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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

Barnardos Australia

Dear Sir/Madam



Barnardos Australia

is a family support and out of home care children's welfare agency operating

services in New South Wales and ACT. We make this submission based on

a number of detainee children and young people that we have provided services

for within their own families, and as homeless adolescents. Furthermore,

Barnardos has general experience of the impact of institutional care of

children and young people, and children living with uncertainty and stress.

We have proved specialist support services to refugee Indo-Chinese young

people who have experienced detention in refugee camps.

We believe that the

children and young people who have been in detention have three sets of

issues: they have experienced migration, they have been refugees, and

they have had the added experience of detention. The impact of any one

of these issues is difficult to differentiate; however the cumulative

impact is significant.

This submission is

based on service experience predominantly with the last wave of political

refugees from Indo-china (1985-present) through Kingston House. However

we have had experience of detainees in 2001 from Afghanistan (two adolescents),

the West Sahara (an adolescent) and from Iraq (one family of five and

one father and child). These people had come through Villawood, Curtin

and Port Headland.

Kingston House was

established in 1985 to assist Indo-Chinese refugees who had arrived in

Australia without relatives or who had become isolated since arrival,

it subsequently moved into working with young people under the Orderly

Departure program and Family Reunion. Kingston House specialises in young

people with emotional disturbance and challenging behaviour. (Refer

to attachment)

Our submission relates

to terms of reference:

3. The adequacy

and effectiveness of the policies governing children in immigrant detention

or child asylum seekers and refugees residing in the community after

the period of detention with reference to the conditions under which

they are detained. Our experience of working with these young people

is that they can have very disturbed behaviour for long periods of time.

4. Impact of

detention on the well-being and healthy development of children, including

their long-term development. Our experience indicates that the length

of detention is directly related to the level of disturbance.

5. The additional

measures and safeguards, which may be required in detention facilities

to protect human rights and best interests of, detained children.

We believe that unaccompanied children and young people should not be

in detention, and that families should be moved into the community.

6. The additional

measures and safeguards which may be required to protect the human rights

and best interests of child asylum seekers and refugees residing in

the community after the period of detention. What we have learnt

about providing services to these young people is that culturally sensitive

services staffed when ever possible by workers of the same culture is

extremely important. This work is in common with migrant and refugee

experiences generally. We would point to the need for family support

and accommodation services for these children.






Policies and practices

in immigration centres appear to lead to distress in children and young

people, which last long after the period of detention. This appears to

be because of general conditions of detention, lack of attention to children's

developmental needs and failure of policies to respect culture during


CASESTUDY 1: Interview with

boy aged 12, two years after detention:

What was good

about your time in detention?

The only good

thing was that I met a man who could speak my language-we used to talk,

he was very nice.

What was bad?

There was no space

to play and there were fences everywhere. I did not enjoy the food, it

had a strange colour and the chicken had its hairs still on it. Also there

was very uncomfortable. Also there was no morning or afternoon teas and

drinks. I found it hard to sleep on my bed, as it was very uncomfortable.

I was scared of the strangers who were fighting. I missed my father, relatives

and home a lot.

What did it feel


I was worried

all the time and had nightmares. I did not know if I would be able to

see my father again (father was delayed for some months before reuniting

with family). I felt like I'd been in prison and was worried about the

future. I did not know whether we could get out and have a normal life

like other children.

Do you still think

about your time in detention?

Yes, sometimes

I remember. But I don't want to remember, as it makes me feel uncomfortable.

I would like to forget about it. I wish it had not happened to us.

This boy's mother


What sort of education

were the children offered?

There was English

classes available for adults and children on Mondays to Fridays from 9-11.30

and 1-2.30. There were excursions for the children every 6 weeks

What were your

main concerns for your children while being in detention?

I felt insecure

emotionally and physically. There was limited food for us and I was worried

about our health- we had very low quality of food and the place was unhygienic.

This young person's

mother was pregnant during detention and comments about support for parents

of new babies:

Her description

of maternity services

I was eight months

pregnant when I first arrived at the detention centre; a nurse was available

from morning till 4. I was taken to (a city) hospital once or twice a

week for check ups. On arrival and departure I was accompanied by two

officers, which was embarrassing as I was treated like a prisoner. They

did not provide information to me, but if I had questions or concerns

I could ask. I was taken to Fairfield Hospital only once following the

birth of my son.



