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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

Uniting Care

Burnside


Executive

Summary

Introduction

1.

The adequacy and effectiveness of the policies, agreements, laws, rules

and practices governing children in immigration detention or child asylum

seekers and refugees residing in the community after a period of detention

2.

The impact of detention on the well being, health and development of

children, including their long-term development

3.

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 a period of detention

References

Attachment:

Catching the wave: the significance of early childhood parenting and

education programs in the Australian context

Introduction

1.

Why Are Early Childhood Programs Important?

2.

Action required to ensure that quality child care and Early Childhood

Services are available

3.

What sorts of programs are needed?

Conclusion


Executive

Summary

UnitingCare Burnside

(Burnside) is an agency of the Synod of the Uniting Church in NSW working

with disadvantaged children, young people and families. Through services

such as family support and family centres, out-of-home care for children

and young people, educational support and development, Burnside aims to

protect children from abuse and neglect, breaking cycles of disadvantage

and improving life opportunities. Burnside's Social Justice and Research

Program undertakes policy analysis and advocacy on issues impacting on

children, young people and families.

Burnside has a long

history of involvement in issues relating to children and young people

who are refugees. Burnside has also developed a proposal to offer care

and accommodation for up to 20 young people (over 14 years in the case

of the submission) who have been released from Immigration Detention Centres

(IDC's). This proposal has been submitted to the Department of Immigration

and Multicultural Affairs and the NSW Department of Community Services.

Conditions in Detention

The exposure of

children and young people to the harsh conditions, including inhumane

and degrading treatment inside IDC's is a real and significant concern.

It appears from

the evidence presented to Burnside and others, that there is little distinction

within camps between the treatment of children, young people and adults.

Given that children and unaccompanied minors in particular are under the

Guardianship of the Minister for Immigration and are entitled to special

protection under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, their continuing

exposure to these conditions is inappropriate and unreasonable.

It is Burnside's

conviction exercise of appropriate Guardianship of children in detention

would result in the release of children with their families (where present)

into the community after a short, time limited period for health checks

and processing. This would remove children from harmful and long lasting

effects of detention. Appropriate program supports for children and their

families should be developed and adequately funded to support their release

into the community.

In order to ensure

that unaccompanied minors receive the appropriate special protection they

are entitled to under international law they must be released into the

community. There should be appropriate programs for care and accommodation

that offer a range of options including foster care, group care or community

placements that meet children and young people's educational and developmental

needs. It is vital that an agreement is brokered between the Commonwealth

and the States regarding appropriate funding and responsibility of funding

such programs.

Inhumane and degrading treatment

Evidence from children

who have been in detention shows that they have been exposed to inhumane

and degrading treatment including:

  • being placed in

    rooms alone, with no support under surveillance as a response to self

    harm

  • not receiving

    appropriate medical response to illness/injury

  • being referred

    to by number (not a name) at all times

  • being discouraged

    from communicating with people from other language or cultural groups

  • being denied the

    opportunity to ask question or seek legal advice regarding visa processing

  • receiving little

    or no information about progress of visa applications

  • no consistent

    approach to the release of detainees within a reasonable timeframe after

    TPV's had been granted.

There must be

immediate cessation of such practices and children should be immediately

removed from environments where such practices are perpetrated.

Health

Early Experience

Information on brain

development and the importance of early experience has become part of

the accepted wisdom on policy and planning in relation to children and

young people in Australia at both state and federal levels (see for example,

the development of the Families First Program in NSW). There is an urgent

need for this information to be integrated into policy and procedures

in relation to children in detention, particularly given the strong evidence

of children's exposure to ongoing trauma while in detention.

There are compelling

reasons to ensure that children are not exposed to ongoing trauma and

stress that will impact on the way they function, possible for the rest

of their life. Detention clearly exposes children to ongoing trauma. The

most appropriate way to ensure that children are not exposed to such trauma

is for children and their families to be released into appropriate accommodation

and housing in the community after time limited use of detention for health

and other checks.

Children's experience of trauma

There is a need to

respond to children's past experiences of trauma, grief and loss as well

as new experience of stress or distress through creating an environment

that will decrease the likelihood of long-term effects of trauma. It is

difficult to see at this time how this kind of environment could be created

in IDC's.

Response to children's mental

health needs

It is clear from

the research that the population of children who are currently held in

detention in Australia may well require proactive health services as a

result of their prior experiences. Some children's difficulties with communication

(either because of language, development etc) mean that unless there is

a proactive approach to addressing health issues these may be undetected

and thus untreated. This is the case for both unaccompanied minors and

children who are in detention with their parents.

Being in detention

has negative effects on for children's mental health and potentially creates

a long-term impact on their mental well being. A proactive response to

children's mental health needs is critical for ensuring that children

are cared for appropriately while they are the responsibly of the Australian

government, through the Guardianship of the Minister for Immigration.

This is our responsibility under the UN Convention on the Rights of the

Child (UNCROC).

Parenting and

Children's Wellbeing in Detention

Based on descriptions

of life in detention told to Burnside, combined with public reports of

people's experiences of detention, it is possible to conclude that detention

is deleterious for parenting and therefore has long lasting negative effects

on children's wellbeing.

Education

It is clear that

the education actually received by children in detention falls well short

the basic framework in UNCROC and is clearly short of the education enjoyed

by children in the broader Australian community. It is of interest to

note that under NSW law, children are required to attend school between

the ages of 6 and 15 years.

The lack of educational

programs available in detention has the capacity to have a life long effect

of children's learning and educational achievement.

Early Childhood Education

Access to early childhood

education (for example structured pre-school programs) has also emerged

as a concern for children in detention.

Participation in

a range of structured early education activities as their counterparts

in the general Australia would have positive flow on benefits for children's

health and well being.

Legal & Administrative

Arrangements

Children in detention

require a legal and service framework to ensure their rights are protected,

that they are protected from harm and receive appropriate services to

reduce the long term effects of negative experiences. Unaccompanied minors

are a particularly vulnerable group in the child detainee population and

require a specific response while in detention and on release into the

community.

At a minimum, children

in detention require access to consistent legal frameworks available to

the broader community. In NSW that includes:

  • compulsory attendance

    at school for children of 6 years to 15 years under the Education Act

    (1990)

  • appropriate mental

    health responses and protections under the Mental Health Act (1990)

  • complaints processes

    under the Ombudsman Act (1974)

  • care and protection

    under the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998.

In the current absence

of such protection, children continue to be at significant risk of current

harm and long term negative effects. The legal Guardian of children in

detention (the Minister for Immigration) must act in the interim to ensure

that children in detention receive the appropriate care and protection

they require.

Temporary Protection Visas

The use of Temporary

Protection visas is of particular concern for unaccompanied minors. Young

people say they feel frightened to return home, but unable to get on with

establishing a life in Australia. This adds to their distress.

Under the law relating

to TPV's, young people are not permitted to study full-time, or they lose

access to the Special Benefit, which is their primary source of income.

This appears to be assiduously applied by Centrelink. The reasoning behind

this decision is unclear. Denying young people access to education clearly

goes against the spirit of the UNCROC and discriminates against young

people on the basis of their legal status.

Recommendations

1. Children in detention

should be released in the community with their families (where present)

after a short, time limited period for health checks and processing.

1.1 Appropriate

program supports for children and their families should be developed

and adequately funded to support their release into the community.

1.2 In order

to ensure that unaccompanied minors receive the appropriate special

protection they are entitled to under international law they must be

released into the community. There should be appropriate programs for

care and accommodation that offer a range of options including foster

care, group care or community placements that meet children and young

people's educational and developmental needs. It is vital that an agreement

is brokered between the Commonwealth and the States regarding appropriate

funding and responsibility of funding such programs.

2. Being in detention

has negative effects on for children's mental health and potentially creates

a long-term impact on their mental well being.. A proactive response to

children's mental health needs is critical for ensuring that children

are cared for appropriately while they are the responsibly of the Australian

government, through the Guardianship of the Minister for Immigration.

3. Children must

have access to primary, secondary and vocational education at the same

level as other children in Australia whilst in detention and on their

release as is their right under the UNCROC.

4. Structured

pre school programs must be made available to children in detention immediately

in order to address children's social and developmental needs.

5. Children in detention

require access to consistent legal frameworks available to the broader

community. In NSW that includes:

  • compulsory attendance

    at school for children of 6 years to 15 years under the Education Act

    (1990)

  • appropriate mental

    health responses and protections under the Mental Health Act (1990)

  • complaints processes

    under the Ombudsman Act (1974)

  • care and protection

    under the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998.

6. The use of TPV's

for children, particularly unaccompanied minors is inappropriate and must

be ceased.

