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Youth detention in Queensland - a message from the Principal Commissioner

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I was shocked and saddened to see the footage aired by the ABC’s Four Corners program of children and young people’s treatment in the Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre in the Northern Territory. It is extremely distressing to see the treatment given to these vulnerable young people and it reminds us that we need to continue to exert vigilance to ensure their safety and protection.

As Principal Commissioner of the Queensland Family and Child Commission (QFCC), one of my roles is to promote and advocate for the safety and wellbeing of children and young people, particularly children in the youth justice system. I take this role extremely seriously. I personally visited the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre in June this year and I will soon visit the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Townsville.

In Queensland we have strong, independent oversight agencies – including the Office of the Public Guardian, the State Ombudsman and the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) – who all play a role in monitoring standards of youth justice facilities and advocating on behalf of individuals. The Office of the Public Guardian regularly visits and undertakes individual advocacy for children and young people within youth detention centres in Queensland and the State Ombudsman provides in-depth individual and systemic oversight. The CCC investigates both crime and corruption and has oversight of both the police and the public sector.

The QFCC's role is to promote and advocate for the safety and wellbeing of children and young people, particularly children in the youth justice system. As part of that role the QFCC has made a number of recommendations to improve child safety and wellbeing and increase safety measures for children in the youth justice system -Youth Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 and the Operational Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) in the context of youth justice detention centres.

We have partnered with the other members of the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians in relation to detention centre practices in a report - Human rights standards in youth detention facilities in Australia: the use of restraint, disciplinary regimes and other specified practices.

What we saw on the ABC on Monday evening should not be happening. This type of treatment is inexcusable and contradicts everything we should be doing in youth justice. We need a system that is prepared to work with and support these young people and respond sensitively and humanely to their feelings of anger and disengagement, recognising threats to self-harm are often indications of deeper concerns for their mental health and wellbeing.

We need to help these young people turn their lives around to create a future filled with potential not an endless round of incarceration. We need to break the cycle of violence and drug and alcohol abuse most of them have experienced from their earliest years. This is not to discount or excuse their actions but recognise the trauma many of these children have experienced.

The QFCC will continue to work to hear the voices of young people and advocate on their behalf. We will continue to collaborate with Queensland Government departments and the non-government sector to make sure we have a robust and responsive child and family support service system which is delivering the right services at the right time and in the right places. We will continue to encourage families to seek the support and information they may need so their children thrive and are able to reach their full potential.

Cheryl Vardon

Principal Commissioner