Submission to the National
Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from
is the official welfare arm of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
The service was established in 1961 and is one of the longest standing
welfare agencies in the Hunter. Centacare aims to provide high quality
services concerned with the alleviation of conditions which lead to injustice
or misery through poverty, alienation, unemployment, marital disharmony,
child abuse, neglect and rejection, helplessness or other forms of suffering
and distress. The primary purpose of assistance from Centacare is to empower
a person or family to manage their situation better and, where possible,
to change it.
strives to be a centre of excellence for family and community support
services in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, the Hunter Region and beyond.
We warmly welcome any person in the diocese or region who is in need;
regardless of age, gender, physical or intellectual capacity, religion,
appearance or ethnicity. Our 60 staff work across a range of service areas.
They are selected for their skill, experience and commitment to the Agency
We provide children's
services such as foster care, respite care, supervised access and adoption.
We assist young people through our accommodation service and Job Placement
Employment and Training (JPET) program. We have a residential support
facility for adults with an intellectual disability. We have a counselling
service that assists people with a wide range of issues.
Statement to the Inquiry
does not support the current model of Immigration Detention. Centacare
supports the assertion of the Hunter Community Council that regardless
of how detainees arrive on Australian shores, each individual deserves
quality of care whilst their requests are being processed and that these
children should not be punished or used as 'examples' in order to deter
Of primary concern
to Centacare is that the detention of children as currently practised
may well breach our own state child protection laws and not meet Australia's
commitment under the Convention of the Rights of the Child. In order to
further ensure the best interests of the child, Centacare Newcastle calls
for a separation of the roles of Immigration Minister and designated Guardian
to children in Immigration Detention, and that an independent guardian
be appointed by a justice body.
is concerned that access to children and their families is severely restricted.
The practice of isolation, secrecy and misinformation practised by the
Commonwealth Government in relation to detainees contradicts the Government's
current rhetoric of community consultation and partnership.
Psychological and Social Well-Being
of Children in Immigration Detention
Centacare has a long
history of supporting children in Out Of Home Care and young people isolated
from their families. Centacare is concerned that the general community,
and in particular child and family welfare agencies whose responsibility
it is to report suspected situations of child neglect or abuse are not
properly informed of the ongoing conditions for children in immigration
framework to reduce risk of harm to children in immigration detention
is gravely concerned that there exists no systematic and standardised
approach to risk assessment for children in immigration detention. Nor
is there clear communication or accountability on behalf of the Commonwealth
Government and the companies they contract to manage the detention centres
and therefore the care of children in detention.
An integrated framework
is needed that takes into account:
- The reluctance
of children to disclose incidents of abuse
- The age, development,
and functioning level of the child
- The loss and trauma
experienced by these children who have been removed from all that is
familiar, and who have little say in this move
- The violence,
trauma and oppression these children may have experienced or witness
in their country of origin and en route to Australia
- The cultural nuances
of family life, parenting styles, and ways of showing and managing grief
- That degree
of risk of harmand probability of harm (key concepts in
current NSW child protection initiatives) are directly related to the
conditions within detention centres
calls for an independent monitoring system that recognises these principles
and that can ensure children who are not receiving adequate protection
and care in relation to their psychological and social wellbeing, health,
education and recreation receive immediate attention.
The impact of
government policies on the wellbeing of children
a large amount of time and resources each year trying to alleviate the
negative impact on children and young people who have lived in stressful
and insecure conditions. In caring for children, we recognise the importance
of the attachment between the child and their primary carer, usually the
mother, to a child's healthy development. The wellbeing of parents is
a key factor in this development as they are the primary conductors through
which children form relationships with the outside world. Traumatised
and depressed parents are less able to be sensitive caregivers and as
such able to respond to the child's needs.
In detaining families
for long periods of time and without adequate support and care, children
are placed at risk because the social and psychological wellbeing of the
child is dependent on the wellbeing of the family members. As such, the
child's development - from coping mechanisms and feelings of safety, to
their language development and ability to relate to others - is compromised
when the family is living in conditions described in recent reports (i.e.
Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, 2001).
is concerned that the treatment of children and their families in immigration
detention is both unjust and discriminatory. Detainees suffering from
mood disorders and mental illness often suffer from feelings of despair,
psychomotor retardation and suicidal thoughts. These symptoms of depression
and trauma have been vilified by the immigration minister, who has described
the actions of desperate detainees as 'manipulative'. Families may be
better supported in immigration detention by ensuring that mental illness,
trauma and mood disorders are appropriately managed whilst their requests
are being processed.
Conclusion and recommendations
is gravely concerned that the disparity in approaches between the Commonwealth
and the States and Territories in regards to child protection legislation
is allowing vulnerable children to remain unprotected. It is neither fair
nor just to deny children the right to an education or adequate health
care because of the actions of their parents. These children must not
be punished to deter others. It is one issue to look at the reasons why
their families came to Australia; it is another to care for them with
compassion until their status is identified.
It is not good enough
to say in years to come that we didn't know what was happening within
immigration detention centres. Australians not only have the right to
know how our government is treating other people but also the responsibility
to ensure that human rights abuses do not continue because we did nothing.
We know that denying children adequate education and health care has detrimental
affects. We know that separating children from their parents unnecessarily
causes multiple problems later on in life. We know that children are particularly
vulnerable and are in need of protection in times of war and strife. With
this sometimes painfully learned knowledge, we cannot support a system
that is fundamentally unjust, particularly to children, and do not support
the prolonged detention of asylum seekers.
In summary, Centacare
puts forward the following recommendations:
- That the practice
of long-term detention of children, and families with children, should
- That the family
unit be maintained wherever possible and that it be adequately supported
so that the wellbeing of each individual within the family contributes
to the general wellbeing and resilience of the family as a whole
- That an independent
body be established to continually monitor the conditions within detention
centres and the processing of detainees
- That an independent
Commonwealth Children's Guardian be appointed to ensure the care and
protection of children in immigration detention and in after care
Updated 9 January 2003.