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Prioritising the needs of disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people

A strong society is one that ensures its most vulnerable are provided with opportunities to contribute to that society.

Ensuring the State’s laws and policies actively support children and young people’s wellbeing and respect their role as citizens sets the broader agenda for the community.

Assisting agencies to continually improve the opportunities and services for children and young people who present as vulnerable, disadvantaged or face additional inequities is an essential role of the office.

Aboriginal children and young people

The Commissioner has commenced a project that aims to create and support more young Aboriginal leaders in communities across the state, with particular focus on increasing their participation in decision making about programs and initiatives that affect them.

In 2014, the Commissioner consulted 1,271 Aboriginal children and young people from all major regions of WA about the most important issues in their lives. A report of this consultation, Listen To Us, was tabled in the WA Parliament in
August 2015.

One of the report’s key recommendations was that: programs and services need to be underpinned by an ongoing commitment to listening and responding to the views of Aboriginal children and young people… it is the role of all organisations that work with Aboriginal children and young people to ensure these meaningful conversations continue.

The aim of this project is to produce a ‘toolkit’ that can be used by organisations to engage with Aboriginal children and young people in an effective and meaningful way. The toolkit will be designed to be sustainable, evidence-based and embedded in culturally secure practice, and include case studies of successful WA projects.

In early 2017 the Commissioner consulted staff of key agencies concerning the purpose and structure of the toolkit, and this information is being used to draft the document. The toolkit will be published in late 2017.

In March 2017 the Commissioner signed the Family Matters Statement of Commitment to work collaboratively with Aboriginal people and their organisations to ensure Aboriginal children grow up safe and cared for, part of a national campaign.

Child protection

In October 2016 the Commissioner published the report of his office’s consultation with children and young people with experience of out-of-home care.

The report, Speaking Out About Raising Concerns in Care, is based on detailed interviews with 96 children and young people aged eight to 24 years.

The project was undertaken in partnership with CREATE Foundation and the then Department of Child Protection and Family Support and focused on children and young people’s knowledge of how to speak out when they have concerns, and the factors that support or inhibit their ability to do so.

The report launch included a commitment from the then director general of the Department for Child Protection and Family Support for the report to inform the agency’s reform work and five-year
strategic plan.

The report strongly influenced the Commissioner’s submission to the Review of the Children and Community Services Act 2004, and will continue to inform the office’s advocacy and public presentations on this topic.

Inquiries in WA and other jurisdictions continue to highlight the need to better protect children and young people from abuse and address the underlying causes that increase a child’s vulnerability to abuse such as alcohol and drug abuse, poverty and disadvantage.

The Commissioner has continued to support the need for tough restrictions on the sale of alcohol across the community to reduce the impact on child abuse and neglect.

Youth justice

In 2016 the Commissioner consulted 92 young people who have had contact with the Western Australian youth justice system.

Working in collaboration with the then Department of Corrective Services, the consultation focused on the factors that influence their involvement in offending activity and what works to address this behaviour and help them stay out of trouble.

Overwhelmingly the young people who participated in this consultation indicated that serious dysfunction at home, disengagement from school and the broader community, and personal struggles with mental health or alcohol and drug use, underpinned much of their involvement in crime.

They highlighted the importance of respectful, trusting and long-term mentoring relationships, with professionals, including youth justice workers and police, as crucial to exploring and sustaining behavioural changes, participating in education and employment, and to building a more positive future.

The Commissioner provided a submission to the WA Department of Corrective Services on the Review of the Young Offenders Act 1994. The Commissioner drew attention to the need for improved diversionary opportunities for young people, particularly Aboriginal young people, and for the provision of effective family support programs and mental health services to address the underlying causes of offending behaviour.

The Commissioner also made a submission to the Inspector of Custodial Services on the review of behaviour management practices at Banksia Hill Detention Centre.

“So maybe you need to ask them a lot of questions so that you get to know them. Get to know them better and they’ll get to know you better. And you’ll find what they need later in life.”

17 year-old female – Youth justice consultation

Case study

Young people identify factors that lead to youth justice contact

On average, there are 727 young people in detention or on community supervision in WA every day.

While this is only 0.3 per cent of all under 18 year-olds in WA, these young people should be supported to turn their lives around and break the cycle of offending and disadvantage many of them experience. Hearing and responding to their views is essential if we are to achieve this aim.

In December 2016, the Commissioner published Speaking Out About Youth Justice, a report based on detailed interviews with 92 young people in contact with the youth justice system.

These young people had very clear views on the factors that had contributed to their criminal behaviour, such as family dysfunction, drug and alcohol abuse, disengagement from education and poverty.

The young people also identified what helps them break free from crime and create a positive future:

  • A safe and stable home or accommodation
  • Structure and boundaries
  • Positive role models and making new friends
  • More relevant and supportive education
  • Having access to recreational activities
  • Better access to supports and services for personal issues, such as drug and alcohol use or mental health issues

 “I want a life for myself and I want a job when I get out of [Banksia Hill] cos I’m sick of it. Like, this life we live is not sustainable, if you get what I mean. Like, we can’t keep going the way we go. You can’t keep on doing crime, cos this is the way we end up, in here.” 17 year-old girl

“It’s like a big trap…we end up getting in trouble by the law and then we just go to prison, and we just get trapped, it’s like a big circle trap. That’s how it’s been in my life personally. I think it’s like that for hundreds of kids out there. It’s just a big trap game. It’s never going to change unless they do something about it but obviously none of them’s gonna do something about it… cos you can’t help yourself obviously, that’s why you’re in a position of help.” 17 year-old boy

“The kids want to be a happy family, not just a family who are having arguments every day, they want a family who are just there to love and care for the kids.” 18 year-old girl

“Cos every time I go to school, I just sit there. I don’t even got nothing… pens and stuff, you know. I don’t have the resources and that to do it.” 17 year-old boy