The Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services (RoGS) has highlighted that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to be overrepresented in the child protection and youth justice systems across the country, including in the ACT.
In response to the report, the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has urged the ACT Government to urgently implement all 28 recommendations from the Our Booris, Our Way report.
ACTCOSS also wants increased government investment in Aboriginal community organisations.
According to the Productivity Commission, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the ACT are:
- 13 times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children
- 16 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be in detention and five times more likely to be under community-based supervision orders, and
- Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children aged 10 to 13 are almost 20 times more likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous children in the ACT.
However, there are so few children aged between 10 to 13 detained in the ACT that the Community Services Directorate is unable to disclose how many children were on youth justice orders in 2020-21 as it could lead to the identification of the children concerned.
As of November last year, no one under the age of 14 was detained at Bimberi Youth Justice Centre.
ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell welcomed previous commitments from the ACT Government to address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the child protection and justice system, such as raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years and beginning the process to appoint an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Commissioner in the ACT, but said there is more to be done.
“The continuing impact of the current age of criminal responsibility on Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities is profound and devastating,” Dr Campbell said.
“Instead of locking children up, we should be taking seriously our shared responsibility for their wellbeing and investing in programs and services that support them and their families before it’s too late.”
Dr Campbell said it is of concern that the ACT continues to underperform and underspend when compared with other jurisdictions and Indigenous children are suffering as a consequence.
The report showed ACT Government spending per child on all child protective services in 2020-21 was $880, which is the lowest in the country and below the national average of $1327.
However, the ACT’s overall expenditure on youth justice services (per young person aged 10 to 17 years in the population) was above the national average of $450 at $625.
Gulunga Program Manager Rachelle Kelly-Church agreed on the importance of Aboriginal community-controlled organisations such as Gugan Gulwan and Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services receiving sufficient funding.
“Aboriginal communities must be supported to care for their kids in culturally safe and appropriate ways, and to keep children with families wherever possible, instead of in out-of-home care or youth detention.
“Investment in early supports would also keep kids out of prison,” Ms Kelly-Church said. “We know that exposure to the justice system at a young age increases the chances of lifelong engagement with that system and further entrenches disadvantage.”
The statistics for the adult population are also grim. Despite making up less than 2 per cent of the adult population in the ACT, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people account for around a quarter of detainees at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.