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Submission to the National
Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from
the Royal College of Nursing
About Royal College of Nursing,
Royal College of
Nursing, Australia (RCNA) is the national professional organisation for
Australian nurses. The College was established in 1949 and until the early
1990's was a provider of formal ongoing education for nurses who wished
to gain higher qualifications in nursing. Following the completion of
the transfer of nursing to the higher education sector in 1993, the College
refocused its functions to become the national professional organisation
for Australian nurses.
About the Australian Nursing
The Australian Nursing
Federation, which was established in 1924, is the national union for nurses
in Australia and, with a membership of 120,000 nurses, the largest nursing
professional organisation. The ANF's core business is the industrial and
professional representation of nurses and nursing, both nationally and
internationally, through the activities of a national office and branches
in all States and Territories of Australia. The ANF actively participates
in the development of policy and legislation in nursing, nursing regulation,
health, community services, veterans' affairs, education, training, occupational
health and safety, industrial matters, immigration, law reform and social
Focus of this Submission
The submission does
not attempt a review of the literature - the impact and health consequences
of inappropriate detention, particularly on children, are well researched
and well documented. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Act (1986)
and the Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989) outline the standards
of care which underpin this inquiry, and are charters based on research.
They are widely recognised and supported by nurses.
Nurses provide the
majority of health services for people in detention. As a profession,
nurses are seriously alarmed by the negative impact, both current and
future, of detention, on the physical, psychological, social and emotional
development of children.
This submission is
presented on behalf of RCNA and the ANF and the nurses they represent.
This submission has the following aims:
1. to provide recommendations
on the minimum standards of care that need to be provided for children
in immigration detention in Australia;
2. to provide recommendations on the working conditions and employment
of health workers, especially nurses, who work in detention centers;
3. to provide recommendations regarding the mandatory detention of children
and possible alternatives.
1. RCNA and the ANF
recommend that the minimum standards of care for children in immigration
detention in Australia ensure the availability of:
- A level of physical
and mental health care during detention and after release that is comparable
with the standard expected by the Australian community for its members.
This is true for all people in detention but applies particularly to
children of all ages, to children with disabilities, and to pregnant
women. This should include measures that ensure a reasonable level of
continuity of care, including access to specialist health services as
- Initial physical,
mental and emotional health screening, testing and treatment for all
children conducted upon arrival at a detention facility. Appropriately
qualified personnel must be available to conduct this initial assessment
- personnel who include mental health practitioners, psychologists,
and health personnel with paediatric and/or maternal and child health
- Adequate protection
from possible harm associated with being in detention, over and above
mental and physical health services - ie. protection from abuse (by
staff or other detainees), protection from infectious diseases, and
from witnessing the stress of family members.
- Special provision
for the care, education and supervision of unaccompanied children.
- Services that
ensure that pregnant women are not separated from the support of their
families during the final stages of their pregnancy. If the relocation
of pregnant women closer to maternity care during the last few weeks
of their pregnancy is considered desirable, then partners and/or family
members must accompany them.
- Mechanisms to
ensure the confidentiality of the health information of detainees such
as that as would reasonably be expected by the Australian community
for their own health information. Non-health staff including immigration
officers should not be able to access the health information of detainees,
including children, unless written permission is granted by the individual
or their guardian.
- Sufficient age
appropriate opportunities for the mental, emotional, and psychosocial
development of children in care, such as maintaining culture, access
to toys, opportunities for play, access to education, access to recreation
- Age and culturally
appropriate education for all children in care, at the standard that
would reasonably be expected by the Australian community for their own
- Measures, which
ensure adequate accountability for and reporting of education and health
care standards by independent health and education specialists, in order
to maintain the level of health care outlined above.
2. With regard to
health care providers, RCNA and the ANF recommend:
- An adequate level
of staffing in all centres. The turnover of detainees can be high and
numbers can fluctuate quite dramatically, sometimes much more quickly
than allowed for by the employment contracts of nurses. Numbers of staff
should therefore be commensurate with the highest expected number of
people in detention.
- The employment
of staff with appropriate qualifications and experience. Nurses should
have a minimum of five years experience and nurses with specialist qualifications
in community health, maternal and child health, and mental health, should
be employed wherever possible. Appropriate incentives should be provided
to such staff, which could be extended to their current employer, to
allow for periods of secondment.
- " The establishment
of formal and informal mechanisms for debriefing and/or counseling health
care staff as required or as requested by staff.
- The introduction
of occupational health and safety measures, which protect nurses from
harm inherent in the social and physical working environment and from
illness and disease.
- The introduction
of measures, which protect staff from workplace bullying. The volatile
environment in detention centres puts extra pressure on staff and as
a result nurses commonly report workplace bullying. Addressing workplace
shortages, ensuring the availability of debriefing sessions and other
measures outlined above should go some way to reducing the occurrence
of workplace bullying.
3. With regard to
detainment in general, RCNA and the ANF highlight the global responsibility
of all adults, all communities, and all governments, for the non-harming
of children. The harmful long-term effects of depriving children of their
liberty have been well documented. It is vital that children are not held
in detention for any longer than absolutely necessary and that alternatives
are provided. The Government's Alternative Detention Arrangements for
Women and Children Project which enables women and their children to live
in family-style accommodation away from the detention centre while remaining
in immigration detention must be immediately extended to include all women
and children currently in detention.
Irrespective of the
outcome of their claims for refugee status, while children who come to
this country seeking asylum remain in this country, the Australian Government
has a non-delegable duty of care to protect them. The conditions in which
children are currently being detained and the lack of appropriate services
for them is a national disgrace.
RCNA and the ANF
urge the Inquiry to develop practical options for the protection of children
who are seeking asylum, or who are a part of families seeking asylum.
Such options must include their right to their liberty; their right to
physical and mental health services; their right to age and culturally
appropriate education; and their right to an environment conducive to
their optimal social and emotional development.
Nurses, who have
worked in Australia's detention centers, and who are members of RCNA and
the ANF, are available to give evidence to the Inquiry if required.
Royal College of Nursing Australia
Australian Nursing Federation
Updated 9 January 2003.