Tackling the epidemic of so-called ‘cross over kids’ whose experiences with the child protection system lead to a life of crime and jail will be at the centre of recommendations from the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.
Royal Commissioner Mick Gooda has given a glimpse of what he and fellow Commissioner Margaret White will hand down in their final report, which is due to be delivered on November 17.
He has told a conference in Darwin there “is a great wave of children and families out there in dire need of support”.
“The emphasis on early intervention and early support will be the cornerstone of our recommendations,” Mr Gooda told the 2017 NT Council of Social Services Conference.
He said the commission had been told of experiences that suggested removing children from their homes and placing them into care had done more harm than if they had been left with their communities and family.
Problems within the child protection system included children being moved around to multiple homes, having their education interrupted and being separated from family members.
“We know that those who enter the child protection system have a higher chance of ending in the detention system – we call them the ‘cross over kids’,” he said.
“This speaks to the need for early intervention and to seek to close off that seemingly inevitable pathway.”
Mr Gooda said locking children up did not solve social problems.
“All the evidence we have indicates that locking children up in Don Dale-like conditions does not lead to good outcomes,” he said.
“It doesn’t rehabilitate young people, it doesn’t reduce recidivism and it does not make our community safer.”
He said the commission had been told young people could be diverted from a path to detention through changes to the legal system and early intervention.
Mr Gooda said for children who did need to be detained, centres needed to change.
“(We need) an approach that is appropriately child-centred for children and young people, who at this critical time of their development, including their brain development, are not mini adults and should not be treated as such,” he said.
The Commissioner said he hoped the recommendations would pave the way for change throughout Australia.
The Royal Commission was set up in August last year in the wake of shocking footage be shown from inside the Don Dale detention centre. It showed teenagers being tear gassed and hooded.