We would refer you

to recent work on the impact of abuse and trauma, on brain development

of children, specifically undertaken by Professor Bruce Perry. This research

is in its early stages and needs to be considered carefully in relation

to the experience of young children in detention and living with stressed

caregivers. The work on brain development provides possible understanding

of the severe behavioural and emotional conditions of young people who

have experienced high level of drama, violent environment or neglect,

well known and observed in children entering the 'care system'. Barnardos

has had more than 100 years experience of these children's severe stress

on parents so that they are unable to provide for the emotional needs

of infants and toddlers, which leads to severe long-term disruption of

healthy child development.

We have evidence

from a mother who was detained with her children, about stress:

"My children

were under a lot of stress due to sharing concerns for their father,

being in a new environment, lack of freedom, limited resources (TV,

radio, toys) and low quality food. My children used to cry, have nightmares

and were occupied with whether we were going to get our visas or get

deported. Physically they were not safe at all and I was supervising

them at all times. We were living with strangers from all over the world

and could not trust them. There were a lot of fights, violence and suicide

among the refugees as a result of being under a high level of stress.


We do not believe

that we can make more specific comments on the long-term impact of the

small children involved in this situation, however we believe that policy

should err on the side of caution in exposing children and young people

to detention - see our comments in Section 5.

Children who have

experienced detention complained specifically about the rigidity of meal

schedules, which may not suit children.

Evidence from a mother

pregnant during detention is that anti-natal care was minimally offered,

in such a way it was unlikely to have been productive. "I was

accompanied by two officers, which was embarrassing, as I was treated

like a prisoner".




Our experience of

institutionalisation of children, who are unable to live with their parents

in the Australian community, has led us to close down all residential

facilities for young people under 15 and have children in culturally appropriate

foster families. We believe that children (0-12 years) need as normalised

a living situation as possible, that poor group behaviour is hard to contain

in a group living situation. Barnardo's does maintain a residential service

for older adolescents with particular cultural requirements, because of

the difficulty of recruiting carers able to handle difficult behaviour,

it is also more normal for older adolescents to live in "group' housing.

We would recommend

that younger children, without family or a kin group with whom they are

close, should not live in an institutional setting.

We have had experience

of children living with their family in uncertainty over where they will

live, and having come from situations of domestic violence. In working

with these families we know that the mental wellbeing of the parents is

the most important element in stabilising the child. Interviews with the

mother of the boy quoted above, indicate that parents were stressed during

the detention.

We would recommend

that children under twelve, should not be in detention, even if accompanied

by their parents

If these children

are nevertheless kept in detention our recommendations are guided by our

experience of dealing with children in care and the casemanagement protocols

used to address children's developmental needs. (This is the Looking After

Children program, which was developed in the United Kingdom after extensive

research on normal child development).

It is our recommendation

that the following issue areas require active attention while in detention:

  • Educational services

  • Health services
  • Social presentation


  • Identity development
  • Family and social


  • Emotional and

    behavioural development

  • Self care skills


Fatima is five

(5) years old. She came to Australia with her father last August, having

left her mother and baby brother in Iran. The family could only afford

to pay the people smugglers for two (2), so it was decided Mr. J. would

come bringing his daughter, who has multiple disabilities, in the hope

of getting medical treatment for her which the family could not afford

in Iran. Iraqian people are increasingly less welcome in Iran and so there

was a real threat that Mr. J and his family would be sent back to Iraq.

Mr. J. had very valid fears should he be returned to his own country where

he had previously been imprisoned for refusing to join the army, he could

be returned to prison or even executed.

Mr. J. and

Fatima travelled across country by foot and road transport, then by plane

and boat. The boat trip was the most harrowing, as it was a small boat

with approximately one hundred and forty (140) people on board sitting

shoulder too shoulder, with very little food to eat. This part of the

journey was to last for sixty (60) hours. They arrived at Christmas Island

at 3.30am and on arrival everyone, including the children, had a number

stamped on their hand. This was how they were addressed for the next six

(6) months. All their personal belongings were taken including Fatima's

toy monkey her mother had given her. Fatima was frightened and confused

and she cried constantly.

