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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
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
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
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.
Updated 9 January 2003.