6.1 All restrictions

on access to full time education for children and young people released

from detention on TPV's must be lifted.


Introduction

UnitingCare Burnside

(Burnside) is an agency of the Synod of the Uniting Church in NSW working

with disadvantaged children, young people and families. Through services

such as family support and family centres, out-of-home care for children

and young people, educational support and development, Burnside aims to

protect children from abuse and neglect, breaking cycles of disadvantage

and improving life opportunities. Burnside's Social Justice and Research

Program undertakes policy analysis and advocacy on issues impacting on

children, young people and families.

Burnside has a long

history of involvement in issues relating to children and young people

who are refugees. Most recently our services have had contact with a number

of young people who were unaccompanied minors released from immigration

detention on Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). Burnside has developed

a proposal to offer care and accommodation for up to 20 young people (over

14 years in the case of the submission) in similar situations who have

been released from Immigration Detention Centres (IDCs). This proposal

has been submitted to the Federal and the New South Wales governments.

In 1983 Burnside

implemented a program to resettle 28 Khmer young people (average age 16

years plus) who were unaccompanied minors from refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian

border. The Khmer Program provided accommodation or accommodation assistance,

intensive support in the initial years and ongoing support for young people

as they reached adulthood (Plant 1988).

Our experience, both

in the 1980's and more recently, has given us an insight into some of

the issues experienced by children and young people who are refugees,

particularly the vulnerable group of unaccompanied refugee minors. While

the nature of cross national migration has shifted, and with it the ethnicity

and cultural backgrounds of the refugees arriving in Australia, the common

experience of being a refugee, seeking asylum and being left without the

support of parents or other adults remains relevant.

Burnside also has

a more general interest in the rights, welfare and well being of children,

young people and their families. Burnside has a strong commitment to advocating

on issues that are particularly relevant to children, young people and

their families who are affected by disadvantage. Children and young people

in detention are a uniquely disadvantaged group in Australia. Not only

have they experienced the trauma of fleeing their country of origin and

undertaking a dangerous journey to Australia, but they have been detained

without charge, face an uncertain future and conditions that have been

shown by at least two independent inquiries (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity

Commission 1998 and Commonwealth Ombudsman 2001) to be of serious concern.

This submission

will deal with aspects of the following Terms of Reference of the Inquiry:

1. The adequacy

and effectiveness of the policies, agreements, laws, rules and practices

governing children in immigration detention or child asylum seekers

and refugees residing in the community after a period of detention.

2. The impact

of detention on the well being, health and development of children including

their long-term development.

3. 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 a period of detention.

Some young people

[1] who were previously in detention and who have since

been in contact with Burnside services agreed to share their experience

of detention in an interview with a Burnside staff member (with the assistance

of an interpreter). Their stories highlight clearly the problems with

immigration detention in its current form and are pointers to areas which

need to be addressed immediately. The young people spoke to Burnside on

the condition of anonymity. Therefore names, dates and other identifying

information have been removed or changed. The young people gave their

permission for the transcripts of the interview to be used in Burnside's

submission to this Inquiry.

1. The

adequacy and effectiveness of the policies, agreements, laws, rules and

practices governing children in immigration detention or child asylum

seekers and refugees residing in the community after a period of detention

1.1 The conditions

under which children are detained

They (the other

young people in the room) are very close to you (he hunches up to show

how cramped the room was), you can't move... it's all so hot and there's

no tree, so we can't go outside.

Spending my

time (was) very hard, it was long time there. Nine months there,, very

hard spending my time because it is boring, no possibility for us. There

was not very much to do, Just breakfast time, lunchtime, and dinnertime

and there were one-hours/two hours we could just play soccer. That's

it.

Young people who

spoke to Burnside have clearly stated that the conditions in detention

centres in Australia are not positive for children. This seems particularly

true of the newer IDC's, which are based in remote areas of Australia,

have little contact with the broader Australian community and are subject

to extreme heat and cold.

The young people

highlight that, particularly for unaccompanied minors, there is a lack

of focus on the differing needs of children and young people in detention

from adults. Their evidence shows that while (in the case of unaccompanied

minors) they may be separated in sleeping arrangements from single adults,

they are subject to the same harsh rules and conditions as adults. This

means that there is little or no protection for such children and young

people from further traumatic events such as self-harming behaviour by

other detainees, being placed in isolation rooms [2]

or the crushing and debilitating boredom of having no regular, consistently

available and structured education and recreation programs.

The whole condition

in the camp is really, really bad, people are really stressed. Those

people they are there for a long time they get really agitated. They

used to come to restaurant [3] for example…a

guy sits there for a while and then he gets really upset , mentally

sick and he just pulls the chair and throws it away and causes lots

of fight and scaredness between people - young people, children - because

the restaurant it (is)for everybody, everybody is there.

Young people also

talk about the creation of an environment of fear and intimidation in

the detention centres because of the unaddressed incidents of self-harm,

the lack of separation between groups and the overwhelming despair, particularly

of adult detainees.

Question: So

people are actually scared of one another?

Yes, exactly.

And each time people they go to the restaurant for lunch, dinner, they

are always cautious and careful because something might come up…

There is extensive

research to suggest that young refugees are a particularly vulnerable

group in the refugee population and the need to craft appropriate responses

to their needs is critical to a humane response. A review of the literature

relating to the mental health of young people of refugee background highlights

the key issues for young people.

Some of the key

issues raised in the literature include the psychiatric and psychological

effect of refugee experiences, the impact of being a refugee on young

people's development and functioning and the impact of the refugee experience

on the family. A number of groups are mentioned consistently in the literature

as having particular vulnerabilities, including unaccompanied minors and

young women. (Bevan 2000, p. 35)

The exposure of children

and young people to the harsh conditions inside IDC's is a real and significant

concern. It appears from the evidence presented to Burnside and others,

that there is little distinction with in camps between the treatment of

children, young people, young people on their own and adults. Given that

children and unaccompanied minors in particular are under the guardianship

of the Minister for Immigration and are entitled to special protection

under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, their continuing exposure

to these conditions seems inappropriate and unreasonable. As we will discuss

in relation to children's health and development, there are compelling

reasons to ensure that children are not exposed to ongoing trauma and

stress that will impact on the way they function, possibly for the rest

of their life.

1.2 Rules and

day to day operations in detention centres

The young people

interviewed by Burnside said that there were two types of what they called

'camps' in the remote IDC where they had been detained for up to 9 months.

They said that in one 'camp', the people had very restricted movement

and could not go outside, and in the second (what they called the 'free

camp') there was the 'restaurant' and a yard for exercise.

There are two

sections (to the IDC). The section where you can move around has a big

'L' space, a bit like a yard or something, they call it like a 'free'

camp. The other section which was interview time was just like a very

small room. There is no place to move around or anything like that.

It's that they take you to interview and bring you back to kind of room.

One young person

said that they were in the first 'camp' for 25 days, until after the second

interview with Department of Immigration (DIMA) officers. Then they were

moved to the second part of the detention centre, where there were dining

and recreation areas.

The young person

described conditions in the first camp thus:

This is not

a good place…very close. No place to play and it's very bad situation

for 25 days.

Young people who

have been in detention report that while they were in detention that they

were unsure of the rules, found it hard to establish consistency in approach

in detention and processing and release of detainees and believed that

they were not given correct information about their rights.

Nobody knew

what their real right was. Just like people, they knew they had to go

to interviews, certain amount of interviews should be done and after

that, people assumed that whoever came first should go first. But sometimes

after they did interviews with people about twenty, twenty five people

at the one day, and some of them they release in twelve days, ten days

but they kept the rest for two months, three months, four months. We

did not understand the reason for that and that caused lots of tension

with us because we knew we had been accepted we knew basic rights. We

knew we had to go to interview we had to get the visa to be able to

go out, things like that. But the timing we did not really understand,

why some people go to ten days but the rest of us we didn't. We asked

for lawyer, some legal aid but they didn't really pay attention, they

didn't say no or yes. They just said we didn't have time today or we

do this in the future or next week. And that delay time caused lots

of tension with people.

They commented

that in relation to day to day conditions that:

  • there was little

    variety in the food available:

    …you can't

    get every kind of food you want, so we can't get it, we didn't have

    a good choice.

  • there was a

    one to two hour period each day where the detainees were able to play

    (eg soccer) and this could be arbitrarily cancelled by detention centre

    staff:

    …we can't play every time - like two/one hour we should play.

    So the police [4] say (you) should go to your

    room.

  • detainees were

    discouraged from asking questions about rules or restrictions:

    If

    you ask why, you told "shut up, no 'why?'

