Imagine a world where there is no need for the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre. A Canberra where our services are so integrated and robust that we can support the complex, unique needs of young people and families when they need it, and where they need it.
We are getting there because we do not give up on children and young people. And raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility gets us one step closer.
Many young people who find themselves in the youth justice system have a series of underlying complex and unique issues such as trauma, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues, abuse, neglect, homelessness or disability.
Recently, I spoke with the ACT Perinatal Mental Health team, which highlighted that the most fulfilling part of their job is knowing they are putting a stop to intergenerational trauma.
The mothers they support often have a deeply rooted, highly traumatised background from their own relationships with their parents. They are often worried they will repeat those harmful behaviours with their own kids.
It’s unfortunate these women are experiencing mental health challenges. Just like it’s unfortunate that children become involved with the justice system. While there are supports available, we need to coordinate our services and ensure they are holistic, accessible and strengths-based to meet the needs of all young Canberrans and children.
The ACT Government has a responsibility to ensure services are available and tailored to the individual needs of children and young people, and ultimately keep them out of the justice system. The impact of childhood trauma sticks with people throughout their lives and is often transferred onto their children. When people lose faith in young people, they can land in the youth justice system.
Earlier this year, I was proud to launch the Functional Family Therapy pilot to provide intensive, robust and specialised support for young people and their families. The diversion program focuses on meeting the needs of our young people before they enter or re-enter the youth justice system.
Providing these supports, and keeping at-risk families in touch with services, can keep young people out of the justice system. It can eliminate intergenerational trauma.
That’s what we are doing in the ACT. Supporting children and young people is transformational for future generations.
The ACT Government has been spearheading discussions nationally about how we raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility. Last week, ACT Attorney General Shane Rattenbury launched a discussion paper around the complexities and viewpoints of this change. This is an exciting time for Canberra and gives us an opportunity to reimagine our entire youth justice system.
But the reality is we cannot do it without the Canberra community. We want you to engage with us and share your thoughts. This is not a new concept and Canberrans have been largely receptive to raising the age of criminal responsibility so children as young as 10 are not being thrown into the justice system.
We have the data: once they are in the justice system they are likely to re-enter again later in life.
No child is a lost cause. We have a responsibility as a community to support, teach and help them overcome unique or complex challenges so they do not engage in harmful behaviours.
It truly does take a community to raise a child and together we are doing that.
Emma Davidson MLA is a Member for Murrumbidgee and the ACT Minister for Disability, ACT Minister for Justice Health, ACT Minister for Mental Health and ACT Assistant Minister for Families and Community Services.