A last resort?
National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention
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
The family were released on permanent
refugee protection visas in December 2003 – three years and
four months after first being taken into detention.
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