  • there was no

    regular, meaningful education programs in the detention centre:

    There is one day if you want the teacher gives you a paper if you

    want is leaning some words, that's all….

1.3 The use of

cruel or inhumane treatment

Article 37 of the

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child includes that state parties shall

ensure that:

  • No child shall

    be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment

    or punishment…

  • Every child deprived

    of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent

    dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account

    the needs of persons of his or her age….

1.3.1 Inappropriate

response to self-harm

One young person

told Burnside of his experience of a room that he called 'India', which

seemed to be a room used for the solitary containment of detainees who

had exhibited problem behaviours. The second person who shared their story

with Burnside and was in detention with the young person concerned, corroborated

the details about 'India'.

The young person

said that he was put in the solitary room after he had harmed himself.

He says that he was denied appropriate medical care for his injuries and

was punished for the self-harm by being placed in the room he called 'India'

for 5 days. He describes his experience of this in detail.

Question: So

you were by yourself in that room for five days?

There was

a camera in the corner.

Question: How

big was the room?

Smaller than

this room (motioning to room we were in -about 3x4 metres). Camera

there, there is no chair to sit down. This is for punishment, there

is just a small hole for bit of light coming and all around is the

camera.

Question: Did

they explain why you were being kept in that room?

They wanted

me to say why I did hurt myself. They just kept asking why I hurt

myself. I said I was in pain, I went to the medical …and ask

for tablets for pain killer and sleeping and they just kept ignoring

me.

Question: Did

you get treatment? Did someone treat the wounds?

She just cleaned

the blood and put on a patch of gauze, that's it. When you are in

the India room if you eat and you behave they let you go. If you don't

they just keep you there for longer. There were people there longer

time than five days, six days.

If you behave

after a few days they come and take you out. If you don't they keep

you there for longer time. This was kind of like a mental game for

me. I saw an Iranian guy - he was there about twenty days refusing

to eat and they used to, police used to come and force him to eat

and give him some kind of food injection for not eating.

This information

points to very serious breaches of the UN Convention on the Rights of

the Child in Australian IDC's.

1.3.2 Lack of

appropriate medical care

The lack of medical

care highlighted in the above case for children in detention must be of

serious concern. The young person concerned was denied appropriate medical

care for pain from previous injuries, and appropriate medical care for

injuries caused by self-harm. He was also denied medical treatment for

his obviously distressed and agitated mental health state.

It is clear from

his story that the pain resulting from his previously acquired injuries

was exacerbated by lack of exercise and normal movement while in the IDC.

The lack of appropriate attention to his distress in the IDC, combined

with his feelings of fear, powerlessness and rage, may have created the

conditions where he began to harm himself.

Thus it seems that

the actual process of detention could be directly responsible for the

conditions that created his distress and the mental health issues that

resulted in his self-harming behaviour. This is clearly unacceptable treatment

of children, both in relation to UNCROC and in relation to what would

be considered acceptable behaviour in the wider Australian community (including

appropriate responses to children and young people in other forms of detention,

such as Juvenile Detention).

It is interesting

to note, that in NSW, if a child is at risk of harm experienced by a child

as a result of a care giver's failure to provide appropriate medical treatment,

under state care and protection legislation (Children and Young Persons

(Care and Protection) Act 1998), a health professional or other person

encountering the young person in the course of their professional work,

would be required to report the matter to the Department of Community

Services. Under the Mental Health Act 1993 in NSW, such response to self-harming

behaviour would also be seen as inappropriate.

The Department of

Juvenile Justice Centres in NSW policy The Management of Suicide and

Self-harm in Juvenile Justice Centres includes a set of principles

that underlies appropriate responses to attempted suicide and self-harm

by children and young people in detention. These have been in place since

1999 and some of the more general (non centre specific) principles include:

  • All acts of self-harm,

    including all suicidal threats and gestures, must be taken seriously.

  • All acts of self-harm

    require an immediate and appropriate response.

  • Knowledge of self-harming

    / suicidal behaviour must be covered in competency-based training and

    in performance review processes. All direct care staff (permanent, temporary,

    casual) must be trained in suicide awareness and suicide prevention,

    and be aware of:

    (i) the factors,

    crises and events that may predispose or place a juvenile at risk

    of suicide or self-harm;

    (ii) the various

    indicators of suicide risk.

  • Direct care staff

    must be trained in behaviour management techniques, critical incident

    responses, and first-aid and resuscitation techniques so they can respond

    effectively to any self-harm incidents. Appropriate resource manuals

    and other materials must be provided by the centre manager to all unit

    staff.

  • At the time of

    admission, standardised screening procedures must be used to help assess

    the risk of suicide and self-harm, and other health and related issues.

    These procedures must be carried out sensitively and in such a way as

    to ensure the confidentiality of the information.

  • Supervision, security,

    management procedures and case co-ordination must be focused on the

    effective prevention of suicide and self-harm tendencies.

  • Where risk is

    identified, a psychological assessment must be carried out to assess

    the need for counselling, hospitalisation, or other support from suitably

    experienced or qualified personnel.

  • Identified suicidal

    or self-harming clients must be provided with closer supervision, additional

    support services, and special accommodation arrangements as necessary.

  • There must be

    constant monitoring and regular review of the physical environment of

    Juvenile Justice Centres to assist in the prevention of suicide and

    self-harm(NSW Department of Juvenile Justice, 1999).

Based on these principles,

it is clear that a young person detained in a Juvenile Justice Centre

who attempted to self-harm would receive a very different response to

a young person detained in an IDC. The focus on support and identification

and management of risk would ensure a more positive outcome in the situation

of the young person who shared their experiences with Burnside. Should

detention of children and young people continue to be a part of Australia's

response, then a more adequate approach to children at risk of suicide

and self-harm must be implemented.

1.3.3 Denial of

name

Question: Do

they call you by name?

First young person:

No, no just number. Like my number was 759. [5]

They call me 759, that's all. Not name.

Second young

person: Yes they call you number. 452 my number.

Question: What

was that like being called a number?

Apart from

the humane aspect of it you feel really lonely when they call you

with number because you are used to your name, people communicate

with you with your name, when they call you with the number you feel

really lonely, you feel you are just a number, nobody.

Children in detention,

like adults, are called only by number by staff of IDCs. This is dehumanising

treatment and unacceptable under the UN Convention of Children's Rights.

Article 8(1) of the Convention states that:

State parties

must undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her

identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognised

by law without unlawful interference.

1.3.4 Denial of

contact with other detainees

Young people who

had been in detention told Burnside that they had been preventing from

attempting to speak with other detainees who were of a different language

or cultural background.

1.3.5 Lack of

information about visa processing and legal assistance.

Question: You

talked a bit about your visa application. Were you kept informed about

the progress of your visa application while you were in detention?

There is no

discussion, no talk about what condition or which state of processing

you are in. Its just like interview, you go to your room and …

the person you are dealing with is your case officer and the case

officer and the case officer… you don't see them until they need

you again. That's it.

Young people talked

about the lack of information about the status of their applications for

refugee status. They reported that they had been denied the opportunity

to seek legal assistance and to ask questions of their Case Officer regarding

the processing of their application. The young people reported that this

lack of information caused them and the other detainees high levels of

distress.

One young person

was informed that he had been granted a TPV, but was kept in detention

for a further two and a half months, without explanation. There was no

consistent approach to the release of detainees, causing further anxiety,

depression and distress.

1.4 Current legal

and administrative arrangements regarding children in detention and on

their release

Burnside has developed

a proposal to provide care and accommodation for unaccompanied refugee

minors on their release from detention. In the course of developing and

progressing this proposal, we have liaised with relevant state authorities

and sought information about both the role of the Department of Community

Services (DoCS) in making contact with children and young people in detention

(including reporting or investigating reports of children at risk of harm

under the relevant state legislation) and the processes by which unaccompanied

minors might be referred and accommodated within our program.

From our discussion

with DoCS we understand that there are unresolved issues of legal and

administrative jurisdiction that are capable of having a negative impact

on children in detention.

Our understanding

of the role of DoCS and process of exit for unaccompanied minors is as

follows:

  • DoCS do not regularly

    receive or investigate reports of children at risk in the Villawood

    IDC, although they may investigate some matters.

  • NSW care and protection

    legislation is not accepted by the Commonwealth as having jurisdiction

    in Villawood IDC.

  • When unaccompanied

    minors (under 18 years) are discharged from an IDC, they automatically

    come under the parental responsibility of the relevant state Minister.

  • Should an unaccompanied

    minor move interstate after their release, parental responsibility is

    transferred to the relevant state Minister in that state.

