Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander children continue to be overrepresented in child protection and youth justice systems
24 January 2023
Today’s release of the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services (RoGS) has shown that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children continue to be overrepresented in child protection and youth justice systems.
The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) calls on the ACT Government to make the recommendations from the Our Booris, Our Way report [pdf](link is external) front and centre of all priority initiatives in their Next Steps for Our Kids strategy [pdf](link is external), and to ensure Aboriginal community-controlled organisations are sufficiently funded into the future.
ACTCOSS Interim CEO, Dr Gemma Killen said: “It is encouraging to see the ACT Government taking steps to increase access to early support for children and young people in the ACT through their Next Steps for Our Kids Strategy [pdf](link is external) and the establishment of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People Commissioner for the ACT.
“However, more needs to be done to reduce the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children coming into contact with the child protection and youth justice system. We are still seeing disproportionately high numbers of First Nations children in the system, and the Strategy will remain toothless without significant investment in support services to keep families together.
The report highlighted:
- The number of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care has increased, and they are now 14 times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children,
- ACT Government spending per child on protective intervention services, care services, intensive family support services and family support services remains the lowest in the country at $935, well below the national average of $1450,
- The proportion of Indigenous children being placed with a relative or kinship carer or with another Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander carer has increased to more than 71%,
- Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children are 12 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be in detention in the ACT, and almost 6 times more likely to be under community-based supervision orders,
- The proportion of young people released from sentenced supervision who returned to sentenced supervision within 12 months has increased from 38% to 45% over the last year.
In November 2022, the ACT Government appointed an interim Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Children and Youth Advocate, while the recruitment process for an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Children and Youth Commissioner is underway.
Dr Killen continued: “It is promising to see the ACT Government’s increased commitment to First Nations families as evidenced through a higher rate of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander kids being placed with kinship carers or relatives. But the number of children in out-of-home care continues to rise.
“We know there is a strong relationship between involvement with the child protection system and subsequent involvement with the justice system. The report today tells us that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children are 12 times more likely than their non-Indigenous peers to be in detention in the ACT; this is an unacceptably high number.”
The ACT Government has committed to increasing the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 in 2023, and to further increase the age to 14 within two years.
Dr Killen continued: “ACTCOSS welcomes this change. However, we are deeply concerned about the ACT Government’s plan to include exceptions for 12- and 13-year-olds who have committed serious offences. There is scientific consensus that children under the age of 14 lack the developmental capacity to be held responsible for their actions. If the ACT Government is serious about reducing Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children’s contact with the youth justice system, they should start by unconditionally raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14.
“Children belong in school, not in prison. The ACT Government must invest in resources and services that enable children and young people to remain and thrive in the community and with their families, where they belong,” Dr Killen concluded.
Dr Gemma Killen, Interim CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0480 439 131 or 02 6202 7200.