Care not Custody – a shared vision for young people in care

Care not Custody – a shared vision for young people in care

Thursday, 29 August 2019

L–R: Olivia Greenwell, Victoria Legal Aid; Richard Watkins, Victoria Police; Soula Kontomichalos, Department of Justice and Community Safety; Liana Buchanan, Commissioner for Children and Young People; Leon Wiegard, Australian Services Union.
L–R: Olivia Greenwell, Victoria Legal Aid; Richard Watkins, Victoria Police; Soula Kontomichalos, Department of Justice and Community Safety; Liana Buchanan, Commissioner for Children and Young People; Leon Wiegard, Australian Services Union.

We recently brought together a group of diverse speakers to discuss ways to help children living in state care lead happier, healthier lives, away from involvement with police and courts.

Our Care Not Custody advocacy and data from others including the Sentencing Advisory Council show that children living in state care in Victoria are far more likely than others to end up in the criminal justice system.

It’s a situation that was acknowledged by the speakers as putting young people at greater risk of becoming stuck in unstable and unhappy lives. But they also demonstrated that we do not have to accept this situation and can make a real difference if we work together on new approaches. 

Richard Watkins, Superintendent, Quality Education Division at Victoria Police Academy and Soula Kontomichalos, General Manager, Youth Justice, South East Region, Department of Justice and Community Safety spoke about a promising pilot in Melbourne’s east, that has seen police and residential care workers work together with the State Government, to try and reduce this cycle. ‘What is attractive to police is that something is being done to change the trauma-informed behaviours. If we're going to be involved it's not just about decriminalising a young person but helping address a young person's behaviour because some of that behaviour creates harm for them’ said Richard.

Manager of Strategy for Family Youth and Children’s Law at Victoria Legal Aid, Olivia Greenwell said the pilot is a positive step in recognising the effects of trauma on young people’s lives. ‘It was great to hear from Soula and Richard about how the program aims to build a parenting community that recognises the trauma young people in care have experienced and seeks to manage behaviours as a parent would, rather than by calling police or pressing charges if this is not clearly required’, she said.

We have been strongly supportive of the development of a joint agreement between the Victorian Government, police and residential care providers to reduce the criminalisation of young people in state care. Liana Buchanan, Commissioner for Children and Young People, spoke about the need for such an agreement to be effectively implemented with meaningful oversight and monitoring.  

We were also grateful to hear from Leon Wiegard, Assistant Branch Secretary, Australian Services Union who spoke about the challenges faced by workers in residential care units.

‘It was clear from all our speakers that we need to work together on a better approach to keeping residential care a safe and supportive environment for everyone while helping young people in care go on to lead happy and productive lives, rather than being propelled into the justice system,’ said Olivia.

‘What we ultimately need is a firm agreement and implementation plan to ensure young people in care across Victoria get the support and opportunities they need to thrive, rather than criminalising them and putting them in a cycle of involvement with police and the courts’, said Olivia.

More information

Read our Care Not Custody report, latest data and the stories of children in residential care.

Media enquiries

Olivia Greenwell is available for interview. If you have a media enquiry call Alma Mistry, Senior Communications Adviser on 0418 381 327, or email alma.mistry@vla.vic.gov.au

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