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A last resort? - Summary Guide: Recreation and play

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

Recreation and play

It was like a new life for us


we went out of the centre.

Teenage boy, Perth focus group


Rest, play, recreational activities and the opportunity

to take part in artistic and cultural events, as set out in the Convention

on the Rights of the Child, are very important for the healthy development

of children.

Participating in games and play can help improve a

child's social and personal skills, such as negotiation and sharing. For

children in detention, it can help them cope with past experiences of

trauma and violence and improve their mental health.

Although some efforts were made by the Department to provide

play and recreation activities, the detention environment - often in remote

locations, poorly grassed, surrounded by razor wire and subject to riots

and disturbances - can stifle a child's desire to play and, therefore,

their mental health and development. The longer a child is detained, the

more serious the effects.

The Inquiry found that:

  • there were no constraints on children regarding

    leisure time or access to outdoor areas. However, children in separation

    detention in Port Hedland had limited access to play outdoors

  • by 2002 all centres had playground equipment for

    children, however, it took two years before it was installed at Woomera

  • toys and sporting equipment were generally provided,

    although at times of overcrowding they were often insufficient to meet

    the needs of children in the centres

  • access to televisions and videos varied between

    centres but was generally available.

Comments were often made by detainees regarding

the absence of greenery and how this contributed to them feeling

sad … On an excursion to St Michael’s School in Woomera,

when I took the children to the oval the whole group … began

laughing with delight and ran directly to the oval … They

behaved as if they’d never seen grass before … they

did not want to leave …

Former Woomera Activities Officer,

submission to the Inquiry


Organised recreational activities are also important

in contributing to a child's healthy development. The Inquiry found that:

  • each centre had a recreational program in place

    although the quality varied between centres. Although individual staff

    made efforts, understaffing and a lack of resources meant that the needs

    of children in Woomera were not always met. Children held in Villawood

    and Maribyrnong had more recreational opportunities because of nearby

    community groups and facilities.

  • excursions were generally arranged on an ad hoc

    basis, although there were periods when no excursions were offered and

    in some centres excursions were often cancelled at late notice. However,

    concerted efforts to offer regular excursions began in some centres

    in late 2001.

Inquiry finding

The Commonwealth provided children

in detention with sufficient opportunities for play and recreation

to meet its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the

Child. However, recreational opportunities are closely linked to

a child’s right to enjoy – to the maximum extent possible

– healthy development and recovery from past trauma. The programs

and facilities provided in detention failed to meet these obligations,

resulting in a breach of the Convention.