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Australia Indigenous children 'grossly over-represented' in Queensland's juvenile justice system, report finds

23:26  22 june  2021
23:26  22 june  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are heavily over-represented in Queensland's youth detention centres. (Pixabay) © Provided by ABC NEWS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are heavily over-represented in Queensland's youth detention centres. (Pixabay)

The high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in jail is an indictment on the youth justice system and a new approach is needed, according to the head of Queensland's Family and Child Commission (QFCC).

QFCC principal commissioner Cheryl Vardon's stinging comments came in response to the commission's report on the sector, requested by the state government in 2019 to monitor reforms being implementing under the Youth Justice Strategy 2019-23.

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The report revealed while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children accounted for 7 per cent of the total population of 10 to 17-year-olds in Queensland, they made up 45 per cent of young offenders in 2018-19.

Data for the same year showed Indigenous young people accounted for 71 per cent of detainees in two Queensland youth detention centres.

Ms Vardon said she was concerned about the issue and it was vital local communities became involved in finding solutions.

"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are grossly over-represented and that is an indictment on the system," she said.

"That's a huge impact on our work and where we need to direct our work.

"It's very important that the community is consulted on this and that community has a voice, and that they're able to come up with solutions like different court systems for example, services from an early age, an understanding of rights and responsibilities.

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"But importantly, young people need that one-on-one support and someone around who knows what happened to them yesterday, who's around for them today and who is interested in their future."

Among the report's 13 findings was that Indigenous communities and families had limited opportunities to provide input into program design or prioritisation of funds for initiatives intended for them.

'A lot of grief with our kids'

Mount Isa Youth Hub program coordinator Evan Ah Wing said taking a proactive approach in the community and helping young people with their grief was preventing offending.

"There's a lot of grief with our kids, with their dealings and upbringing," he said.

"We've transitioned a lot of kids back into mainstream schooling and supporting the families with a lot, so we're trying to do our best in our community."

He said consulting community elders and young people about what they needed had helped more than a dozen children re-engage with their education.

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"There are good outcomes with kids returning to school and not reoffending, and they're the kids that we try and build their self-confidence up," he said.

"We also need to make sure the parents are on board, and that's the main thing — making sure the parents are meeting us halfway."

Indigenous elder Russell Butler from Townsville community crime prevention group One Community One Standard said there needed to be greater focus on prevention and support for families.

"Incarcerating the children is not a good thing," Mr Butler said.

"We've got to really look at it and look under the microscope and really get the parents involved.

"They're failing on the home front."

'Keep children out of court'

The QFCC's report was commissioned before the Queensland Parliament passed contentious new legislation to crack down on recidivist young offenders earlier this year.

Those reforms were not examined in the report, but Ms Vardon said the QFCC would look at their impact.

She said that to properly tackle youth crime the sector had to invest more in early intervention and prevention.

"There needs to be a shift away from a criminal focus to prevention, and we will be briefing the government and non-government agencies about these findings and proposed future directions," she said.

"We looked at initiatives designed to keep children out of court and custody, and in assessing impacts on children's rights we believe some are being neglected."

The report found legislation and policy changes made in response to particular incidents could make it harder for the system to achieve the intended outcomes for the youth justice strategy.

It also called for specialised services to help the small number of young people already in the system who were responsible for most youth crime.

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