Care not Custody – Jon's story

Care not Custody – Jon's story

Jon (not his real name) was born with multiple difficulties, including autism, an intellectual disability and ADHD. From an early age, he displayed a range of challenging behaviours. His mother on occasion had to seek help from neighbours and local police to help calm him down, but the local community understood his problems and he had never been detained or received a criminal charge.

When Jon was 11, his mother was obliged to put him in care on a temporary basis due to doctors’ concerns about his escalating behaviour. Due to his special needs, he was placed in a residential care unit over an hour’s drive from where his family lived and case managed from the department’s regional office over 200km away. Workers in the unit were ill-equipped to deal with his behavioural problems and constantly called police when he acted out.

In one occasion during his time in residential care, his mother was dropping him off at school after a weekend visit. When she tried to leave, Jon clung on and refused to move. Teachers tried to disengage him but were unsuccessful. Despite his mother’s protests that she was happy to stay with him until he calmed down, the care worker called police to have him removed. They pulled him off his mother, kicking and screaming throughout. He was charged with assaulting police and resisting arrest.

On another occasion, Jon was playing monopoly with an 18-year old staff member from the unit. When the staff member won the game, Jon became very distressed about losing and took off one of his thongs and threw it at her, hitting her in the arm. He then followed her into the next room and picked up the nearest objects, a sink plug and a whisk and threw them at the wall. Jon then went back to his bedroom.

Police were called and Jon was charged with assault on the worker, discharging a missile and criminal damage. Police sought to remand him into custody, but the magistrate refused and decided to take a case management approach, including ordering a Children’s Court Clinic assessment – in particular to have Jon’s medication reviewed because a doctor had said this might be contributing to his behavioural problems. Because Jon was in a rural area, the process of arranging an assessment took months. In the meantime, the residential unit continued to report him when he misbehaved and police continued to charge him.

Jon ended up receiving twenty-five charges during the few months he was in care. He was ultimately returned to his family and has not received any charges since.

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Read more information about Care not Custody: a new approach to keeping kids in residential care out of the criminal justice system