However we have also

become aware that:

  • there appears

    to be no consistent administrative approach to reporting and investigating

    allegations of risk of harm relating to children in detention;

  • there appears

    to be no process for ensuring that a young person receives services

    upon their release;

  • there is no coherent

    program for care and accommodation of unaccompanied minors on release

    and no agreements between the states and the Commonwealth in relation

    to how such care and accommodation would be funded;

  • there appears

    to be no formal process of ensuring that appropriate care plans are

    developed before or on the young persons release from detention;

  • there appears

    to be no formal process for notifying relevant state Ministers and departments

    about the arrival of unaccompanied minors, unless they come to the department's

    attention through other channels or where a referral for immediate accommodation

    is received.

Our understanding

of the current situation then, is that there is little legal or administrative

protections for children while in detention and few (if any) processes

to support them on their release. Basic communications and agreements

between the Commonwealth and the states do not appear to be functional.

Unaccompanied minors appear to have no clear, consistent pathways to access

services, care or accommodation. There is little commitment to a programatic

response to the care and accommodation needs of unaccompanied minors.

There appears to be no allocated funding to meet the ongoing care and

accommodation needs of unaccompanied minors.

Other aspects of

this submission have highlighted the lack of protections and services

available to children in detention because state legislation is not accepted

as having jurisdiction in IDCs. In NSW, some of these include:

  • compulsory attendance

    at school for children aged 6 to 15 years under the Education Act 1990;

  • appropriate mental

    health responses and protections under the Mental Health Act 1990;

  • complaints processes

    under the Ombudsman Act 1974;

  • care and protection

    under the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998.

The capacity of adult

detainees to advocate on behalf of children is limited as a result of:

  • their reduced

    control over the environment to which children are exposed,

  • their own experience

    of trauma and poor mental health

  • and their own

    lack of access to legal assistance.

A matter of urgency

is the amendment of the jurisdiction of people detained in IDC's to allow

them access to the appropriate state legal jurisdiction.

This is important

for children in detention because they are particularly vulnerable as

a result of:

  • their age;
  • lack of legal

    representation;

  • past exposure

    to traumatic experience; and

  • ongoing exposure

    to traumatic experience.

Children in detention

require a legal and service framework to ensure their rights are protected,

that they are protected from harm and that they receive appropriate services

to reduce the long term effects of negative experiences. Unaccompanied

minors are a particularly vulnerable group in the child detainee population

and require a specific response while in detention and on release into

the community.

With the current

absence of such protection, children continue to be at significant risk

of current harm and long term negative effects. The legal guardian of

children in detention (the Minister for Immigration) must act in the interim

to ensure that children in detention receive the appropriate care and

protection they require.

It is Burnside's

conviction the exercise of appropriate Guardianship of children in detention

would result in the release of children with their families (where present)

into the community after a short, time limited period for health checks

and processing. This would remove children from harmful and long lasting

effects of detention. Appropriate program supports for children and their

families should be developed and adequately funded to support their release

into the community.

In order to ensure

that unaccompanied minors receive the appropriate special protection they

are entitled to under international law, they must be released into the

community. There should be appropriate programs for care and accommodation

that offer a range of options including foster care, group care or community

placements that meet children and young people's educational and developmental

needs. It is vital that an agreement is brokered between the Commonwealth

and the States regarding appropriate funding and responsibility for funding

of these programs.

2. The

impact of detention on the well being, health and development of children,

including their long-term development

2.1 The importance

of early experience

There is compelling

evidence emerging internationally about the importance of the early years

in children's lives and in early intervention on issues that may impact

on their health and well being (such as mental health, abuse or neglect).

The importance of this information is not diminished when it is considered

in relation to children in detention. If anything, the information we

have about brain development and other impacts of early traumatic experiences

is even more crucial for children who are refugees or seeking refuge.

The first and most

compelling reason for ensuring that vulnerable children are supported

is a moral one. All children have inherent value and worth. Therefore

all children have the right to be loved and nurtured as part of the human

community and to live their lives free of abuse and neglect. Abuse and

neglect and other forms of disadvantage diminish those rights. A necessary

corollary of this conviction is that parents and families must be have

access to the support necessary to enable them to care for their children

to the best of their abilities. The general community cannot abdicate

its responsibility to ensure that the worth of all children is protected.

The value of children should be a fundamental principle of the society

that is demonstrated through its policies and practices.

One of the pre-eminent

researchers in brain development has made the case most clearly for early

intervention to prevent child abuse and neglect. His research shows that

abuse and neglect changes the way a child's brain develops, forever altering

the possibilities of a child's life:

Of course, children

'get over it' - they have no choice. Children are not resilient, children

are malleable. In the process of getting over it, elements of their true

emotional, behavioural, cognitive and social potential are diminished

- some percentage of capacity is lost, a piece of the child is lost forever.

(Perry et al, 1995: 13)

This submission

has already made mention of the identification of children who are refugees

as a vulnerable group in relation to mental health issues. For infants

and very young children in particular, previous and continued exposure

to trauma will have an impact on the way their brain develops its response

to stimuli in the long term, as research by Perry et al (1995) and others

have shown. This is because the brain develops in response to experience

(Burnside 1999):

With appropriate

nurture, attention and stimulation in a predictable and consistent way,

the infant's brain will develop towards optimum levels. However, traumatic

experience or a lack of the right sort of experience at critical periods

can actually change the structure and functioning of the brain. (Burnside

1999: p20)

Information on brain

development and the importance of early experience has become part of

the accepted wisdom on policy and planning for children and young people

in Australia at both state and federal levels (see for example, the development

of the Families First Program in NSW and the Stronger Families and Communities

Strategy from the Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services).

There is an urgent need for this information to be integrated into policy

and procedures in relation to children in detention, particularly given

the evidence (both first hand accounts and in Sultan and O'Sullivan's

(2001) participant observer account) about children's exposure to ongoing

trauma,

2.2 Mental health

and long-term affects of detention

There is considerable

support in literature for the thesis that children growing up in or exposed

to long periods in refugee camps experience chronic stress and ongoing

mental health effects such as depression and anxiety (Bevan 2000). While

there are clear distinctions in the experience of children in refugee

camps and those in Australian IDCs, the experiences of children in refugee

camps are instructive. In addition, the work of Sultan and O'Sullivan

(2001) highlights the stressors, such as adult detainees practising self-harm,

that children are regularly exposed to in the Villawood IDC. They observed

of a range of psychological disturbances evident in children in the centre:

…separation

anxiety, disruptive conduct, nocturnal enuresis, sleep disturbances,

nightmares and night terrors, sleepwalking and impaired cognitive development,.

At the most severe end of the spectrum, a number of children have displayed

profound symptoms of psychological distress, including mutism, stereotypic

behaviours, and refusal to eat or drink. Children of parents who reach

the tertiary depressive stage appear to be particularly vulnerable...

(Sultan and O'Sullivan 2001:p5)

In comment in relation

to this account, Steel and Silove (2001) highlight concerns about the

ongoing impact of psychological symptoms developed as a result of the

experience of detention. They raise the concern that for those asylum

seekers who are released into the community, there is a possibility that

the psychological symptoms that were a response to the detention environment,

or symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that were exacerbated

as a result of detention, may have an adverse impact on those individual's

process of acculturation. The international literature relating to impact

of prior mental health issues on the settlement experiences of children

and young people supports this proposition. Research and clinical reflection

on the experience of young refugees in Australia clearly highlights the

impact of ongoing mental health issues on children and young people's

experience of school and home environments (for example Rice et al 1993).

This perspective

on children's experience of detention strongly points to the need to respond

to children's past experiences of trauma, grief and loss as well as new

experience of stress or distress through creating an environment that

will decrease the likelihood of long term effects of trauma. It is difficult

to see at this time how this kind of environment could be created in IDC's.

One of the people

that hurt themselves was me. Because I had an operation in (country

of origin) on my (part of body) and (it) was hurting a lot…for

a few weeks. One night I was asking them to do something to let me go

or do exercise ..I need to see a doctor. And they said you are not here

permanently, you are temporary - we can't do anything, you have to wait.

And after I have my visa they do not let me go for two and a half months

and I just kept going to them and asking and asking all the time …my

(part of body) was hurting so much, I was not sleeping much and I was

really distressed and really, really in anger I took a razor and I was

cutting myself.

Nobody came

to see what was happening. I went to the medical room, I went to the

nurse and nurse says, what's happening and I said my knee is hurting

and I showed my knee with the blood there and she calls the police and

police came and took me to the small room, we called that room India.

It's just a dark room, very small dark room and they kept me there for

about five days. Then after five days I was crying and I tell them I

don't hurt myself please let me go.

