News State NT News NT Government promises overhaul ‘broken’ child protection system

NT Government promises overhaul ‘broken’ child protection system

Don Dale
The Four Corners footage of abuse at the Don Dale detention centre shocked Australia. Photo: ABC
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The Northern Territory Government says it supports either in full or in principle all 227 of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Youth Detention and Child Protection, but does not appear to have committed funds to make the necessary sweeping changes.

The announcement comes after a week of sustained fire after a toddler was allegedly raped following Territory Families’ failure to act on 21 notifications

The royal commission delivered its final report in November after a year of hearings, sparked by an ABC Four Corners report on the tear-gassing and mistreatment of young people detained at Darwin’s Don Dale youth detention centre.

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner apologised for the failings of successive governments, calling it “a stain on the NT’s reputation” and announced a comprehensive overhaul of the youth justice and child protection systems.

The NT Government announced a fortnight ago it would spend $70 million to replace both the current Don Dale facility and the Alice Springs youth detention centre with what it called “youth justice training centres”, focusing on “culture and connectedness to family and community” with the aim of “breaking the cycle of crime”.

The Don Dale Youth Detention Centre is to close. Photo: ABC

On Thursday it announced its full response; however, about half of the recommendations were listed as “supported in principle” and it was not clear what that meant in terms of government action and funding commitment.

Children’s Commissioner Colleen Gwynne has previously said she wanted a firmer commitment.

“In principle support … is a bit of a cop out, it’s ‘We think it’s a good idea but we don’t want to commit to it’,” she said.

“As a commissioner when I get those sort of responses from service providers I don’t accept that, I say ‘You either accept it or you don’t accept it’.”

Unclear commitment on major recommendations

The Government says 217 recommendations relate to action it can take, with another 10 recommendations requiring action by the Federal Government and other organisations.

It said the recommendations align with a reform plan it had mapped out since coming to power in August 2016, including the broad alcohol policy reforms announced earlier this week, including setting a minimum price of $1.30 per standard drink.

The Government has split the recommendations into 17 work programs divided into four groups: putting children and families first; improving care and protection of children; improving youth justice systems; and strengthening governance.

Some of the major recommendations which have only been listed as having in-principle support included:

  • Increasing the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12
  • That youths under 14 cannot be detained except in exceptional circumstances
  • Overhauling the foster care system
  • Overhauling the Care and Protection of Children Act NT
  • Creating, staffing and resourcing a Commission for Children and Young People
  • Having a ratio of one teacher to five students and teachers appropriately qualified in special education
  • Having sufficient female youth detention officers to oversee female detainees
  • Overhauling the case management system
  • Introducing body-worn video cameras
  • That children can only be held by police for up to four hours without charge.

Funding did not appear to be set aside for the extensive changes, but the Government said it was “considering a submission for resourcing impacts as part of the 2018-19 budget development process and will provide an implementation plan” for consideration in late March.

Government has refused the NT Government’s request that it match its $50 million pledge for infrastructure upgrades of detention centres, and Ms Wakefield accused it of stepping away from its responsibilities for delivering services in remote communities.

The announcement comes a week after a two-year-old girl was allegedly raped in Tennant Creek.

Territory Families has been under sustained fire for its response to the incident, after it was reported the family was subject to more than 20 notifications to Territory Families in the months before the incident but that little action had been taken.

The department’s CEO Ken Davies said there had been “no specific concerns … about particular harm to this child of a sexual nature”.

But Mr Gunner said he supported Mr Davies and Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield, and that sacking them would be a step backwards.