After a

week Mr. J. and Fatima were sent to a detention centre in X. On arrival

they were placed in a prison like room which they shared with six (6)

other people, all men. They remained in this section of the camp for six

(6) weeks. No toys or books were provided for Fatima. They were then moved

to another section of the Detention Centre were they were locked in for

two (2) weeks. At the end of this period they were allowed to go outside

to the play area, which was very hot and without shade.

Fatima became

ill and her father took her to the Detention's medical centre as she would

not eat and was coughing a lot. He was told just to make sure she took

fluids, after two (2) weeks she was still sick, he was then given cough

medicine. Medical staff were aware that Fatima suffered from asthma but

only after three (3) months of repeated requests by Mr. J. was he given

an inhaler/puffer so he would not have to take her back to the medical

centre for treatment, if she had an attack. When medicals for Fatima were

conducted her father requested an interpreter but was told there were

none available. Blood tests were carried out, however no results or explanation

for the tests was given. Despite the fact that doctors at the Detention

Centre noted on the medical certificates that further investigations were

necessary in order to diagnose the extent of her brain damage, there was

no medical follow-up arranged for Fatima on leaving the Detention Centre,

apart from a referral for a hearing aid for her, which was refused.

When Mr.

J. and Fatima were granted a Temporary Protection Visa they were taken

to Perth where they were placed in temporary accommodation with another

family. Mr. J came with Fatima to Sydney in February this year because

he had heard from a family he met in the camp that conditions were better

in Sydney with regard to work, housing and services that would assist

Fatima given her special needs.

The family

was referred to Barnardos Auburn Childrens Family Centre, by Centrelink,

and was seen on the 4th April 2002. Barnardos is currently providing a

Family Support and Family Day Care and we continue to advocate and liase

on behalf of the family with the Department of Housing, Department of

Education and the Department of Health, all of which has been hampered

by the fact that the family only has a Temporary Protection Visa.





We believe that specialised

services should be made available to house detached young people after

periods in detention. The Kingston House model has taught us a great deal

and this information should be used as a model.

Our major tasks in

trying to stabilise their behaviour relates to:

  • providing accommodation

    which is able to handle extremes in behaviour, and which is able to

    serve as a base for ongoing support

  • promoting identity


  • enhancing adaptation

    to Australian culture

  • assistance with

    mourning loss

  • address the underlying

    causes of behaviour problems such as, loss, war, torture etc.

  • address health


  • provide language


  • integrate with

    the educational system

  • provide capacity

    to live independently

  • address legal


The effectiveness

of our work has been based on the use of workers who have had the experience

of asylum seeking and preferably from the same cultural background as

the young people, and to have staff stability and knowledge of child development.

Kingston House was staffed with people of Indo-Chinese background (with

the exception of the Supervisor of the workers); none began with welfare

qualifications, but all studied and went on to work in welfare.

We would point our

that the refugee experience alone brings problems of psychological adjustment

[1] such as: trauma from witnessing violence, language

difficulties, family disruption and a sense of not being able to return

home and resulting loss and grief. The migration experience alone brings

issues of tensions between home and school values, dependency of parents

on their language skills bringing about role difficulties, discrimination

and racism, difficulties in identity and adjustment to a different culture

Two experiences with

adolescents indicate the difficulties with which these young people live

after detention, and the nature of the assistance they require.


R came to the

attention of Barnardos Adolescent Services, after being placed in a Detention

Centre. A lawyer assigned to his residency case referred him to the Program.

R was born

in Western Sahara and lived there until he was about fourteen, when he

became detached from his family. They are believed to be either dead or

in prison, and R was left to survive on the streets. R spent the next

few months living on the streets and in refuges, when he could find them.

He travelled to many cities by stowing away on trains and boats. After

he reached Rotterdam, he stowed away on a boat headed for Australia.

Upon arrival,

he was granted refugee status and placed in x detention centre. He then

met with a lawyer, who showed compassion, and felt she needed to act to

save R from being returned to his country of birth. With her assistance,

R became a protected person in August 1996, under the Children (Care and

Protection) Act.

