Believe children when they raise concerns about their care and wellbeing (The Advocate Newspaper Talking Point, 08/07/24)

Adrienne Picone, CEO, TasCOSS

TasCOSS supports and believes the many victim survivors who bravely shared their stories of abuse throughout the Commission of Inquiry, including those who spoke of abuse experienced at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre.

Recent articles referring to false allegations of abuse have the potential to seriously undermine the commitments made by the Tasmanian government to transform our community and institutional attitudes and practices relating to the safety of children. The evidence shows false allegations of abuse from children are extremely rare. The Commission also highlighted the importance of believing and responding to children when they raise concerns about their care and wellbeing.

Now is not the time to question or debate the evidence presented (and rigorously examined) by the Commission. Rather, it is time for us to work together to implement the recommendations whole-heartedly and transparently to the best of our ability and without delay.

TasCOSS firmly believes there are urgent actions which must be taken by the Tasmanian Government to support not only the children at Ashley, but all Tasmanians.

We also have concerns that detention is not currently operating as an option of last resort, and that Tasmanian children are spending time on remand due to inadequate resourcing of our community service organisations. Detention must the last option, not a place where children find themselves on remand simply because they do not have a safe place to live in the community.

Detention services must focus on providing effective throughcare to support children when they transition back into the community, providing opportunities for rehabilitation and ensuring the rights of all children are upheld and promoted.

But we cannot focus on detention alone — our work must also include a greater focus on opportunities to keep children out of the system. We must focus on providing better supports for early intervention with families through the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, as recommended by the Child and Youth Wellbeing Framework. This must include expanded resources for programs, such as the Advice and Referral Line and community organisations working with children and families across the state.

We must also divert children, where possible, from the criminal legal system and instead ensure they have access to community-based supports. This must include raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 and the age of detention to at least 16 as soon as possible, as well as expanding non-prosecutorial options for children, including increasing referrals to community supports.

We must also take urgent action to address the overrepresentation of certain children (including Aboriginal children, children with disability and children in out-of-home care) within the criminal legal system.

The criminal legal system can and should be an opportunity for therapeutic intervention. There are many examples of therapeutic and problem-solving courts across the country, and we urge the Tasmanian Government to increase engagement with therapeutic services within the legal system. This includes earlier opportunities for case management and referrals to community services, collaboration with existing services throughout the court process and access to trained professionals (such as youth workers) at court.

TasCOSS looks forward to playing a key role in the youth justice advisory groups announced by the Tasmanian Government last month and is hopeful these bodies will result in a meaningful collaborative process throughout the transition to a therapeutic model for youth justice in our state.

It is our hope these advisory groups will also include a wide range of stakeholders from the community services industry in recognition of their expertise and the work they are already undertaking to support Tasmanian children and their families through therapeutic, community-based programs.

Adrienne Picone is the chief executive of the Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCOSS).