Australian and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners, Guardians and Advocates meet to advocate for children’s rights

Earlier this week, the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners, Guardians and Advocates (ANZCCGA) group met in Hobart, to discuss and progress collective advocacy to promote the rights and best interests of children and young people across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.

We’ve pulled out some highlights from the meeting below.

Announcement of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children Commissioner

The ANZCCGA celebrated the Commonwealth Government’s recent announcement that a new position of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children Commissioner will be established. The creation of the National Commissioner position was one of the key joint advocacy priorities adopted by Australian members of the ANZCCGA in April 2023. Shortly following the announcement, the group published a joint media release.

Reflecting on the exciting news, the Guardian and Training Centre Visitor, Shona Reid, told us:

“I took a deep breath when this announcement occurred. I feel relief that nationally there remains a level of momentum to keep our ever watchful and protective eyes on upholding of rights for First Nation children. The announcement of this new National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children Commissioner reaffirms the calls and toil of many. And that it was made on the anniversary of the Apology to the Stolen Generations aligns it contemporaneously to ensure that we (the collective we) will never again enable, allow or facilitate such injustices to First Nations children across this land.”

ANZCCGA joint statement on isolation in youth detention

ANZCCGA members discussed their grave concern about ongoing human rights violations committed by governments against children and young people in youth detention, including those detained in adult facilities such as police watchhouses.

Following the meeting, the ANZCCG released a statement calling for an end to the harmful practice of isolating children and young people in youth detention. The use of isolation practices on children should be prohibited, except when necessary to prevent an imminent and serious threat of injury to the child or others, and only when all other alternatives have been exhausted. Where isolation is used, it must be for the shortest amount of time possible and be publicly reported to an independent oversight mechanism.

The ANZCCGA asserts that current public reporting and accountability mechanisms regarding the use of isolation in youth detention are inadequate, across all Australian jurisdictions. Current definitions, record-keeping and reporting arrangements hide the extent to which isolation is used on children and young people in youth detention, and the ability to monitor progress towards ensuring isolation is only used in strict compliance with international human rights standards.

“The ability to track, observe and monitor the conduct of youth detention facilities in their treatment and care for children is essential,” Shona said.

“To know for sure without a shadow-of-a-doubt that children are not kept in isolation is extremely important. We must remember these practices cause considerable harm and have ramifications on children, and also on our society in future years. The absence of appropriate and effective record keeping calls into question the conduct of those responsible. That is why we ask for these measures, that is why we simply want departments to be honest and accountable.”

Noting that isolation must only be used as a last resort and always for the shortest time possible, the ANZCCGA call for nationally consistent definition and minimum standards for isolation practices in youth justice detention, which are in accordance with international human rights standards. The group made the following recommendations:

Through the Statement the ANZCCGA calls on governments to take the following actions:

1.      State, Territory and Commonwealth governments, in consultation with civil society and the ANZCCGA, should develop a common definition of isolation and associated counting rules for periods of isolation experienced by detained children and young people to enable nationally consistent recording, monitoring, and reporting. The common definition and counting rules should:

a.      account for all periods during which children and young people are subject to involuntary separation from a facility’s general custodial population or general programming;

b.      address all forms of isolation, regardless of what it is called under applicable legislation or policies; and

c.       enable the counting and reporting of periods of cumulative isolation in a single day.

2.      The Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services (17 Youth Justice Services) should, at a minimum, include jurisdictional data about “time out-of-cells (average hours per day)” as currently is reported for adult corrections. Data should also be disaggregated by, at a minimum: age, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander status, culturally and linguistically diverse status, sex, disability and legal status (e.g. on remand or sentenced).

3.      The Australian Government should commission an independent study to:

a.      identify the drivers, prevalence and impact of extended time in isolation in places of youth justice detention,

b.      identify the health, psychological and other harms caused to children and young people by being isolated for extended and/or cumulative time in rooms/cells, and

c.       make recommendations with respect to trauma informed and rights-based alternatives to isolation practices in youth justice detention.

4.      Without further delay, each state and territory government should establish and resource an independent National Preventive Mechanism, as outlined by OPCAT, to ensure child-focussed preventive oversight. 

Each ANZCCGA member will draw on the joint statement within their individual state and territory jurisdictions, as well as across Aotearoa New Zealand. The full statement is available on our website at: ANZCCGA Statement on Isolation in Youth Detention.

(c) 2021 Guardian for Children and Young People. Terms & Privacy Policy.

We acknowledge and respect Aboriginal People as the traditional owners
and custodians of the land we live and work on, their living culture and their unique role in the life of South Australia.