Effects of Trauma:

Early childhood research

unequivocally demonstrates that,

Children who do

not receive appropriate support in their early years have a much higher

risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (Garino, Dubrow, Kostelny

& Pardo,1992: Karcher,1994). Children can develop extremely aggressive

behaviours, somatic illnesses, depression and/or learning difficulties

(Demaree, 1994; Lawson, 1995). Long-term mental health problems are

likely to occur, even in those children whose early behaviours appear

relatively unaffected (Garbarino et al.,1992). (1)

We know that these

children and their families have already suffered enormous trauma and

tragedy both in their country of origin and on the journey to seek asylum.

We know that maintaining children in the traumatic environment of the

IDC is placing them at unnecessary risk for continued harm.

Family Autonomy:

As early childhood

professionals we have daily experience in the importance of family autonomy.

We witness parents and guardians empowered to make decisions about their

children's care, education, medical, religious, social and emotional needs.

Research demonstrates, 'the link between strong familial relationships

and productive and fulfilling adult citizenship.' (Howard, 2001) (2)

Ms Highfield's submission

provides a tragic example of one parent's feelings of powerlessness to

protect her child from distressing and inappropriate practices of the

'officers' in the IDC.

That State and Commonwealth

governments recognise the importance of family autonomy for Australian

families is reflected in programs such as Families First (NSW) and Stronger

Families and Communities Strategies (Commonwealth). However the Commonwealth

government is abrogating responsibility for families in detention, by

only meeting the nominal basic living requirements.

Children who are

currently in detention without family members, 'Unaccompanied Minors,'

represent a special group of vulnerable detainees and need particular

programs to assist them in becoming a part of the Australian society.

Without family they need support to maintain the strength and resilience

they have already exemplified, in order to continue to utilise their own


A Child's Right

to Education :

Mares (2001) cites

with respect to the right for children to have access to education that,

DIMA's Immigration

Detention Standards, Paragraph 9.4.1 states unequivocally that 'social

and educational programs appropriate to the children's age and abilities

are available to all children in detention. (3)

We know however that

schooling has not been provided regularly or reliably to these children.

Our daily experience

as early childhood professionals reinforces the importance of play and

educational experiences in the healthy development of young children.

We know that children grow and flourish in environments that are warm,

caring, safe, arouse interest and curiosity and are culturally sensitive

and supportive. Conditions in the detention centre as described in Ms

Highfield's submission reflect that these fundamental factors that contribute

to healthy development are missing.

Working with families

is integral to the early childhood profession. It is well recognised in

our field that to perform the work of parenting , families need support

and supported families are more able to enjoy their children. Linke (2001)

comments that in assisting attachments to develop and be reinforced between

children and their parents the parents need ,

'Personal support

- someone to talk things over with, to affirm when the carer (parent)

is doing well and give the carer (parent) a break when needed.' (4)

In the detention

centres staff lack appropriate training to give this support to families.

Impact of Detention

on Children's Understanding of Morality and Justice:

'It is in children's

early years that they construct knowledge about themselves and others

and develop an understanding of justice and morality.'(Pope-Edwards, 1986)

(5) If children do not experience justice and morality

in their own lives it leaves a vacuum, making their task of becoming healthy,

fully functioning moral adults extraordinarily difficult. We know that

these children have already experienced extreme injustices in their country

of origin. We question the justice they are experiencing in our immigration

detention centres.

'Between 1989 -

1997, 763 children and 75 babies spent up to four years behind barbed

wire.' (Barnett, 2001) (6)

The prison like environment

children in detention experience causes severe emotional stress in their

lives, making ever more difficult their task of forming stable and constructive

ideas about people, society and a sense of moral right and wrong.

'Babies have been

born into detention and children have grown up peering through barbed

wire to the open spaces beyond the compound.' (The Age, 28.5.98) (7)

As many of the children

and their families presently in detention will ultimately be released

into the Australian community it is in our own best interests to assist

in the creation of adults who can appreciate basic human values, respect

the rights of others, and recognise their responsibilities as members

of our society.

Australia - a

country divided:

Many of the SJIEC

group members live and/or work in culturally and linguistically diverse

communities. As such we have direct experience with the harmonious relationships

that exist within these communities and these community's abilities to

rise to the challenges integral to maintaining this harmony.

We are dismayed at

the wedge that we perceive is being driven into our formerly successful

multicultural and diverse society by the policies of the current Commonwealth

government. The hatred directed to the asylum seekers by some sectors

of the media and the Australian community endangers our society.

The year of 1999

saw the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights

of the Child. Sadly, 'children have become one of the fastest growing

groups on the receiving end of human rights abuses.' (Reid, 1999) (8)

As Ms Highfield's

submission clearly illustrates, immigration detainees have been traumatised

by the conditions in the detention centres and are clearly at risk of

continued harm and trauma in that environment. We are deeply distressed

and disturbed that Australia is contributing to these tragic human rights



We support Article

37 (b) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

to which Australia is a signatory which states that,

No child shall

be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest,

detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the

law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for ht shortest

appropriate period of time.(9)

It is imperative

that the Australian government consider options other than mandatory detention.

We recommend the immediate release of detainees into the community with

the appropriate support for their education, vocational training, medical,

dental and psychological needs.

Thankyou for your

consideration of our concerns and the attached copy of the submission

by Ms Highfield.

(1) Dr

M Sims, Dr J Hayden, Dr G Palmer and T Hutchins Working in Early Childhood

Settings with Children who have experienced refugee or war- related trauma.

Australian Journal of Early Childhood Vol 25 No 4 Dec 2000.

(2) S

Howard. Childrens Perceptions of their Fathers Reflections National Gowrie

RAP Publications Issue 2 Feb 2001

(3) P

Mares Borderline Australia's Treatment of Refugees and Asylum Seekers


(4) P

Linke Attachments Past and Present. Reflections National Gowrie RAP Publications

Issue 2 Feb 2001


C Pope-Edwards and P G Ramsey Social and Moral Development in Young Children.

Creative Approaches for the Classroom 1986


K Barnett A Fair Go… Unless you are the child of an asylum seeker

in Australia Every Child Vol 7. No 3, Winter 2001


The Age, 28.05.98 in K Barnett A Fair Go… Unless you are the child

of an asylum seeker in Australia Every Child Vol 7. No 3, Winter 2001

(8) M

Reid Children in South Asia. Their Right to a Future. Every Child Vol

5 No 4 Summer 1999

(9) United

Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. 20 November 1989.


Updated 22 October 2002.