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Commission Website: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from


Centacare Newcastle

Centacare Newcastle

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.

Centacare Newcastle

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

Centacare Newcastle

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.

Additionally Centacare

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

detention centres.

An integrated

framework to reduce risk of harm to children in immigration detention

Centacare Newcastle

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

    and loss

  • That degree

    of risk of harm and probability of harm (key concepts in

    current NSW child protection initiatives) are directly related to the

    conditions within detention centres

Centacare Newcastle

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

Centacare spends

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).

Additionally, Centacare

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

Centacare Newcastle

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:

  1. That the practice

    of long-term detention of children, and families with children, should


  2. 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

  3. That an independent

    body be established to continually monitor the conditions within detention

    centres and the processing of detainees

  4. 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.