In WA we still arrest, try and imprison children as young as 10 years of age.

It baffles me when I consider my own children when they were 10 and the thought of them being arrested, put on trial and then imprisoned.

I don’t think of my children as different to any other 10-year-old child when they were only 10. They were dependant and needed love, nurturing and a supportive environment where they were able to thrive.

At 10, my children would crawl into my bed most nights and mornings wanting to sleep next to Dad. I reluctantly weaned both of them off that and made them stay in their own beds eventually.

That innocence and openness to being nurtured to be the beautiful humans they are today brings back wonderful memories. Both my children at 10 were very interested in learning new things whether it be sport, school, and games, etc.

I even have fond memories of when they would try an help cook and even wanted to help with the dishes.  If only they still wanted to do that.

Fourteen is the most common minimum age of criminal responsibility around the world. And 14 as an absolute minimum is what the United Nations recommends to uphold the rights and dignity of all, children.

Scientific and medical evidence tells us many key stages of brain development are not adequately formed in children. This lack of cognitive ability means doctors and medical experts agree that children cannot be held criminally responsible.

As a Noongar, Yamatji and Gija man, I see too many Aboriginal young people ending up in the justice system — 72 per cent of children incarcerated last year were Aboriginal. It is nothing to be proud of.

The earlier you sentence young people — the earlier you put them into prison cells and the justice system, the more likely you are to cause a lifetime of harm.

As co-chairperson of Social Reinvestment WA I absolutely welcome the commitment from WA Labor at their State Conference on October 2 to raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14.

Children and young people need help, not harm.

Currently in WA our Labor politicians who have the majority of power in both Upper and Lower houses can make this a reality. They can change life outcomes for these young people right now. We hope the McGowan

Government adopts this WA Labor platform and begins work to change legislation to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 as soon as possible. At all costs we want to avoid another generation of young people becoming trapped in this broken system.

I often hear the question, “but what do we do with these young people instead?”

There is a better way. We can create safer and healthier communities for everyone by responding to the underlying causes of offending.

By improving the social, emotional, and cultural wellbeing of young people. We need to invest in early intervention, diversion, rehabilitation, and connection.

As the chief executive of Wungening Aboriginal Corporation, I know there are proven and successful options to get young people the support and rehabilitation they need, outside the justice system.

When we do this, we keep our communities safe in the long term.

Earlier intervention/prevention programs I can’t speak highly enough about. We have been fortunate enough to develop and deliver an early intervention program for families — Wungening Moort (Healing Families) — Aboriginal In-Home Support Service. We also partner in the delivery of Beyond YJS a youth justice program.

There are many great organisations and programs who are working to help the most at risk young people.

Through Social Reinvestment WA we know there are key principles to making a new system work. A system that doesn’t incarcerate children.

We need programs to be designed by the Aboriginal community, for the Aboriginal community. We need solutions to be funded adequately and sustainably. We need to help connect and re-integrate young people into their communities

Children, young people, and their families need access to support programs earlier on, before they hit crisis point, and to come across “no wrong door” when seeking help.

We need to respond to underlying trauma and poverty, and build the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of individuals with unique needs. We need programs that build the skills and capacity of young people so they thrive. Ten is too young.

Children do not belong in prison cells or in the justice system. We need to fund and embrace alternative solutions and raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 now.

By Daniel Morrison

Daniel Morrison is the Chief Executive Officer of Wungening Aboriginal Corporation and Co-Chairperson of Social Reinvestment WA