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Submission to National Inquiry

into Children in Immigration Detention from

Child & Family Welfare

Association of Australia Inc.


3rd May 2002

Dr Sev Ozdowski

Human Rights Commissioner

Australian Human Rights & Equal Opportunities Commission

Dear Commissioner,

Re : National Inquiry

into Children in Immigration Detention

The Child and Family

Welfare Association of Australia is the national peak body representing

non-government organisations working with children and young people experiencing

abuse and neglect and their families. The Association represents more

than 80 organisations across Australia engaged in child and family welfare

service provision, including each State and Territory peak child welfare

association. The Association of Children Welfare Agencies (ACWA) is a

founding state based peak member of CAFWAA.

Promoting the safety

and well being of all children and young people in Australia, particularly

those at risk of harm and abuse, is CAFWAA's primary aim. To this end

CAFWAA has watched with growing alarm the situation unfolding in immigration

detention centres in Australia where children, both those as part of families

together with children without parents or family, are being forcefully

detained. To a limited degree some of CAFWAA's members across Australia

have become involved in assisting families and unaccompanied children

post their release from detention facilities, and this experience has

served to strengthen CAFWAA's concerns about current immigration practice

and policy.

Like much of the

rest of the world Australian policy in child welfare has seen a consistent

shift away from institutional models of care of children and young people

for more than 20 years. This has resulted in a sharp decline in the number

of children cared for in congregate care facilities and group homes. This

shift has primarily been driven by evidence pointing to the often-damaging

effects of institutional care on children and young people, both psychologically

and at times physically.

In short, institutions,

particularly those which rely on containment, have been proven in the

main to be detrimental to the well being of children and young people

and remain in use only for children with extremely challenging behaviours

which may present a harm to themselves or others, or for young offenders.

In this context it

remains untenable that children, who have committed no crime or have presented

no discernable behaviours on their arrival in Australia which may suggest

a secure environment is warranted, are detained for many months on end.

Such incarceration is not only psychologically damaging in itself but

the mixture of children and adults in the one institutional setting for

lengthy periods is courting the risk of abuse being perpetrated on vulnerable

members, most notably defenceless children. For the majority of children

and family members who will be released in to the community at some point,

the experience of incarceration in generally remote institutional facilities,

is damaging to their health and well being and impairs their capacity

to settle successfully into Australian society. This includes at best

a disruptive and at worst a non existent educational experience throughout

their detention. As such it is a counter-productive policy and a breach

of children and young people's right to a safe and protective upbringing

and environment.

The lack of clarity

over the right and powers of State child welfare authorities to investigate

and act on concerns arising from the forced detention of children in 'immigration'

facilities only compounds the problems experienced and further denies

their rights to protection. It is difficult to imagine such rights being

denied to any other members of the community to this extent.

CAFWAA fully supports

the position adopted by ACWA as outlined in its submission to the inquiry.

Furthermore CAFWAA calls on the Australian Government to:

  • Abolish the practice

    of mandatory detention for refugee children and families and immediately

    establish community based care programs. Community based care is widely

    accepted as being a necessary condition for children to attain normal

    development. The outcomes for children in terms of recovery from traumas

    are much higher when they are placed in caring community environments

    under the protective care of family members or with kinship and cultural

    groups the same as their own. Many CAFWAA member agencies have indicated

    a willingness to provide accommodation and support in the community

    for refugee children and families.

  • As long as the

    detention centres remain, children and young people must be allowed

    to attend local schools, interact with local communities and have access

    to the full range of health and mental health services accorded the

    rest of the Australian community. This will necessitate the relocation

    of detention facilities from remote and generally poorly serviced communities.

  • As long as detention

    centres remain State and Territory child protection authorities must

    also be given the same jurisdictional powers to intervene, assess and

    investigate any allegations of child abuse or neglect.

Chairperson

CAFWAA

Last

Updated 9 January 2003.