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Victorian Government response to the ‘Our Youth, Our Way’ inquiry

The Government's response to the Commission for Children and Young People's inquiry into the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in Victoria's youth justice system.

The Government thanks the Commission for Children and Young People for its important work on the Our youth, our way: Inquiry into the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in the Victorian youth justice system and its comprehensive Our Youth, Our Way Report (Report).

An ongoing commitment to Aboriginal self determination

Our Government has a clear and longstanding commitment to supporting Aboriginal self-determination, including through Treaty and the work of the Yoo-rrook Justice CommissionExternal Link , and our commitment to improving justice outcomes under Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja, the fourth phase of the Aboriginal Justice AgreementExternal Link .

We are committed to addressing the important issues raised in this Report, which will take us closer to realising our aim of closing the gap in Aboriginal over-representation in the youth justice system by 2031.

Addressing the findings and recommendations of the Report will contribute to the commitments we have made in the Youth Justice Strategic Plan 2020-2030External Link to reduce offending, strengthen diversion and early intervention, and critically, address the over-representation of Aboriginal young people in Youth Justice.

These commitments build on the recommendations made by Penny Armytage and Professor James Ogloff AM in their 2017 Youth Justice Review and StrategyExternal Link .

Through the leadership and guidance of the Aboriginal Justice Caucus working in partnership with the Victorian Government, significant progress has begun in addressing over-representation. In particular:

  • Victoria has reduced the average daily number of Aboriginal children aged 10-17 under youth justice supervision by 42 percent between 2016-17 and 2020-21, including a 14 percent reduction in 2020-21 compared to the previous year[1]
  • We are ahead of our Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja (AJA4) target to reduce the number of Aboriginal young people on an average day from 132 in 2016-17 to 89 by 2023 to be on track to close the gap by 2031. This milestone was achieved in 2019-20 with the average daily number reducing to 81 Aboriginal young people and continued into 2020-21 where the average daily number was 70.

These achievements are a source of optimism, however, the gap in justice outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people persists. The Report makes important findings and 75 recommendations across ten key areas about factors contributing to over-representation in the Youth Justice system.

We are immediately supporting 67 of those recommendations, with eight under review. Our response to each recommendation of the Report is at Annexure A.

[1] 2020-21 is based on preliminary data not yet published

A Strategy to realise genuine positive change for Aboriginal children and young people

Of the 75 recommendations, 56 will be addressed through Wirkara Kulpa, the Aboriginal Youth Justice StrategyExternal Link (Strategy), which provides the foundation for meaningful and sustained change.

The Strategy has been developed in close partnership with the Aboriginal Justice Caucus and addresses a key recommendation in the Youth Justice Review. It is also an important initiative under Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja, the fourth phase of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement.

The Strategy also builds on the findings of the Koori Youth Justice Taskforce, which was a joint effort between the Department of Justice and Community Safety and the Commission for Children and Young People, examining the care of 296 Aboriginal children and young people under youth justice supervision.

The Strategy has a ten-year timeframe and will continue to evolve in line with other significant Victorian reforms such as the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission. Some responses to the Report’s recommendations may also evolve in line with the work of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission.

The Strategy is forward looking and has a vision that sees no Aboriginal children or young people in the Youth Justice system. This vision can be realised through Aboriginal children and young people being strong in their culture, connected to families and communities, and living healthy, safe, resilient, thriving and culturally rich lives.

At its heart, the Strategy embeds the voices and participation of Aboriginal children and young people and promotes and protects their rights while also getting young people to recognise the harm caused in communities by offending.

Linked to this vision, the Strategy contains five domains that reflect the Aboriginal community’s vision for how to achieve greater self-determination and improved outcomes for Aboriginal children in the youth justice system. The Strategy’s five domains are:

  • Empowering Aboriginal young people and families to uphold change – creating a child-centred system, supporting youth participation, and opportunities for education and earning.
  • Protecting cultural rights and increasing connection to family, community and culture – strengthening connections to family, community and culture, strengthening families, creating a caring and stable home for the young person, and creating a culturally safe experience for the young person.
  • Diverting young people and addressing over-representation – creating an age-appropriate system, building pathways out of the youth justice system, and supporting them to transition into the community.
  • Working towards Aboriginal-led justice responses – supporting Aboriginal organisations to care for Aboriginal children and young people and their families in contact with the justice system, including workforce development, capacity building and sector development.
  • A fair and equitable system for Aboriginal children and young people – ensuring better experiences and the social and emotional well-being for young people when entering the youth justice system, and creating a safe custody experience for them.