The experiences of

young people interviewed by Burnside, along with Sultan and O'Sullivan's

(2001) participant observer's account of the experiences of detainees

in Villawood IDC suggest that the current situation in IDC's in Australia

exacerbates the long term impacts of recent or past traumatic experiences.

In fact the lack of appropriate services, use of inappropriate punishment

responses, such as isolation, would contribute to increasing the long-term

effect of such experiences on children's well being and overall functioning.

It is clear from

the research that the population of children who are currently held in

detention in Australia may well require proactive health services as a

result of their prior experiences. Some children's difficulties with communication

(either because of language, development etc) mean that unless there is

a proactive approach to addressing health issues these may be undetected

and thus untreated. This is the case for both unaccompanied minors and

children who are in detention with their parents.

2.3 Parenting

and children's well being in detention

It is instructive

to consider the findings by Mollica et al (1990) in their work with children

in refugee camps on the Thai Cambodian border. They found that for children

with their parents, parents underestimated the impact of a range of experiences

of the children when compared with the children's self report on a range

of questions related to traumatic experiences and ongoing impacts. They

also found very high responses from parents on self report checklists

related to their own experience of traumatic experiences and ongoing impacts.

Sultan and O'Sullivan

(2001) also found parental mental state has an effect on children's mental

health. This is consistent with broader literature on transgenerational

effects of torture and trauma experiences, which shows that there is often

a disturbing confluence in the trauma symptoms of parents and those of

children (Bevan 2000).

In work produced

by the Commonwealth Attorney General's Department on Crime Prevention

and social support, family risk factors for negative child behaviours

included:

  • Psychiatric disorder,

    especially depression

  • Single parents
  • Antisocial models
  • Violence and disharmony
  • Disorganised family

    environments

  • Father absence
  • Long term parental

    unemployment

  • Poor supervision

    and monitoring

  • Low involvement

    in child's activities

  • Neglect (Commonwealth

    Attorney General's Department 1999).

These risk factors

almost describe the IDC environment. Where families are not free to make

decisions about the way in which their children are parented because of

the environment in detention (for example, times of meals, involvement

in education or other activities), there are clear risks for children.

The needs of children

that arise because of their parent's experiences are not being dealt with

in detention. As discussed earlier in this submission, the lack of attention

paid to the distinct needs of children in detention in relation to accommodation,

education, protection from disturbing behaviour etc. are not being met.

It is clear that parent's ability to proactively meet their children's

needs may be compromised by their own mental state and there are few (if

any) structures in place to ensure that these issues receive appropriate

attention.

The descriptions

of life in detention told to Burnside are consistent with public reports

of people's experiences of detention and it is possible to conclude that

detention is deleterious for parenting and therefore has long lasting

negative effects on children's well being.

2.4 Education

There is one

day (when) if you want the teacher gives you a paper if you want is

leaning some words, that's all…

They did not

explain exactly what it was about. If they had explained like it was

a special class the rules and everything the people would understand

but it was just in one hour, two three papers sometimes. Maybe three

days a week for just one hour.

2.4.1 Access to

primary, high school and vocational education

Evidence from children

and young people in detention suggests that their access to education

in detention was fragmented, insubstantial, unstructured and would not

reflect the educational programs and opportunities available to other

children in the community.

Article 28(1) of

the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the basic rights

to education that should be available to all children, regardless of their

citizenship status, including:

  • compulsory, free

    primary school education;

  • encourage the

    development of different forms of secondary education, including general

    and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every

    child and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free

    education and offering financial assistance in case of need;

  • make higher education

    accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means;

  • make educational

    and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to

    all children;

  • take measures

    to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out

    rates.

I wanted to

study English, like grammar that we can get English, speak English like

school like children for young people so everybody wanted to study.

Everyone had a problem they did not have a serious class, only one day

someone talking about Australia.

It is clear that

the education actually received by children in detention falls well short

the basic framework in UNCROC and is clearly short of the education enjoyed

by children in the broader Australian community. Under NSW law, children

are required to attend school until they are 15 years old.

The impact of this

lack of educational opportunities is particularly stark for children in

detention centres. Literature on the educational experiences of children

who are refugees shows that as a result of the refugee experience, they

have experienced disrupted schooling and long breaks between school attendance

(Bevan 2000). Research has also shown that this experience of interrupted

and limited educational opportunities, in combination with trauma related

symptoms and distress can negatively impacts on their learning experience

after resettlement (Rice et al 1993). Therefore, the lack of educational

programs available in detention has the capacity to have a life long effect

on children's learning and educational achievement.

2.4.2 Early childhood

education

Access to early childhood

education (for example structured pre-school programs) has also emerged

as a concern for children in detention. Early childhood education has

been identified internationally as one of the important ways of optimising

the early years and providing appropriate opportunities for children to

develop the building blocks for literacy and numeracy and social skills

(Burnside 2001) It has also been shown to be particularly helpful for

children from disadvantaged families (Burnside 2001). Burnside has extensively

researched the benefits of early education for children and found that

the international literature supports the benefits for children in cognitive

and school readiness outcomes for children of access to structured early

childhood education programs (Burnside 2001). Outcomes from early childhood

programs targeted at children who experience disadvantage are also impressive

(Burnside 2001). [6]

Pre-school age children

in detention should have the same opportunity to participate in a range

of activities as their counterparts in the general Australia. The positive

flow on benefits for their health and well being in having access to a

range of play and learning environments, and the correlating negative

impacts of missing those opportunities, are compelling arguments for such

access.

 

3.

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 a period of detention

Question: When

young people such as yourselves get out of detention what sort of help

do they need?

When we come

outside from detention centre …we can't…. before I can't

speak English, before I come out. So we need to like, education to

help our direction to go to school, to somewhere else, to different

food, different way, different situation. When I come to here (where

now living) and I go outside and I can't do it, I lose the ways, everywhere

(laughs). I can't find my house.

And when I

go to school I not understand the teachers and she said why didn't

you do your homework and I said…. I can't say something that's

why I can't speak English. So the first time people come to outside

they really need the help to explain very clearly.

3.1 Appropriate

arrangements for unaccompanied minors on release from detention

As outlined in section

1.4 of this submission, Burnside has some concerns that there is an inadequate

response to the release of unaccompanied minors from detention. Our concerns

relate primarily to:

  • the lack of appropriate

    planning for young people's release in to the community, including appropriate

    care and accommodation options;

  • the lack of funded

    programs to achieve appropriate planning for care and accommodations;

  • the lack of communication

    between state and Commonwealth government departments in relation to

    children released from detention and their needs;

  • lack of agreement

    between state and federal governments in relation to responsibility

    for funding appropriate care and accommodation options.

It has come to our

attention that unaccompanied minors released from detention on TPVs have

had to independently access care and accommodation, often crossing states

to find appropriate options. We are informed that young people receive

little or no formal support on release and only find places to live, educational

assistance through their own informal networks formed in detention.

3.2 Issues relating

to Temporary Protection Visas

People need

first permanent visa because they want to see family….. I want

to see my mother and brother but its not possible because my visa is

temporary or the government is change the law, they saying we should

go back (to country of origin). But it is not, the situation is not

good….not safe I think. I heard from news everything and Internet

and there is no security. Not safe. … There is no safety I think.

The government (Australian) is saying you should go back….there

is safe for you and I think that is wrong. They should ask the people,

if you have problem in (country of origin), you should be able get permanent

visa.

The use of Temporary

Protection Visas is of particular concern for unaccompanied minors. Young

people say they feel frightened to return home, but unable to get on with

establishing a life in Australia. This adds to their distress.

Young people who

spoke with Burnside emphasised their desire to get education and find

work. Their focus is on learning English and other skills to become part

of a community. However having a TPV strongly undermines their attempts

at joining the broader community, as their future remains uncertain.

…we feel

really lonely here because we don't know what will happen to us. We

want to study, we want to concentrate and have a normal life but it's

very impossible, because we are anxious every day. They might say your

visa is expired you have to go back and we know condition over there

is not suitable, not a good condition for living.

It would be

good if they would tell us if we are going to get it (permanent visa)

or not now. If I am going to stay here for two years I want to work

or study or something like that but this uncertain condition is really

annoying, its really bothering because we can't focus on anything. Choosing

education or work….because we don't have a permanent visa we can't

really work, we don't have work permission and also studying, we don't

know where they are going because after two years studying in Australia

there education here is different to (country of origin) and we don't

know what will happen. It is really uncertain future and that causes

lots of anxiety……so I can't decide what should I do now. If

I study it will be good for me for my future. If not study, if they

say, it is not possible to stay here for you after two years ….so

I should work but my family there is no one to help them so it is all

the responsibility for it belongs to me…

3.2.1

Access to education

Centrelink called

me last week said .. 'you study full time?' I said yes. He said 'if

your study continue full time your special benefit will be stopped'.

