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Submission to National Inquiry

into Children in Immigration Detention from

NSW branch of the Australian

Early Childhood Association

The Australian Early

Childhood Association (AECA) is a national non-government, non-profit

advocacy organisation that speaks out on behalf of all young children

from birth to eight years. It stands as the voice for children and aims

to ensure that the best interests of children are always at the forefront

of decision making. Members include childcare services, schools, peak

early childhood organisations and individuals who are interested in promoting

the best interests of children.

This submission was

prepared by Leonie Arthur (NSW Australian Early Childhood Association

Vice-President) based on ideas generated at a meeting of concerned members

on 2nd May 2002 and with reference to the draft National AECA Position

Statement on Children of Asylum Seekers, Children of Refugees and Children

in Detention.

AECA NSW is very

concerned about the plight of children in immigration detention. Detention

denies children their rights and undermines their physical and emotional

wellbeing. Changing buildings or playgrounds, or bringing play equipment

into detention facilities, does not address the stress and trauma suffered

in detention and the long term consequences for children's development

and learning. The only solution is to release children and their families

into the Australian community.



NSW wishes to put forward the following recommendations regarding children

of asylum seekers.

As the Minister for

Immigration is the Guardian of children in detention, it is incumbent

upon him to ensure that children are physically and emotionally safe from

harm and that they have the same rights as any other child in Australia.

This means that

  • No child should

    be held in detention. Children and families who are currently in detention

    should be released into the community immediately. New arrivals should

    be processed quickly and then released into the community to await decision

    on their refugee status.

  • Family unity must

    be maintained at all times. Children should not be separated from other

    family members.

  • Unaccompanied

    minors seeking asylum must be given appropriate care and support within

    the community.

  • Families must

    be provided with the resources and services necessary to support and

    care for their children in the community. This includes access to appropriate

    community services such as childcare, parenting support, health care,

    psychological support and access to education.

  • A Child Protection

    Policy covering children in immigration detention must be developed

    and implemented.

  • The contract between

    the Australian government and Australasian Correctional Management must

    be reviewed. Only people who have appropriate training in interacting

    with asylum seekers and who exhibit traits of empathy, humanity and

    integrity should be employed in detention centres. In addition all employees

    should meet the legal requirements for working with children, including

    training in child protection issues and working with children checks.


Keeping children

in detention is inhumane and is in breach of The United Nations Convention

on the Rights of the Child, of which Australia is a signatory. The Convention

on the Rights of the Child states that detention of children should "only

be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible time"

(Article 37b).

Children of asylum

seekers have the same rights as any other child under the UN Convention,

including the right to care and protection, the right to practice their

culture and religion freely and to speak their language, and the right

to play and education.

Children rely on

the care and protection of adults and governments as they are not able

to provide for their own needs. By placing children in mandatory detention

the federal government is abrogating their responsibility to provide care

and protection for children.

Children in immigration

detention should be entitled to the same rights and should receive the

same treatment as any other child in Australia, yet they do not. Children

at risk of abuse and neglect in the Australian community are reported

to the appropriate authority and steps are taken to rectify the situation.

Children (and their families) in immigration detention are constantly

exposed to the violence and abuse of the detention system and are at risk

of emotional and physical abuse and neglect, yet no steps are taken to

remove children from this environment. Prison is not considered an appropriate

place for young children, even when their mother is imprisoned, yet children

of asylum seekers are held for long periods in immigration detention.

Children's services such as long day care and preschool are expected to

meet basic requirements in order to operate, yet children in detention

are exposed to unsafe and inadequate play equipment.

The preamble to the

Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that children need an

environment of "happiness, love and understanding". Detention

does not provide children with any of these basic requirements. Children's

basic needs for food, shelter and care must be met before they can grow

and learn.

Prison-like detention

centres with razor wire, physical restraint and poor educational and play

facilities do not provide an appropriate environment for children. The

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines "the

right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational

activities" (Article 3.4). Play has an important role in children's

learning and development.

Research on brain

development in young children highlights the crucial importance of the

early years for future learning and emotional stability (Perry et al 1995;

Shore, 1997). While early childhood theory has always emphasised the importance

of the early years, there is now "hard science" to sustantiate

these claims. Research by Perry, Fraser Mustard and others has clearly

demonstrated the importance of early stimulating and nurturing interactions

for early brain development (Mellor, 2002). Detention centres not only

do not provide children with an appropriate physical or emotional environment

in which to grow and learn, these harsh environments are likely to have

a negative impact on children's life and on their future development.

Children develop

and grow best within the context of their family. It is not appropriate

therefore to set children free without also setting their parents and

caregivers free. Children need close emotional ties and secure attachment

to protect their mental health. All children need a safe, secure and predictable

environment in order to develop trust and attachment to significant others.

Secure attachment to caregivers is fundamental to children's development

(Shore, 1997).

Brain research indicates

that stress and trauma places children at risk of developing mental health

problems in later life (Perry et al 1995; Shore, 1997). Children in immigrant

detention have frequently suffered stress and trauma on their journey

to Australia and mandatory detention exacerbates this suffering. Children

and families who have experienced stress and trauma need access to appropriate

support if they are not to develop mental health problems later in life

(Sims, Hayden, Palmer & Hutchins, 2000). Instead of detention children

need a safe and secure environment and appropriate ongoing counselling.

Australasian Correctional

Management (ACM) are experienced in running prisons, not facilities for

children and families seeking asylum. Their staff members do not have

the appropriate levels of training or experience to work with children

and families who have experienced stress and trauma. Rather than detention

centres with ACM guards, what is needed are processing facilities with

appropriately trained staff. This should include medical staff, teachers,

childcare workers, interpreters and counsellors with experience in stress

and trauma. Once the immediate physical and mental health needs of children

and families are met they should then be released into the community and

receive ongoing support.


Mellor, E. (2002).

Quality in context. Putting Children First, issue 1. National Childcare

Accreditation Council.

Perry, B., Pollard,

R., Blakley, T., Baker, W., Vigilante, D. (1995). Childhood Trauma, the

Neurobiology of Adaptation and Use-dependant Development of the Brain:How

states become Traits, Infant Mental Health Journal 16 (4).

Shore, R. (1997).

Rethinking the brain: New Insights into early development. New

York: Families at Work Institute.

Sims, M., Hayden,

Palmer J. & Hutchins, T. (2000). Working in Early Childhood Settings

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

Journal of Early Childhood Vol 25 No 4.


Updated 9 January 2003.