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Submission to the National
Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from
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.
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,
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 ,
- 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
'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
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.
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.
Howard. Childrens Perceptions of their Fathers Reflections National Gowrie
RAP Publications Issue 2 Feb 2001
Mares Borderline Australia's Treatment of Refugees and Asylum Seekers
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
Reid Children in South Asia. Their Right to a Future. Every Child Vol
5 No 4 Summer 1999
Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. 20 November 1989.
Updated 22 October 2002.