Skip to main content


A last resort? - Summary Guide: Children with Disabilities

A Last Resort? - SUMMARY GUIDE. A Summary of the important issues, findings and recommendations of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

A last resort?

National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

Children with disabilities

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is

very clear that extra efforts must be taken to provide children with disabilities

with the support they need to enjoy a 'full and decent life'.

The Inquiry closely examined the services provided to two

families with children with serious disabilities. These families were

held in immigration detention centres between 2000 and 2003 - one family

was in Port Hedland, the other was in Curtin.

Despite the efforts of individual staff members and the significant

improvements over 2002, evidence to the Inquiry demonstrated that in the

case of these two families there was a failure to provide:

  • prompt access to State disability and child welfare services

    to assist with the identification of children with disabilities

  • prompt development of comprehensive individual case management


  • prompt provision of aids and adaptations, such as a wheelchair

    and eating utensils

  • prompt provision of suitable educational programs conducted

    by qualified staff

  • prompt provision of recreational programs tailored to the

    individual needs of the children

  • adequate support to help parents cope with the stress of

    caring for children with disabilities in detention.

The longer children with disabilities are held in immigration

detention the greater the impact of these problems will be. Whilst the

Inquiry acknowledges that providing services to children with disabilities

in remote detention centres is extremely challenging, the Department has

the power to release these families or transfer them to facilities that

are better placed to meet their needs.

The Department failed to promptly consider any alternative

options to detention for these children with disabilities.


A family, including two boys and

a girl, aged 7, 11 and 13, arrived in Australia in August 2000.

The children had aspartylglucosaminuria (AGU) which creates an intellectual

disability. The family was initially detained in the Port Hedland

detention centre and was later transferred to the Villawood detention

centre in September 2003.

The exact nature of the disability

of the three children was not determined until August 2002 - two

years after the family arrived in Australia. While this is not always

an easy problem to diagnose, the evidence before the Inquiry suggests

that there were no serious efforts to commence the diagnostic process

until seven months after this family's arrival in Australia. Furthermore,

there was slow follow-up once the process started.

The children did not receive the

appropriate case management, education, recreation and other support

and assistance they needed. The difficulty of providing specialist

services in a remote detention facility contributed to this failure.

For instance a teacher from the Port Hedland centre described the

challenges of trying to provide a positive education experience

for them in the detention environment:

There were two support detainees

in the class that I was teaching in and we just tried to keep

them going with very simplified work and quite often the other

children would rile the smaller boy as it was very easy to do

that and he would jump on tables and start screaming out and run

round the classroom. It was very difficult to know what to do,

I guess. After a while I developed some techniques … But

it was another area – it was yet another level to deal with

in that classroom and the people working with me were untrained.

They were very humane and very good with the children, excellent

actually, but they weren’t trained in any – in that

specialist area.

The family were released on permanent

refugee protection visas in December 2003 – three years and

four months after first being taken into detention.

Inquiry finding

The Commonwealth breached the

Convention on the Rights of the Child by failing to ensure a ‘full

and decent life’ for children with disabilities in detention

and by failing to ensure they received the special care and assistance

they required.