‘Kids are going through hard stuff’ – new plan a step in the right direction for kids in state care

‘Kids are going through hard stuff’ – new plan a step in the right direction for kids in state care

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Victoria’s most vulnerable children stand to benefit from a landmark commitment from government, police and residential care operators to reduce the number of young people entering the criminal justice system from state care.

‘For too long we’ve known that children placed in state care for their own safety, can struggle to cope but are often responded to with police charges instead of support. This sets them up for a cycle of involvement with the justice system that can have lifelong effects’, said Olivia Greenwell, Manager of Strategy for Family Youth and Children’s Law at Victoria Legal Aid. ‘The new plan acknowledges that most children in state care have gone through some sort of trauma and that they need help to overcome their experiences. We are pleased to support a new approach to keeping these kids truly safer and happier’.

‘Our Care Not Custody data shows more than half the young people who go into residential care, end up with a criminal charge within one year, often for minor incidents. We need to reduce the number of times children from residential care are going before a magistrate for things like throwing a sponge, hitting a wall or breaking a plate,’ said Olivia.

The plan aims to make inroads on these figures, with decision-making guidance and support for residential care workers and strong commitments to providing diversionary support.

‘This plan supports police callouts where there are immediate safety risks, but explicitly states that calling the police will otherwise be a last resort and that criminal charges will not be pursued if there are more supportive alternatives. There is a shared agreement that the most effective ways to help these young people change any behaviours of concern are therapeutic and that police should use discretion when called to residential care units, said Olivia.

‘We look forward to supporting this vital work that we hope will lead to lasting change for our clients and the wider Victorian community,’ she said.

This framework could have made a real difference for our client Mia (not their real name).

‘Mia’ is 15 and moved into residential care after her father said he could no longer look after her. Despite a diagnosed intellectual disability and a history of trauma, Mia’s workers weren’t provided with training on how to manage and support these conditions. She said workers often called police for minor things. ‘I was going through a lot of stuff and I got in trouble for stupid things like breaking a plate. It’s like the workers thought they had to punish me.’

Mia is now going to court over multiple property damage charges. But she believes there are other ways to deal with misbehaviour. ‘In three years, I’ve had two good workers. One of them treats me like her own daughter, she understands, and she listens. If you get upset or angry the good ones don’t get mad or threaten to call the police on you. They give you a hug, then you get better’, she said.

Mia says young people in out of home care need more understanding. ‘Kids in resi want love and to feel welcomed. Not like you’re in the gutter just because you’re in resi because your family has issues. It shouldn’t be like this. Kids are going through hard stuff and if they act badly, they’re doing it for a reason.’

Media enquiries

Olivia Greenwell is available for interview. Mia’s story can be quoted.

For media enquiries, ontact Senior Communications Adviser Alma Mistry on 0418 381 327 or email Alma.Mistry@vla.vic.gov.au

‘When the police come it’s just charge, charge charge’ – Mia dreams of swimming with turtles and being free

Mia (not their real name) grew up living with her mother after her parents separated. She loved her Mum, but her Mum had mental health issues and sometimes tried to harm herself in front of Mia. After those incidents, Mia went to live with her father who was also looking after four of Mia’s siblings. Mia found it hard to settle at her dad’s place. She was diagnosed with an intellectual disability and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. After a few months, her dad decided that he was not able to care for her anymore, so Mia was moved to residential care. Now 15, Mia says residential care doesn’t provide the support and care she craves. ‘It’s bad because you don’t get love there. People just come to work to get the money and go home. There’s not many carers that like you and stuff gets locked away, so you can’t even get metal forks or glass cups,’ she said.

When Mia first moved, a lot of her workers weren’t told about her background, disabilities and mental health issues and weren’t provided with training on how to manage and support these conditions. She said workers often called police for minor things. ‘I was going through a lot of stuff and I got in trouble for stupid things like breaking a plate. It’s like the workers thought they had to punish me. It’s not fair, it’s like they gang up on the kids.’

Mia said while some police treated her with kindness, others were not sympathetic. ‘All they think about is, when the police come, charge charge, charge. The police can be mean. They say “calm the **** down” and when kids are upset and crying they say “stop crying, you’re just being a sook”.’

Mia is now going to court over multiple charges of property damage. But she believes there are other ways to deal with misbehaviour. ‘In three years, I’ve had two good workers. One of them treats me like her own daughter, she understands and she listens. If you get upset or angry the good ones don’t get mad or threaten to call the police on you. They give you a hug, then you get better.’

‘The good workers actually really care and they think about you when they’re outside of work, like they call you and check in,’ said Mia.

When Mia was in care, a much-loved family member stopped contacting her out of the blue and she didn’t know why. A year later, she accidentally saw a document which detailed how that person had died from suicide. Mia hadn’t been told that the family member had died and how. On discovering the document, Mia got upset and ripped up the piece of paper. She then went into the office to try and find more information about what had happened to her family member. The police were called and Mia was charged with criminal damage for ripping up the paper and burglary for entering the office without permission. Mia’s lawyer is trying to have the charges relating to this dropped.

Mia often leaves residential care to see friends and because ‘I’ve had enough there and I feel more free and welcomed in the community,’ she said. She is often then placed in secure welfare, a higher security facility.

Mia is hoping to get a job and one day, to travel the world. ‘My dream is to go travel the country. I just want to see the whole world. I want to swim with the turtles.’

Mia says young people in out of home care need more understanding. ‘Kids in resi want love and to feel welcomed. Not like you’re in the gutter just because you’re in resi because your family has issues. It shouldn’t be like this. Kids are going through hard stuff and if they act badly, they’re doing it for a reason.’

 

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