Contemporary detention environments (volume 15)

Youth detention aims to provide a secure environment for the detention and rehabilitation of children and young people convicted or accused of committing a criminal offence. The Victorian Government takes its responsibility for these children and young people very seriously. It is working to prevent child sexual abuse from occurring in detention environments and, where it does occur, to ensure effective responses.

Youth Justice Strategy

In May 2020, the Victorian Government launched the Youth Justice Strategic Plan 2020-30, underpinned by the landmark Armytage and Ogloff Review. The Strategic Plan is committed to reducing reoffending through an improved diversionary system and responding to the unique needs of the children and young people who come in contact with this system. The Strategic Plan focuses on four key reform directions for Youth Justice in Victoria (Table 5).

Table 5. Key reform directions, Youth Justice Strategic Plan 2020-30

1. improving diversion and supporting early intervention and crime prevention
2. reducing reoffending and promoting community safety by supporting children and young people to turn their lives around
3. strengthening partnerships with children and young people, families, and all services and professionals who support their rehabilitation and positive development
4. investing in a skilled, safe, and stable Youth Justice system and safe systems of work

Child Safe Standards in Youth Justice

The Victorian Government has implemented policies and practices to ensure it complies with the Child Safe Standards so that children and young people within Youth Justice precincts, and those under community supervision, are safe. In February 2019, the Youth Justice community workforce were issued with a Practice Guideline that outlines Victoria’s Child Safe Standards, Reportable Conduct Scheme, and Mandatory Reporting obligations. The Practice Guideline advises Youth Justice staff what they must do to promote the safety of children and young people, prevent abuse, and appropriately respond to allegations of abuse.

In 2019, Youth Justice trained its custodial staff in the Child Safe Standards and Reportable Conduct Scheme, which is also now included in mandatory induction programs for new staff. Training is also being implemented across the Youth Justice community workforce in 2020.

Mental health services for young people in custody

A guiding principle for Youth Justice custodial health service delivery is that young people in custody should receive health services equivalent to those available in the general community through the public health system.

The Primary Health and Mental Health Service, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is the first point of contact for Youth Justice custodial staff who identify concerns with a young person’s mental health. This service offers access to psychiatric nursing and counselling services.

The Custodial Forensic Youth Mental Health Service program (Custodial FYMHS), delivered by Orygen Youth Health, provides specialist, multidisciplinary mental health services to young people in Youth Justice custody. Custodial FYMHS is comprised of a multi-disciplinary team of consultant psychiatrists, psychiatric registrars, and allied health clinicians (specialising in psychology, occupational therapy, social work, and psychiatric nursing), all of whom undertake assessment, treatment, and case management liaison with young people in Youth Justice. The service operates at the two Youth Justice Centres five days a week and on call.

Mental health services for young people involved with Youth Justice in the community

The Community Forensic Youth Mental Health Service (Community FYMHS) was introduced in 2019. The service aims to improve the mental health outcomes of those with serious mental illness to support early intervention and divert these young people away from the criminal justice system. It provides secondary consultation and capacity building support to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and Child and Youth Mental Health Service (CYMHS), both located in Melbourne. This enables these services to better adapt and respond to the specific needs of a young person who demonstrates offending behaviours and is at risk of serious offending or re-offending behaviours.

In addition to Community FYMHS, the Youth Justice Mental Health Initiative (YJMHI) improves access to mental health services for young people supervised by Youth Justice and strengthens the mental health capability of Youth Justice staff.

Supporting children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours

During their involvement with Youth Justice, young people have access to cognitive behavioural interventions to help:

  • change the way they think about offending
  • understand the situations that make them vulnerable to exploitation, and support them to solve problems, and
  • identify different, positive solutions to challenging situations.

Through coordination of services and engagement of young people and their families, Youth Justice aims to address behaviours that have the potential to compromise community safety. If a young person displays potential or early indications of harmful sexualised behaviour while in custody, they will receive a brief psychoeducational or therapeutic intervention to address their needs.

Improving processes in Youth Justice custodial facilities for young people

The Victorian Government continues to progress important reforms to ensure that the state’s Youth Justice custodial facilities continue to be safe for young people and staff. All new custodial staff receive seven weeks of induction training before they commence working in the units.

As part of induction, staff learn about key policies to support child safety.

The Department of Justice and Community Safety is piloting the use of body scanners to replace mandatory unclothed searches for all young people in Parkville Youth Justice Centre. This pilot was introduced to align with the Youth Justice custodial operating philosophy’s “least restrictive environment” principle. Following the pilot at the Parkville Youth Justice Centre, it is envisaged that a body scanner will also be introduced at the Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre.

Cultural safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people

Aboriginal young people carry greater levels of vulnerability and complexity than non-Aboriginal young people. The 2019 Annual Survey of Young People involved with Youth Justice showed that Aboriginal young people were more likely to be victims of abuse, trauma or neglect, be subject to a previous or current child protection order and experience family violence at greater rates than non-Aboriginal young people.

Protecting cultural rights and ensuring cultural safety is critical for the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal young people in the justice system. Aboriginal Liaison Officers work to ensure Aboriginal young people have ongoing access to their culture and community, provide advice to non-Aboriginal staff about their work with Aboriginal young people and directly support young people where required. Aboriginal Liaison Officers have continued to work in both Parkville and Malmsbury Youth Justice Precincts during coronavirus (COVID-19) and are providing face-to-face cultural support to Aboriginal children and young people. This keeps children healthy and connected to culture.

The Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) is providing the Aboriginal Youth Through-Care Project which focusses on the provision of culturally based transition support and continuity of care.

To increase social and emotional wellbeing for Aboriginal children and young people during coronavirus (COVID-19), Youth Justice has partnered with Aboriginal community organisations to deliver a cultural strengthening care and wellbeing package. The package includes a suite of cultural programs for young people through group online yarning circles and mentoring with Elders and role models. It also includes culturally themed care items to promote feelings of safety and wellbeing.

Community-based programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

The Victorian Government is taking action to address the over-representation of Aboriginal young people in Victoria’s Youth Justice system. This includes enhancing programs and services to support Aboriginal young people on community-based orders through a range of culturally informed programs and initiatives.

These programs are currently delivered through 14 funded agencies, 13 of which are Aboriginal Controlled Community Organisations and one a community-based agency. The suite of programs provides preventative, early intervention and case management services for Aboriginal children and young people at risk of Youth Justice involvement, or subject to a Youth Justice Order.

Koori Youth Justice Taskforce

The Koori Youth Justice Taskforce audited the case files of 296 Aboriginal children and young people involved with the Youth Justice system over a six-month period. The review considered aspects of their care, education, health, connection to culture and safety, and how this can be improved in the future.

The Department of Justice and Community Safety partnered with the Commission for Children and Young People to implement the Koori Youth Justice Taskforce. A key component of the Taskforce included individual care team case planning for Aboriginal young people who had multiple and complex needs. Youth Justice continues the coordination and completion of the care team actions arising from the Taskforce individual case planning sessions for Aboriginal young people.