I said why, he said 'it's the law'.

They said you

cannot study full time. If you study full time I stop your money. I

don't have any money to eat something or go somewhere else, I don't

have any money to get the ticket….. It is not a good rights for

humans that they say you cannot study anymore. Its not good rights like

not equal rights. They say if it is temporary visa you can't study more.

Young people who

spoke with Burnside emphasised their desire to get education and find

work. Their focus is on learning English and other skills and gaining

employment.

Under the law relating

to TPVs, young people are not permitted to study full-time, or they lose

access to the Special Benefit which is their primary source of income.

This appears to be assiduously applied by Centrelink. The reasoning behind

this decision is unclear.

It has also come

to our attention that there are further restrictions on study options

for people, including young people on Temporary Visas. It is our understanding

that besides studying English at TAFE Institutions, people on TPV's have

no other access to government funded post- school educational options.

Denying young people

access to education clearly goes against the spirit of the UN Convention

on the Rights of the Child and discriminates against young people on the

basis of their legal status.

References

Bevan, K. (2000).

Young people, culture, migration and mental health: A review of the literature,

in Bashir, M. and Bennett, D. (Eds.) (2000) Deeper Dimensions - culture,

youth and mental health. Sydney: NSW Transcultural Mental Health Centre.

Burnside

(2001), Catching the Wave: the significance of early childhood parenting

and education programs in the Australian context. Burnside: Sydney.

Burnside (1999).

Images of Children: Background Paper. Burnside: Sydney.

Commonwealth Attorney-General's

Department, (1999). Pathways to prevention: Developmental and early

intervention approaches to crime in Australia. National Crime Prevention,

Attorney-General's Department: Canberra.

Commonwealth Ombudsman

(2001). Report of an own motion investigation into the Department of

Immigration and Multicultural Affairs' immigration detention centres.

Commonwealth Ombudsman: Canberra.

Human Rights and

Equal Opportunity Commission (1998). Those who've come across the seas:

The reports of the Commission's Inquiry into the detention of unauthorised

arrivals. HREOC: Canberra.

Mollica,R., Donelan,

K., Tor, S., Lavelle, J., Elias, C., Frankel, M., Bennet,D. & Belndon,

R. (1990). Repatriation and Disability: A community Study of Health,

Mental Health and Social Functioning of the Khmer Residents of Site Two.

Volume 2: Khmer Children (12 - 13 Years of Age). Harvard School of

Public Health: Harvard.

NSW Department of

Juvenile Justice (1999). The Management of Suicide and Self-harm in

Juvenile Justice Centres. Department of Juvenile Justice: Sydney.

Perry, B. D., Pollard,

R., Blakely, T., Baker, W., Vigilante, D. (1995) Childhood trauma, the

neurobiology of adaption and 'use-dependent' development of the brain:

how 'states' become 'traits'. Infant Mental Health Journal, Vol.

16, No 4: 271-291.

Plant, R. (1988).

A New Life: an historical evaluation of Burnside's Khmer unaccompanied

minors resettlement program. Burnside: Sydney.

Rice, P., Rice, A.,

Dhamarak, P. (1993). 'Some day when my health is good…' The experiences

of young South-East Asian refugees in Australian schools. Youth Studies

Australia, 12, 39 - 44.

Steel, Z. and Silove,

D. (2001). The mental health implications of detaining asylum seekers.

Medical Journal of Australia 2001; 175: 596 - 599.

Sultan, A. and O'Sullivan,

K. (2001). Psychological disturbances in asylum seekers held in long term

detention: a participant-observer account. Medical Journal of Australia

2001; 175: 593 - 596.


1.

The term young people in this submission refers to children over the age

of 12, but under the age of 18 years. We have used both the terms "children"

and "young people" to highlight to diverse needs of people aged

under 18 years in detention, ie the needs of a child of 3 years differ

markedly from one of 12 years and again from one of 16 years.

2.

This issue is dealt with in detail in section 1.3.

3.

The people interviewed always called the dining room at the detention

centre 'the restaurant'.

4.

The young people interviewed consistently referred to detention centre

staff as the 'police'. It is unclear as to whether this reflects a belief

that the ACM security staff were representatives of the Australian police

or is an effect of the translation.

5.

Numbers have been altered to protect the young people's identity.

6.

See attached paper: Catching the Wave for a more detailed discussion of

early childhood education and intervention programs.


Uniting Care

Burnside

Catching

the wave: the

significance of early childhood parenting and education programs in the

Australian context

October 2001

© UnitingCare

Burnside

Introduction

1.

Why Are Early Childhood Programs Important?

2.

Action required to ensure that quality child care and Early Childhood

Services are available

3.

What sorts of programs are needed?

Conclusion


Introduction

The current wave

of enthusiasm for early childhood support and prevention programs reflects

a growing awareness that if we are to build a healthy society and prevent

the damaging consequences of social inequality it will be best to start

early. This enthusiasm is apparent across a range of players: policy makers,

government departments charged with delivering human services and a broad

spectrum of non -government community and welfare agencies. There appears

to be an impressive consensus about the value of early intervention although

there remains considerable debate about how services should be funded,

targeted and delivered. The danger is that the goodwill and rhetoric for

early intervention will not be matched by the resources or decision making

structures that enable it to happen with sufficient mass to be most effective.

This paper expresses UnitingCare Burnside's argument for much greater

attention to early childhood services, particularly services focused on

enriching parenting and children's early education in disadvantaged communities.

Drawing from research it highlights some reasons for a greater focus on

early childhood parenting and education programs, identifies some of the

actions that will be required to make programs more widely available and

describes some characteristics of the most effective programs.

1

Why Are Early Childhood Programs Important?

There are at least

five good reasons for a greater emphasis on good early childhood programs

for disadvantaged children and families.

1.1 New evidence

of the impact of the early years on a child's development

New evidence from

research into brain development has underlined the significance of a child's

early years in laying the foundation for almost every aspect of human

development. This includes not only cognitive and linguistic capabilities

but also a child's social and emotional capabilities and capacity for

self regulation (McCain and Mustard, 1999). Brain development is directly

shaped by the child's environment, particularly the nutrition, care and

attention they receive from parents and other primary caregivers. Children

who experience nurturing, secure and responsive relationships with parents

and other carers will develop towards their full potential. Without such

relationships healthy development is disrupted and children are more likely

to develop learning, emotional and/or behavioural problems that can be

severe and long lasting (Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000). There are two key

implications here. The first is that good early childhood programs that

also influence how parents relate to their children can greatly improve

outcomes for children's behaviour, learning and health throughout life.

The second is that, given the cumulative impact of early experience, the

earlier in a child's life that programs begin the better the outcomes

may be. However, none of this should be taken to suggest that the die

is cast in the early years and that later interventions are futile.

While it is true

that the brain continues to develop into adulthood and that there are

many later opportunities where timely support and intervention can lead

to positive change (Cashmore, 2001), the research into early brain development

underscores the need for early intervention. It is during the early years

that we are confident that efforts to redress the impact of disadvantage

and support caregiving can be of most benefit.

1.2 The links

between poverty, educational disadvantage and other negative outcomes

Longitudinal research

has revealed a common set of risk factors for major social problems such

as child abuse and neglect, mental illness, juvenile delinquency, suicidal

behaviour, drug abuse, behaviour problems and school failure (National

Crime Prevention 1999; Scott, 2000). These factors operate at the level

of individual, the family, local community and society. Poverty appears

as a particularly significant influence on many risk factors at each level.

For example, poverty is clearly associated with negative health outcomes,

lower school achievement, disrupted parenting and higher rates of child

abuse and neglect (Burnside, 1999). The consequences of these negative

outcomes often persist throughout life.

Early childhood programs

that address multiple risk factors can have a significant impact. As a

form of social support they act as a buffer to the impact of risk factors.

In addition, early childhood services can supplement the care offered

by parents as well as facilitating parents in developing skills that will

better contribute to their children's development.

1.3 The persistence

of child poverty in Australia

Despite some improvement

in the last decade there are still too many children living in poverty

in Australia. Research by Harding and Szukalska (The Smith Family, 2000)

shows that 732 000 Australian children (14.9% or one in seven) were living

in poverty in 1999. When housing costs are taken into account the number

of children living in poverty may be even higher - up to one-in-five (McClelland,

2000). The majority of these children live in single parent households

or households where one or both parents is unemployed (Harding and Szukalska,

1998).

