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Australia Government commits to overhaul of Tasmania's vulnerable youth program

15:33  28 july  2021
15:33  28 july  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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a man holding a fish in its mouth: Allan and Natasha Brahminy holding a snake. (Supplied) © Provided by ABC NEWS Allan and Natasha Brahminy holding a snake. (Supplied)

The Tasmanian government has committed to stop sending troubled youth to a controversial residential care program in the Northern Territory.

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An expert panel has released its recommendations on a Tasmanian-based alternative to Allan Brahminy's program and the government has accepted them in full.

Head of the panel and Tasmania's commissioner for children and young people, Leanne McLean, said the transition would take time.

"The fact that we have needed to use an interstate therapeutic residential care program like MC1D (Many Colours One Direction) is an indication that our system has not met the needs of highly vulnerable children and young people," she said.

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"The crux of this advice is that to achieve better outcomes for children and young people with highly complex needs, we must change our system."

The panel made four key recommendations:

  • Develop a whole-of-government approach to promote and drive systemic change
  • Develop the Tasmanian Out of Home Care system to improve its efficacy and increase and enhance placement options for children and young people
  • Transition away from the utilisation of MC1D and commit to robust, inclusive and collaborative decision-making in relation to interstate residential placements of young people throughout the transition
  • Adopt a whole-of-government focus on implementation and investment

The most significant recommendation is to bring home the five children who remain at the remote facility in the Northern Territory.

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Transition home critical to success

Ms McLean acknowledged it may take some time to establish the state-based programs recommended by the panel.

"There may be some instances where consideration of the utilisation of MC1D is required during the transition," she said.

"If that is the case, we have made a suite of recommendations to govern those decisions so they are more independent, more robust."

The panel's other priorities include implementing a state-based therapeutic model of foster care, new "on-country" programs in multiple locations that are delivered by multiple providers, and the establishment of a cross-sectional oversight group to monitor implementation of the panel's recommendations.

Children and Youth Minister Sarah Courtney said she has been advised the five Tasmanian children currently in MC1D were safe.

"The government has accepted in principle all recommendations made in this report including transitioning away from the use of MC1D," she said.

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"I'm not going to re-prosecute history. What I'm looking at is how, as the minister of the day, I can take the recommendations from the expert panel and move forward."

Systemic issues remain

Lawyer Sebastian Buscemi said the report was disappointing and did not say anything "of substance".

"The problem is with the system as a whole, not just children being sent to Brahminy, but the system that leads them there and the report vaguely acknowledges that," Mr Buscemi said.

"There's absolutely no substance to it. There's no plan, there's no time line, there's little more than vague intentions."

Mr Buscemi said the system was completely broken.

"This isn't the first time that the community has been told about this, that the government has been told about these problems and the need for reform," he said.

"Unfortunately, I don't really have any confidence that we're going to see this properly implemented ever."

Program leader's credibility called into question

Mr Brahminy, who runs the youth program, has been accused of fabricating his Aboriginal heritage and falsely claiming he was abandoned on a riverbank as a baby before being adopted by an Indigenous family.

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A number of Tasmanian children who have attended the program have said when they misbehaved they were made to sit in isolation on a milk crate for hours on end and the power to their room was cut.

The panel found the average age for Tasmanians placed in MC1D was 12 years old and the average length of the placement was 12months.

However, one individual spent about two years at the program.

Ms McLean said they had not recommended long-term programs but rather short- to medium-term residential placement options.

"I think the issues associated with MC1D have largely been about difficulties in transitioning children home when they are removed from their home community," she said.

"Despite the gains they might make in any program, it is very difficult to maintain those gains in a transition back."

End to interstate youth programs

CEO and founder of JCP Empowering Youth, Will Smith, said no more young people should be sent interstate to programs.

"It's clear that when we send young people out of the state to reform their behaviours, when they do reform behaviours it's clear that it's not appropriate to then reinsert them back into the state without that same support network," Mr Smith said.

"We need to work with our vulnerable youth here in Tasmania."

But there is no time frame for when the children will be brought home. Ms McLean said this information was "specifically not included".

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"The fact is, there are currently children and young people residing at MC1D and it would be unfair to them, and to their families and those involved in their care to place a time frame on their visit there."

"There will be significant recruitment required to achieve those reforms," she said.

But Mr Smith said the children needed to be brought home "straight away".

"For me, if recommendations have been made that the program is not best practice interstate, then we need to bring those young people home and get them involved in supportive programs that are already in place," he said.

"I think there are a number of services and programs that will put their hand up and want to work with vulnerable youth in the state, and I think that's great."

The government has committed $500,000 to implement the panel's recommendations.


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