A community visitor for young people in residential care

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5 December 2017

A trial community visitor program for young people in residential care will be prepared by the Guardian’s  Office over the next few months.

Commissioner Margaret Nyland’s report, The life they deserve[1], recommended that a community visitors’ scheme be developed for children in residential and emergency care facilities[2]. The laws to enable such a scheme – the Child and Young Person’s Visitor scheme, have been included in the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017.

The trial, which is expected to run until June 2019, is in preparation for that scheme.  The role of a community visitor fits well with the Office’s existing roles which include visiting some children and young people in residential care and advocating for individual children and young people.

Community visiting schemes can play a central role in safeguarding the rights and wellbeing of vulnerable people who are in institutional settings away from family and other supports. They provide an independent voice to make sure their views are considered when decisions are made that affect them. Community visitors protect and promote human rights by providing direct advocacy and personal support.

Such schemes have been implemented in many places around Australia and overseas. The South Australian Community Visitor Scheme, for example, has operated since 2011 to ‘further protect the rights of people with a mental illness who are admitted to mental health care units and limited treatment centres and people with a disability who live in a disability accommodation facility or a Supported Residential Facility’[3].

Similarly, the Queensland Office of the Public Guardian operates a community visitor program that is designed to protect the rights and interests of adults with impaired capacity and children and young people in out-of-home care[4]. Under that scheme, community visitors regularly visit children and young people in what are termed ‘visitable locations’ such as foster homes, homes of kinship carers, residential care facilities, youth detention centres and mental health facilities, to help ensure they are safe and well and that their needs are being met in line with approved standards of care[5].

In Australia, community visiting schemes are often legally required to provide a report on their work to the relevant Minister who makes it public by presenting it to Parliament. Such reports inform the public.  They provide independent scrutiny and oversight and are intended to inform changes in policy and practice to improve the system.

Under the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016, the Guardian has also been appointed Training Centre Visitor and the Office will also be establishing an inspection and visiting scheme for young people placed in youth justice detention.

Look out for updates on how these projects are progressing in future edition of this newsletter and via the Guardian’s Information Service.

[1]  The Hon Margaret Nyland AM, The life they deserve: the Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report (August 2016).

[2]  Recommendation 137 states in full: “legislate for the development of a community visitors’ scheme for children in all residential and emergency care facilities”.

[3]  Principal Community Visitor Annual Report Mental Health Services 2015-16, The South Australian Community Visitor Scheme (2016).

[4]  Office of the Public Guardian Annual Report 2015-2016, Office of the Public Guardian (2016).

[5]  Ibid.

This item first appeared in the November 2017 Guardian’s Newsletter which you can download now.

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