HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [6.22 pm]: I rise because I want to make some comments about the case that was reported last week and over the last few days of the 10-year-old child in the care of the Department of Communities who came before the Children’s Court. I note that Child Protection had no placement options available for this child and appeared resigned to the court sending him to Banksia Hill Detention Centre. I do not know whether any other members have been to Banksia Hill Detention Centre; I have, most recently about six months ago. I can tell members that Banksia Hill Detention Centre is a maximum-security facility and should never, ever be considered an appropriate child protection placement option. I asked the Minister for Child Protection what had gone wrong, why the child was not in other accommodation or in secure care, and what supports were being provided to the child and his carers. I was pleased to read that the minister has sought a full briefing on this particular issue to find out what has happened with this child.

This case highlights some of the systemic issues around child protection, and in particular around the intersection between child protection and youth justice. Members have heard me talk about that during the last two years. I understand from talking to workers in the system that finding emergency placements for the most complex and broken of our children is currently virtually impossible, particularly in regional and remote areas. Members, we are going to have to do better. We need more placement options and more foster carers. We need emergency carers and houses that young people in crisis can go to for short stays, until other placements can be found. We should not be forcing child protection workers into situations in which they simply have no other options for children in care. Likewise, we should have options for the Children’s Court to consider when these children offend.

We know that there clearly are some very troubled children in our child protection system. Generally, someone does not go into out-of-home care without having suffered a pretty traumatic home life. Of course, many children who are at the intersection of child protection and youth justice already have a range of physical and mental health issues, including cognitive impairments such as foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. But when children are taken into care, we need to treat it as an opportunity to intervene and change the trajectory of their very young lives. We know that early intervention and therapeutic care work. I remind members that, in this case, we are talking about a child who is only 10 years old. Obviously, I do not know his particular circumstances, but I think we can probably reach the conclusion that he has been comprehensively failed and, I will say, failed by his own parents; they need to take some responsibility for this. But, unfortunately, he has now also been failed by the child protection system. It is absolutely the responsibility of the Department of Communities to ensure that that child is placed in a safe and therapeutic environment.

Youth justice legislation, both here and internationally, indicates that imprisonment of children should always be the absolute last resort. The data shows that it also is absolutely not a good option, and that kids who end up in youth justice are more likely than not to return time and again. Our adult prison populations are made up of significant numbers of care leavers. This is not the outcome we should be aiming for when we take children into care. I again remind members that the recent coroner’s report gave us a clear picture about what else happens to these children when they are failed by the system; some of them die. Of course, prevention and diversion take time and money—there is no question about that—but they work, and in the long term they are much cheaper. I know the government recognises this. I welcome its work on bail options and the development of the Kimberley juvenile justice strategy, and I certainly welcome the work the Attorney General is doing with other jurisdictions on raising the age of criminal responsibility. But that also highlights the irony of the fact that we are looking, on one hand, at raising the age of criminal responsibility, while on the other hand, we have put a 10-year-old into Banksia Hill Detention Centre. We clearly have a very long way to go.

We need more accountability in this space. As I have said before, we need to act on the numerous recommendations for independent oversight of services for vulnerable children. It is, frankly, outrageous that we can consider imprisoning 10-year-olds in maximum-security custodial facilities, solely because there are no appropriate placements available. Other states have managed to get a handle on this; we are going to have to do the same.


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