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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
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
minors seeking asylum must be given appropriate care and support within
- 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
- 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.
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"
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.