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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

the Royal College of Nursing

, Australia


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

justice issues.

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.



Executive Director

Royal College of Nursing Australia

Jill Iliffe

Federal Secretary

Australian Nursing Federation


Updated 9 January 2003.