The final report of our year-long project looking into the children and young people caught up in SA’s child protection and youth justice systems has just been released.
The South Australian Dual Involved Project found that harmful practices at multiple service levels expose children and young people living in state care to a disproportionate and unacceptable risk of becoming involved in the youth justice system.
The Report draws on the experiences of 71 ‘dual involved’ children and young people who were in state care and experienced youth detention in 2021. Giving precedence to their views and voices, particularly those who live in residential care placements while in the community, it explores how failings in the South Australian child protection and youth justice systems contribute to their ‘criminalisation’.
Unsafe social dynamics and fraught, unpredictable living environments within the child protection system – at times brought about by problematic placement matching, inadequate therapeutic support and the over-policing of children in state care – are identified as key issues leading to their incarceration in South Australia’s Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre.
The young people we interviewed frequently said they do not feel safe at their residential care placement and prefer to be in Kurlana Tapa, where they feel better supported and are ‘treated better’. Many are being remanded in the centre due to breach of their bail, often for going missing from residential care because they do not feel safe.
The Report found that Aboriginal children and young people remain grossly over represented and under-supported in both the child protection and youth justice systems. Aboriginal children and young people account for more than 40% of the dual involved in South Australia (as identified for the duration of the study), despite making up approximately 5% of the state’s child population.
Conrad Morris, Senior Advocate Dual Involved, said he felt privileged to work on the SADI report, as a much-needed project that gave a voice to children and young people under both child protection and youth justice orders.
“These children and young people caught up in two systems are the most vulnerable young people. They often have unwanted care experiences, and in most cases are voiceless,” Conrad said.
“To ensure the project captured their voices, I was able to interview 16 amazing, resilient children and young people, to hear from them about their stories and how they ended up incarcerated. This experience was both rewarding and challenging, as each young person told me of their struggles and experiences when placed in care,” he said.
Conrad said the stories of children and young people commonly being held in adult police cells, especially in the City Watchhouse when arrested was confronting and informed us about frequent current practices that can cause further trauma.
“My sincere hope is for the SADI report to shine a light on the need for cross-government, intensive supports to be put in place to reduce admissions of children and people in care to both youth and adult facilities,” Conrad said.
“I would like to thank the strong, resilient and giving children and young people for sharing their experiences and being brave enough to tell us about where and how the current systems do not work – and what needs to change to prevent further children and young people being detained in Kurlana Tapa. I would also like to thank all the services that work with the children and young people on a daily basis and provided support to the SADI project.”
The Report has made 15 recommendations, with a focus on:
- making residential care units safer
- improving early assessment of the needs of each individual dual involved child and young person
- increasing cultural support for Aboriginal children and young people
- reducing police over-involvement in residential care
- building specialist expertise within DCP to work with ‘dual involved’ children and young people.
The Report has also called for an increase in oversight for children and young people being held in adult police cells, especially in the City Watchhouse, and when they are detained in vehicles.