Another important

factor is the trend towards greater locational disadvantage (Gregory and

Hunter, 1996). That is, disadvantage in Australia is becoming more concentrated

in particular communities and neighbourhoods. One implication is that

such neighbourhoods may require intensive and tailored interventions to

turn around a negative community momentum (Garbarino and Kostelny, 1992).

1.4 Inadequate

access of poorer families to quality child care and other early childhood

services

Use of various forms

of child care has increased dramatically since the mid 1970's (McIntosh,

1998). However, partly due to a lack of systematic data collection and

partly to due to the diversity of child care types and combinations of

care across states it is not easy to give a definitive picture of child

care and early education service usage in Australia. Consequently, questions

as to who is using early childhood services, the types of services being

utilised and the amount of time children spend in programs are not fully

answered. What is clear is that there exists a persistent relationship

between child care usage and family income. Research by Jamrozik and Sweeney

(1996) found that the extent of both formal and informal childcare use

was positively related to income - the higher the income the greater the

use of child care.

Affordability and

accessibility of child care to low income groups continues to be a problem.

A study by the Brotherhood of St Laurence found that the affordability

of child care had deteriorated between 1992 and 1997 and that Childcare

Assistance (fee relief) had not kept pace with fee increases over the

same period (Tasker & Siemon, 1998). At Recently there has been dramatic

underspending in the budget for child care subsidies ($150 million less

than forecast in 1997/98) suggesting a strong decline in use by low income

families (Siemon and Ford, 1999). The Australian report to the OECD Review

of Early Childhood Education and Care notes a decline in overall attendance

and a loss of low income families at long day care centres between 1995-1999,

with affordability being one suggested reason for the trend. While the

Federal Government's new Child Care Benefit may reduce costs to some extent,

the issue of affordability remains an impediment to greater access to

care especially for low income families (Moyle, 2001).

1.5 The effectiveness

of quality child care and early childhood services in producing positive

outcomes

Perhaps the most

important reason for an increased investment in early childhood services

is the evidence of the difference that such programs can make. This section

draws from a number of reviews of intervention studies of early parenting

and education support programs (NCP, 1999; Powell, 1996; Barnett, 1995,

Boocock, 1995; Bowes, 2000).

Although often discussed

collectively there is in fact a great variety of early childhood programs

which differ according to their goals and delivery strategies (Gomby et

al, 1995). However, within this range there are common program elements

- these include parent support, parent training, access to resources,

child care/preschool and child skills training. Some programs are centre-based,

others emphasise home visits and many involve some combination of the

two. For the purposes of this paper we will distinguish between the outcomes

of universal pre school services and more targeted early parenting and

education support programs. The latter often originate as small scale,

multi component, demonstration projects though some models have been implemented

more broadly eg the Head Start Program in the United States. Some of these

programs begin in infancy while others commence during the pre-school

years.

Outcomes of Universal

Pre-school Services

Boocock (1995) has

reviewed studies from 13 nations and found that well established pre-school

services have positive effects especially for more disadvantaged children.

These include an

increase in school readiness and improvements in cognitive development

and academic performance. However Boocock and others (Powell, 1996) caution

that these improvements narrow, but do not close, the achievement gap

between low income and more advantaged children.

Outcomes of Targeted

Programs

While cognitive gains

tend to be short term the range of long term benefits that has emerged

is impressive. For programs that begin in infancy these include for children:

better school attendance; less disruptive and impulsive behaviour; higher

literacy and reduced need for special education services. The few studies

that kept data on crime also showed a reduction in delinquency. A number

of programs also showed reduced incidence of child abuse and neglect.

Some programs demonstrated significant outcomes for parents with participants

reporting more positive and nurturing attitudes to children, greater confidence

as parents and adoption of less punitive approaches to discipline. Other

programs demonstrated positive health effects and improvements in parent's

own education and employment with reduced welfare utilisation.

Programs that focused

on the pre-school years have produced similar very positive results. These

included for children: sizeable and persistent effects in reading and

maths; better social adjustment; reduced grade retention and special education;

improved high school graduation and; a reduction in delinquency. Importantly,

several programs resulted in parents being more likely to be involved

with activities at their child's school. This involvement included taking

part in parent-teacher interviews, attending classroom activities and

initiating contact with classroom teachers. This is significant, as it

is indicative of the parent's increased commitment to and expectation

of the child's education. Such expectation and commitment appears to be

an important underlying factor associated with school achievement (Zappala

and Considine, 2001; Zubrick et al, 1997; NCP, 1999).

Quality early childhood

programs alone will not completely eradicate the destructive consequences

of poverty. But they can narrow the gap in educational attainment, reduce

the likelihood of other social problems and provide disadvantaged children

with a more solid platform from which to grow.

Taken together, the

above points provide more than sufficient grounds for an increased investment

in early childhood services. However, to bring this about and to address

the access and affordability issues of low income families, significant

changes are necessary.

2

Action required to ensure that quality child care and Early Childhood

Services are available

What follows are

some general directions that Burnside believes should characterise the

development of early childhood services in Australia.

We must re-conceive

quality early childhood programs as a critical investment in the development

of children and in the development of the nation. Shonkoff and Phillips

argue in their influential book, From Neurons to Neighbourhoods (2000),

that any review of early childhood policy must satisfy two complimentary

agendas. The first has to do with how knowledge about early childhood

development can maximise citizens' capabilities and thus ensure the social

and economic vitality of the nation. The second asks how the nation, its

policies and practices, can protect and nurture the well being and dignity

of all children and their right to develop whatever potential they possess.

This should be seen as an objective in its own right, regardless of broader

benefit to the nation. Both agendas are deserving of our active concern.

The former has appeared briefly in the underdeveloped discussion around

Australia as a knowledge nation: the latter has raised barely a murmur.

The focus of early

childhood services must be national, comprehensive and integrated. Development

of a national framework has been supported by a variety of groups (ACOSS,

1999; Economic Planning Advisory Commission, 1996). More recently the

report to the OECD Review into Early Childhood Education and Care has

called for a clear national vision for children in Australia that includes

the formulation of a framework for early childhood education and care

policy and practice (Press and Hayes, 2000). Burnside supports that call.

A first step would be for the Commonwealth Government to initiate a National

Summit on Early Childhood Education and Care with representatives from

all levels of government, the school system, child care organisations,

community groups and welfare agencies.

New systems and structures

are necessary to facilitate a comprehensive approach to early childhood

services. A new system will be marked by collaboration by all who provide

services to children and families, including government departments, community

agencies, private providers and voluntary organisations. Such collaboration

will need to be genuine rather than tokenistic in order to be effective.

Structures that facilitate such decision making are needed at the national,

regional and local levels (Vimpani, 1999). In this process, local community

culture and needs must be taken into account. Broad parameters and key

elements of programs may be set by policy bodies but it is up to local

decision makers how these will be applied in their own situation. The

place management approach may well offer a helpful model here (Latham,

1996).

A commitment to an

integrated program of early childhood services must be sustained over

time. The research shows that the positive results from quality early

childhood programs take time to unfold. This creates a tension with the

short term needs of government policy development constrained by 3-4 year

electoral cycles. Ideally we need bi-partisan political support for an

early childhood investment strategy over at least three terms of government.

There now seems enough consensus about the necessity and efficacy of early

childhood services across the political spectrum for this to be a possibility.

A long-term policy

would need to be supported by substantial funding from government. Recent

figures show that Australia ranks 15th out of 19 OECD nations according

to expenditure on pre-school education. In 1998 Australia spent 0.1% of

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on pre-school education compared to the OECD

average of 0.4% (Considine et al, 2001). The influential Early Years report

argued that a comprehensive system of early child development and parenting

centres should be regarded as important as investments in school education

and post secondary education (McCain and Mustard, 1999). Yet in Australia

there is an apparent huge disparity between spending on the early years

and later education. In 1998-1999 total government expenditure on early

childhood education and care was $1.4 billion. By comparison spending

by State and Territory governments on school education amounted to $14.7

billion (SCRCSSP, 2000). One idea is to raise additional funds through

a 'children's futures levy' similar to the operation of the Medicare levy.

All taxpayers would make some contribution with higher income earners

contributing more.

More intensive support

must be directed to the most disadvantaged communities. Given the work

on locational disadvantage, and the evidence about the accumulation of

risk factors increasing the likelihood of a range of social problems,

intensive support is vital for the most vulnerable communities. Programs

in these communities should be made universally available to all community

members. This avoids the stigma that may be associated with participating

in support services and ensures that the a broad cross section of the

community has a stake in early parenting and education services. However,

early childhood parenting and education programs are not a panacea for

poorer communities. They can help families and communities deal with the

constraints and pressures imposed by poverty and other disadvantage. But

they must be complimented by stimulus to local economies, maintenance

of community infrastructure, income support policies and development of

later education and employment opportunities.

