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Australia’s youth detention crisis is ‘a failure’ for children and families, commissioner says

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Urgent reform is needed to address Australia’s youth detention crisis, which compromises children’s safety and doesn’t adequately support families, National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds says.
In her keynote speech at the launch of National Child Protection Week at Government House in Canberra on Monday, Commissioner Hollonds said the issues currently being exposed at youth detention facilities in Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory showed that governments are not prioritising children’s safety and wellbeing, especially those living with poverty and disadvantage.
“The ongoing crisis in youth justice is a national systemic failure to protect children and young people.

“Policies and service systems are failing to provide children and their families with the support they need, leading to more children coming into the child protection and youth justice systems,” she said, calling for urgent reform across multiple government departments and agencies.

Commissioner Hollonds said vulnerable children and their families have been let down by federal, state and territory governments for decades, with key recommendations from various inquiries and Royal Commissions going unimplemented.
“Unlike many other developed nations, Australia has no national plan for child wellbeing and no Minister for Children. Nor do we have cross-portfolio leadership, like a taskforce, to address the system failures, which are barriers to child safety and wellbeing.”

Commissioner Hollonds said while international evidence shows that community-based early interventions are the best way to protect and support children, governments across the country are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on approaches that clearly aren’t working, with more and more children entering the child protection and youth justice systems.

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Unlike many other developed nations, Australia has no national plan for child wellbeing and no Minister for Children.

National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds.

“Our health, education and social service systems are fragmented and not fit for purpose for disadvantaged children and their families. Many of these families have told me directly about their frustrations at being unable to access basic support services.
“A country that values children would be trying hard to shift investment upstream and earlier and to redesign the basic systems of support so that kids don’t fall in the gaps. More children in Australia are experiencing poverty and homelessness. We need a co-ordinated national approach to address the underlying causes of harms to children, and we need a much greater sense of urgency.

“It’s not enough for us to care about our own children and grandchildren. We need to care about all children, and to create the conditions that keep children safe and well.”

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