Secure Care for Children
The Society congratulates the Department of Children of Families on its decision to make the Bill publicly available for comment. It is of utmost importance that organisations and individuals working in the child protection sector, and the broader community, are given the opportunity to review the proposed legislation prior to its implementation.
The Society has conducted consultations with its Social Justice Committee and Family Law Committee in developing this response to the Bill. The Society also visited the Darwin facility on 8 June 2012 and provides comments in this submission.
The Society has identified a number of concerns in summary:
- Minimum age of 10 years old
- Maximum length of Therapeutic Residential Orders of 21 days
- More precise eligibility criteria
- Establishment of practice standards
- Funded legal assistance for all parties
- Legal representation of children on instructions where possible
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (ATSILS) assistance if appropriate
- Independence of authorised psychiatric practitioner
- Transparency of review of therapeutic care plans
- A well-resourced community visitor scheme that is overseen by the Children?s Commissioner
In addition the Society has the following concerns regarding the facility:
- Need for dedicated areas for therapeutic treatment
- Need for bigger outdoor area
- S 223A: The eligibility criteria ought be more precise, i.e. criteria require a young person to be at significant risk of extreme harm to the young person or others. We endorse the CAALAS submission and its proposal to amend subsection 223A(1)(a).
- DCF, Legal Services and Aboriginal organisations ought cooperate to develop practice standards i.e. for cultural therapeutic care plans for Aboriginal young people.
- Natural justice and procedural fairness principles dictate that those subject to these new provisions ought have access to legal representation to assist them to address any concerns. Legal services ought be adequately funded for the provision of their legal assistance for children and families affected by applications for therapeutic orders.
- S 223C(4)(a): Legal representatives should be required to act on a young person?s instructions where the young person is assessed as competent (rather than only in the best interest of the young person). Young people who have a cognitive impairment or other conditions that impedes their ability to instruct their lawyer ought have a legal representative who acts in their best interest.
The competency ought be assessed by the legal representative using usual principles. The court should be informed of any instructions received even if only partial.
- S 223C: Legal representatives for Aboriginal children should be sourced from Aboriginal Legal Services, this should be adequately funded.
- S 225A: Parents and family to be heard by the Court in any application for a Therapeutic Residential Order of which their child is the subject and the representation provided at the Department?s expense.
Independent Authorised Psychiatric Practitioner
- S 224(1): The authorised psychiatric practitioner who advises the Court of their satisfaction that the criteria for admission are met ought be independent of DCF, thereby providing a second opinion to that of the CEO under s 224(1)(b).
Length of Orders
- S 225D: The reduction of the duration of stays in Secure Care. Therapeutic Residential Orders should be for a maximum duration of 21 days and ought only be extended for one further period, not exceeding 21 days like the regimes in Victoria and Western Australia. The maximum consecutive period for which a young person may be held in Secure Care ought not to be more than 42 days (rather than the Bill which empowers the Court to make an order for a young person to be kept in a Secure Care facility for up to 6 months).
Review of Therapeutic Care Plans
- S 225H: Reviews by the Court of therapeutic care plans at the end of 21 day orders, rather than three monthly by the CEO. Further, a report of the progress of the child ought be made as appropriate, which may include more regular reviews.
- S 225H(3): The Bill ought require that care plans ought be released to the child?s family and legal representative to inform them about whether they want to make an application to the court for a variation or revocation of the order.
- The review authority report and the CEO?s response to the report ought be de-identified and made public. This will ensure greater accountability and transparency and serve to reassure the public that those in Secure Care are receiving an appropriate standard of care and are in fact benefitting from their therapeutic interventions.
- S 223A: A minimum age ought be established for young people who can be the subject of a Therapeutic Residential Order application in the NT. The law recognises that a child under 10 years old is not criminally responsible for his or her behavior. This should be reflected in the Bill.
Community Visitor Scheme
- A community visitor scheme (CVS) ought be implemented and overseen by the Children?s Commissioner to ensure its independence. The CVS needs to be well resourced to guarantee regular visits to young people in the facility, quick resolution of complaints, advocacy on behalf of the young people and an overall improved quality of service and accountability.
- The inspection of the facilities on 8 June 2012 showed that there is a no dedicated area for therapeutic treatment. Ms Lorraine Williams of DCF explained that the TV room which is to be shared by two young people is also to be used for therapeutic treatment. The TV room is a common area and is a place for relaxation and interacting with the roommate or guardians. It is the Society?s submission that there should be areas in the facility which are solely used for therapeutic treatment.
- Further the inspection showed that the outdoor area of 150m? is small and an extension would be beneficial for the children and their outdoor activities as part of their therapeutic treatment.