Research and evaluation

should accompany and inform program development. There is a general lack

of rigorous research in the area of early intervention (NCP, 1999). Much

of what we do know about effective early childhood services is based on

overseas research and models. Good research and evaluation of early intervention

services in the Australian context is therefore essential. However, we

know enough to commence programs now, making sure that rigorous evaluation

is built in alongside service provision. The most useful evaluations should

be both quantitative, including the identification of some uniform outcome

measures (Repucci et al, 1997) and qualitative, including rich descriptions

of programs that will allow us to understand better some of the underlying

mechanisms that make interventions effective (Scott, 1997).

3

What sorts of programs are needed?

In the light of the

research into early intervention and the issues in the current Australian

context what sorts of programs are needed?

Firstly, early childhood

parenting and education programs for families with young children must

be expanded. Many child and family agencies throughout Australia have

developed innovative, early intervention and family support programs that

address the needs of very vulnerable families and communities. However,

the impact of such programs is weakened by a lack of critical mass, a

short life span (programs that begin as pilots but do not go on) and lack

of common process and outcome measures that help us determine and compare

the benefits of different programs.

In developing the

early childhood sector in our own context we can learn from research into

overseas programs. Although there will always be debate about what works

(and why) there seems to be a developing consensus regarding the characteristics

of programs that have the best outcomes. (Vimpani, 1999; Repucci et al

1997; NCP, 1999; Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000).

Research findings

indicate that the most effective programs:

Have Multiple Components

The most effective services have multiple components directed to well

defined objectives. This is important in order to address specific and

multiple risk factors that influence outcomes. Although the emphasis differs

from service to service most programs offer some combination of practical

and emotional support for parents, parent training and child care, child

training and educational support. Home visiting is seen as a key means

of delivering many of these elements (NCP, 1999). Several commentators

have also highlighted the importance of child initiated learning and play

based problem solving as an important program component (McCain and Mustard,

1999; NCP, 1999; Yoshikawa, 1995).

Combine family focused

and child focused elements It is clear that the child focused programs

benefit children more than adults and that the family focused programs

benefit adults more than children (Gomby et al, 1995). Gains in child

outcomes are unlikely unless programs have an emphasis on child development

input (Powell, 1996: Gomby et al, 1995). Programs that rely on indirect

methods (attempting to influence the child through parents) have some

of the weakest results in child outcomes. At the same time the child focussed

educational enrichment programs which have produced the most substantial

outcomes combine centre based services for children with significant parent

involvement, through home visits, classroom participation or parent groups

(NCP, 1999; Yoshikawa, 2000). This is important to support parent skills

and learning in the home environment.

Maintain program

integrity As mentioned previously some of the strongest and most stringently

evaluated programs have been relatively small- scale model programs. It

is reasonable to ask whether such programs achieve similar results when

implemented on a larger scale. Barnett (1995) in his review of targeted

early education programs found that positive effects reported were somewhat

larger in the small scale demonstration projects compared to the large

scale public programs (such as Head Start). Importantly, Barnett considered

this a result of, not any deficit in the nature of the large scale programs

themselves, but a lack of sufficient funding of the larger programs which

resulted in a lowering of program quality (larger classes, fewer and less

qualified staff, poorer supervision) and intensity. Barnett emphasised

that the research supported the view that large scale programs could produce

the cognitive and social benefits for disadvantaged children, providing

program quality and integrity was maintained.

Start early There

are good reasons for staring early. Family functioning outcomes are better

for programs that commence early, even before birth. Starting early also

avoids the stigma of joining a program after a problem has developed.

Starting early is also important for the more child focussed programs.

Although good educational and other outcomes are achieved with pre school

programs, evidence on brain development suggests that beginning services

in infancy is likely to generate even larger effects than waiting till

a year or so before school (Barnett, 1995: Yoshikawa, 1995).

Are intensive While

it is not possible to be completely prescriptive about program intensity

there are strong indications from research that better outcomes are associated

with programs of greater intensity. The most effective home visiting programs

have a duration of at least two years (NCP, 1999). Parents at higher risk

have been shown to benefit more from longer term intensive visitation

(Wolfe et al, 1995). In his survey, Yoshikawa, (1995) found that programs

which produced positive outcomes for both parents and children included

25-60 home visits, occurring from weekly to monthly. The most effective

early educational programs ranged from half day to full day sessions usually

four or five days a week. Writing about Centre based child focussed programs

Gomby et al (1995) recommend that in the light of many mothers entering

the workforce out of economic necessity or government mandate, full day,

full year programs should be the norm.

Maintain Quality

Quality is an essential characteristic of the most effective childcare,

preschool and other child focused programs. The most positive outcomes

are from programs with adequate child/staff ratios, relatively small group

sizes and where staff are professionally trained (Powell, 1996). Powell

notes that this type of program quality is unlikely to be maintained when

parents are positioned purely as consumers of program services: "...

low income parents in particular are unable to afford the type of quality

that researchers have identified as key to achieving persistent benefits'

(p.96).

Another essential

aspect of quality is the maintenance of well trained child care staff

for early childhood services. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there is

a constant stream of staff leaving children's services owing to prevailing

salary levels and conditions within the sector. It is apparent that an

undervaluing of the early years is reflected in an undervaluing of those

who work with children. Attention must be given to issues like salary

and career structure if this drain is to be avoided and program quality

safeguarded. An investment in early childhood will be hampered unless

there is a corresponding investment in greater skills, compensation, and

benefits for child care professionals (Phillips, 2000).

Secondly, quality

preschool/long day care programs should be further developed and made

more accessible and affordable, particularly to low-income families. Access

to childcare should no longer be based primarily on participation in the

workforce. As Harris and Hayes (1999) note, having parent's employment

status as the main criteria for access to child care represents a 'defacto

disinvestment' in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable families. In

particular, the 20 hour cap on child care fee relief for non working parents

should be removed.

Quality is an essential

characteristic for both long day care and pre-school programs. The most

positive outcomes are associated with services that maintain adequate

staff/child ratios, have relatively small group sizes and professionally

trained staff (Powell, 1996). Other key components of effective pre school

services for disadvantaged families include:

  • A focus on cognitive

    enrichment that incorporates child initiated learning (especially play

    based problem solving) and growth in responsibility.

  • Family involvement

    in the program.

  • Combining parent

    training programs with child training-to support parenting skills and

    learning in the home environment (NCP, 1999).

Burnside supports

the graded provision of subsidised quality long day care and preschool

services. A start would be to ensure that every three and four year old

child in Australia received at least one day per week free care in a quality

pre-school or long day care centre. Children from low income families

should receive two days free care. This level of universal provision would

allow all families with children to have a stake in quality childcare.

Long day care and

pre-school centres also provide an excellent location for other family

support type services. As centres are perceived as supportive places and

non-stigmatising they provide an ideal setting for other types of parent

education, home visiting and child skills training programs. They are

also well placed to influence the important transition to the school environment

(NCP, 1999). The 'hub and spoke' model of early child development and

parenting centres currently being developed in Ontario, Canada, could

provide very useful guidance here (McCain & Mustard, 1999).

Conclusion

There is good evidence

that early childhood services can greatly improve the outcomes for children

and families in learning, behaviour and health. A substantially increased

investment in early childhood services is in the interests of all parties:

children, parents, community, schools, industry and Government. Individual

children have the right to develop their full potential regardless of

the circumstances into which they are born. Parents need support to fulfil

the vital role of bringing up healthy children. The general community

is concerned about children's well being. They also want to know that

distressing and costly problems such as child abuse and juvenile crime

can be prevented. Schools are the recipients of the graduates of both

child care and early parenting and are therefore key stakeholders in the

debate about quality and provision of early childhood services. Industry

is concerned to have a competent and capable workforce able to respond

to the changing demands of the global economy. Finally, governments have

an interest in the well being of all citizens and in policy and programs

that will be effective and cost efficient.

A new wave of enthusiasm

for early childhood programs is evident within government, health and

community sectors. There have been some welcome policy initiatives, program

development and resourcing of new and remodelled services on the basis

of knowledge about the effectiveness of early intervention. The danger

is that we will settle for too little and fail to realise the potential

of early childhood services. The challenge is to find the will, the resources

and the methods to create a system of early childhood services that makes

a significant difference to the most vulnerable families as well as having

benefit for all Australians.

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Last

Updated 9 January 2003.