Immediate actions that give effect to Wirkara Kulpa, the Aboriginal Youth Justice Strategy

The Aboriginal Justice Caucus identified a number of high priority initiatives for inclusion in the Strategy and which received $11.898 million in the 2020-21 State Budget. These initiatives also respond to some of the Report’s key recommendations and include:

  • Establishing an Aboriginal youth justice hub – developing a service model and setting up a place-based hub to provide Aboriginal led services to children and young people from early intervention and diversion through to responses that address the complex needs of Aboriginal young people.
  • Amplifying the voices of Aboriginal young people – supporting the Koorie Youth Council to develop a mechanism to engage the voices of Aboriginal children and young people in the design and delivery of youth justice services.
  • Enhancing and expanding the Community Based Aboriginal Youth Justice Worker program to provide gender sensitive and culturally based support and diversionary services for young people who come into contact or are at risk of entering the Youth Justice system.
  • Re-establishing Balit Ngulu (legal representation for Aboriginal youth) to provide a specialist holistic legal service for Aboriginal young people to access high quality, integrated and culturally appropriate legal assistance.
  • Establishing case management review panels to support and monitor case planning for Aboriginal young people with complex needs.

In addition, the 2021-22 Budget supported two initiatives targeting Aboriginal children from a $33.1 million package:

  • Early intervention family services to keep Aboriginal children under 14 out of the criminal justice system.
  • Residential diversion for young Aboriginal males and females at Baroona Youth Healing Program.

Whole-of-government actions to support the Strategy’s vision

The Report also makes recommendations that extend beyond the youth justice system, recognising that Aboriginal children and young people who come to the attention of Youth Justice will often have complex needs and have experienced inequality and disadvantage across one or more other social or justice services. This includes through their interactions with police, the courts, child protection, child and family services, mental health and alcohol and drug services and housing.

Addressing disadvantage and inequality for Aboriginal children and young people and achieving the key domains in the Strategy requires whole-of-government action.

Significant reforms are already underway that support delivery of some of the Report’s recommendations that extend across areas of government service delivery, including:

  • The Framework to reduce criminalisation of young people in residential care – the Framework, launched in 2020, aims to reduce the unnecessary and inappropriate contact of young people in residential care with the criminal justice system and establishes a commitment across government departments, Victoria Police and residential care service providers.
  • Support for young people in residential care – work is underway with Aboriginal organisations for the development of the Aboriginal Healing Care and Cultural Service (AHCCS), a cultural and therapeutic healing service for Aboriginal young people.
  • Empowering Aboriginal Young People in Education – the Self-determination in Education Reform Initiative, commencing in 2021, includes consultation and co-design with Aboriginal young people and communities to develop a suite of reform options for education in Victoria, including options for improving the cultural safety of schools.
  • School Expulsions – The Department of Education and Training manages and oversights an exemption process for children under compulsory school age who exit school and collects and monitors data relating to students’ exits from school.
  • Accommodation reform – Homes Victoria is currently exploring through the Big Housing Build accommodation ideas for Aboriginal children and young people and their families.
  • Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System (RCVMHS) – strengthening mental health responses through government’s response to the RCVMHS is an ongoing priority and aligns to the findings in the OYOW report. The OYOW recommendations will be informed by and inform delivery of the RCVMS reforms. This includes recommendation 37.4, for the introduction of a new, expanded state-wide model of specialist youth forensic mental health programs providing treatment and care to children and young people in, or at risk of, contact with Youth Justice.

In addition, the 2021-22 Budget provided significant investment that will support delivery of the Report’s recommendations, including:

  • the ‘Putting Families First’ trial, an interdisciplinary service model in Goulburn and Brimbank-Melton, providing practical, personalised and targeted support to justice-involved families, including families of Aboriginal children and young people in Youth Justice.
  • Investment in transforming the child and family service system, including expanding the Family Preservation and Reunification Response to keep vulnerable children and families safely together and, where it is safe to do so, support children return home. The service includes an Aboriginal Response led by Aboriginal Controlled Community Organisations (ACCOs).
  • Reform of care services to deliver improved outcomes for children and young people, including specific funding for ACCOs to deliver improved services to Aboriginal children and young people.

Looking to the future

Through the leadership and support of the Aboriginal Justice Caucus, there are clear signs that significant progress has been achieved in addressing over-representation. Despite these advances, the gap in justice outcomes for Aboriginal young people remains.

Building on its insights and recommendations, the Strategy is the key vehicle to drive efforts to continue closing the gap in the rate of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children and young people under youth justice supervision by 2031 and also address findings of the Our Youth Our Way Inquiry.

We are committed to realising the vision of the Strategy for all Aboriginal children and young people in Victoria.

Reviewed 17 February 2022

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