Contemporary detention environments

Volume 15 of the Final Report of the Royal Commission 2017 contains 15 recommendations to prevent child sexual abuse from occurring in detention environments and, where it does occur, to help ensure effective responses. The Victorian Government accepted 5 recommendations in Volume 15, accepted in principle 5 recommendations, and noted 5 recommendations that are matters for the Australian Government. You can read the Victorian Government’s 2018 response to Volume 15 here.

Safe Placement Procedures and Risk Assessments

The Royal Commission recommended that a review of the building and design features of youth detention was essential to address elements that may place children at risk. It also noted that appropriate and safe placement of children in youth detention, including a risk assessment, would help identify if a child may be vulnerable to child sexual abuse or whether a child is displaying harmful sexual behaviours.

The Victorian Government has worked to repair and strengthen the Parkville and Malmsbury Youth Justice centres to provide safer and more secure custodial environments. Technology plays an important role in providing additional safeguards and monitoring. The Victorian Government has implemented an extensive network of CCTV technology in youth justice facilities in order to monitor behaviour, deter unacceptable behaviour and enable real time monitoring or post incident review. The introduction of body-worn cameras by precinct-based incident response teams provides an additional layer of transparency and accountability during incident response.

A custodial Classification and Placement Unit has been established to coordinate and facilitate the assessment, classification and placement of children and young people in custody to ensure effective case management and safe placement.

A new Room Share Suitability Framework and tool has also been introduced in order to provide tighter scrutiny over the room sharing process, clear guidance about the steps required to determine a young person’s suitability to share a bedroom, and a framework for determining the level of risk and vulnerability.

Consideration of the safety of children and young people has been included in the design of the new $288 million Cherry Creek youth justice precinct, which is based on smaller communities of young people and more therapeutic spaces to encourage rehabilitation and reduce reoffending.

Cultural safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

The Royal Commission recommended that government consider further strategies that provide for the cultural safety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in youth detention.

The cultural needs of Aboriginal young people and the importance of maintaining connection to family, community and culture is considered, where appropriate, during the development of procedures and practice.

As part of the 2018-19 State Budget, $10.8 million was provided for the ongoing expansion of custodial and community Koori Youth Justice programs, and to increase the number of Aboriginal workers. Funding was also provided for professional development and networking opportunities for the Koori Youth Justice workforce and to support an Aboriginal Graduate Program. All new staff in custodial services are required to complete cultural awareness training as part of their induction, which is delivered by the Koori Heritage Trust.

The Aboriginal Youth Justice Strategy, which will establish a stronger response to over-representation of Aboriginal young people in the Youth Justice system, is being developed in partnership with the Aboriginal Justice Forum and Aboriginal Justice Caucus, under the umbrella of Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja, Aboriginal Justice Agreement Phase 4.

Parkville College delivers education programs at Youth Justice Centres. The College supports the cultural safety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students through a variety of strategies. These include Aboriginal representation on its school council and a relationship with the Archie Roach Foundation to provide guidance on employment, community involvement and connecting the school with key Aboriginal Elders. This relationship, and those with visiting Aboriginal Elders, ensures students have access to cultural support and mentoring.

A senior Aboriginal Elder provides guidance to College staff on classroom content, ensuring all curriculum units effectively incorporate Aboriginal perspective. The college runs an Aboriginal education program that brings together Aboriginal students to discuss and explore Aboriginal ancestry and history. The college’s Aboriginal teaching team also develops individual cultural education plans for students and supports their transition process.

The College has also developed the cultural understanding and practices of all staff. By the end of 2018, every staff member had engaged in two full days of training which includes a day of cultural safety training, and a day on culturally responsive practice.

Strengthening of Training and Practice in Youth Justice Centres

The Royal Commission recommended that all staff in youth detention institutions receive appropriate training and noted that survivors of child sexual abuse who are in youth detention should be afforded improved access to therapeutic treatment. The Royal Commission also concluded that youth detention institutions should implement the Child Safe Standards identified by the Royal Commission.

The Victorian Government currently provides pre-service training for all new youth justice workers. Staff receive training on a range of topics, which consider the impact of trauma on young people and the response required to meet and address needs. A training module on the Child Safe Standards also now forms part of the curriculum.

Pre-service training is being strengthened through a review of targeted learning outcomes, identification of priorities and content gaps. This will ensure that content is current, relevant and comprehensive. As part of this, further consideration is being given to the training and development needs of staff in order that they receive the appropriate support to work effectively with young people that have been exposed to or suffered sexual abuse.

The Victorian Government is also strengthening the support, assessment and therapeutic treatment provided to young people while in custody. Children and young people have an overarching Youth Justice case management plan and a young person in custody receives a health screen and mental health assessment within 24 hours of admission to a youth justice precinct. A comprehensive health assessment is conducted by a general practitioner within 72 hours. The primary health and primary mental health care service provider refers children and young people in need of specialist health care to community based secondary and tertiary health services.

In early 2019, the new Custodial Forensic Youth Mental Health Service (Custodial FYMHS) will commence in Youth Justice centres. Custodial FYMHS will provide specialist youth mental health assessments, treatment interventions and treatment plans. It will assist young people experiencing a mental illness or mental health condition that are appropriately referred by the service provider.

Oversight and Complaints

The Royal Commission identified the need to review the current internal and external complaints handling systems concerning youth detention and recommended that an independent body should provide oversight of youth detention.

The CCYP provides independent scrutiny and oversight of services for children and young people, particularly those in Youth Justice; advocates for best-practice policy, program and service responses; and supports and regulates organisations that work with children and young people to prevent abuse and ensure implementation of child-safe practices. The CCYP operates a volunteer Independent Visitor Program across the two Youth Justice Precincts. Independent visitors attend the precincts on a monthly basis, and meet with young people and staff, allowing for independent scrutiny of the system.

The Victorian Ombudsman also has statutory investigation powers that enable access to places of detention, information and detainees. Staff from the Ombudsman’s office visit the youth justice centres regularly and young people have access to unrestricted phone calls to contact the Ombudsman.