R was then

housed by the Department of Immigration in a small unit with another young

man. This housing was available to him for a maximum of three months.

It quickly became apparent that R had huge issues to overcome. Firstly,

he did not speak any English, and the dialect he did speak was very rare

as he came from such a remote village. Secondly, R had no identification

papers, and was actually unsure of his age. (It is believed that he is

actually older than he said). Thirdly, he is a devout Muslim and finding

it very difficult living with someone who did not share, or support, his

beliefs. Finally, he was expected to find employment and alternative accommodation

within the three months.


had great difficulty in locating a translator, but eventually found one

with the assistance of SBS television. It was then that we discovered

that R was actually being physically abused by his flatmate. Barnardos

removed R from the situation and placed him in the Hohnen House residential

facility, with rotating youthworkers. R commenced intensive English lessons

with the translator.

It took

a long time getting R registered with Centrelink due to the lack of identification.

Once his English improved, he was enrolled in an OTEN course to give him

basic literacy and maths skills (apparently R had never been to school),

The lack

of a suitable placement was still a problem, and then his lawyer and her

family offered to provide care for him, with Barnardos support. R stayed

with them for several months - this allowed him to continue his studies,

save some money, learn some living and social skills, enjoy a caring family

environment, and the family fully supported his religious beliefs.

Once R was

'on his feet' he moved into a studio flat close by to his carers. He continued

to see them regularly, and has gone onto further studies.


A young man who

is from Afghanistan was in detention for 5 months has been in Kingston


M fled Afghanistan

with his father, after selling all their possessions to move out. They

left M's mother and 5 other siblings with relatives. The experience of

fleeing Afghanistan, the loss of his mother and other family members was

compounded by the stress of detention. M has now a very poor relationship

with his father. His father has a number of short-term jobs, and has now

left M. to go fruit picking in Victoria.

M had become involved

in antisocial behaviour. M stayed in Kingston House for a number of months

he required assistance with language and orientation to Australia. He

was seriously disturbed and anti-social, demonstrating violent behaviour.

Staff needed to be very skilled to work with him.


B. was in the

detention centre at X detention centre for approximately four months.

This was the time it took for his application for refugee status to be

processed. When he was granted refugee status he was provided with housing

for a maximum of three months, with the view to be able to gain employment

and set himself up in private rental accommodation.

The main issues

for B, initially, were:

- isolation

- confusion

- health issues

- religious issues

- cultural issues

- identity issues

- and the very obvious language issue.

None of these

issues were dealt with while B was in detention, leaving him with the

same issues, but compounded with stress and feeling of anger and fear

at being locked up.

On leaving the

detention centre, there was an expectation that B would gain employment

and be able to support himself. After a long struggle with the bureaucratic

system, we were able to get B on a benefit. This allowed him to buy essential

items such as food and travel tickets. An interpreter was found and B

began English lessons.

B was having ongoing

conflict with the young man he had been placed with, and was becoming

involved with a group of people who were involved in drug taking. We also

became concerned that prostitution may be an issue. B was also in an abusive

situation with the young man he was sharing with, and domestic violence

was becoming a concerning issue. B was moved immediately and placed in

Hohnen House (a Barnardo's residential facility) for a short time to ensure

his safety. He was then placed with a carer in Glebe.

B always felt

that he was a 'criminal' as he had been detained against his will, and

felt that he would never be able to achieve. Our caseworkers feel that

if the identified issues had been addressed while B was in detention,

and support continued once he was set up in the unit, B's integration

would have been much easier and his chances at gaining employment or studying

would have been much higher.

Barnardos Australia

believes that the experience of detention is compounding problems for

those who are ultimately being allowed to stay in Australia and may result

in a very poor capacity to adjust to Australian society.

If you require any

additional information about the material discussed in this submission,

please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely

Louise Voigt

CEO and Director of Welfare

Enc: Kingston House

Program (extract from Guide to Welfare Services)


See Refugee Children in Canada: Searching for Identity by Anne Marie Fantino

and Alice Colak in Child Welfare Vol LXXX n 5, September-October p587

for a fuller discussion of the adjustment issues for refugee children

and young people.


Updated 9 January 2003.