Cultural support guides are helping Sudanese-Australian families to navigate court

Cultural guides are supporting Sudanese people attending Children's Court hearings in Victoria. Source: SBS

Exclusive: The Children's Court of Victoria has been training people to be support guides for families of Sudanese and South Sudanese backgrounds who are caught up in Australia's legal system.

The Children's Court of Victoria has introduced cultural support guides to make the court process easier to understand for families attending hearings. 

Australians of Sudanese and South Sudanese heritage have been trained and placed in the roles to help young people of similar backgrounds facing court cases, along with their families. 

The six-month pilot project began last month to address the need for sensitive and appropriate support for court attendees and so far more than 60 community members have been assisted.

Those getting support include the accused, respondents, family members and friends invited to court matters for support.

Cultural guides and court staff in training
Cultural guides and court staff attend a session in Melbourne to evaluate the program.

Cultural guide Kear Both recently helped one family in which the parents were anxious and didn't know what had happened to their teenage child.

“They don’t know actually what was an offence,” he told SBS News.  

"We managed to break down that barrier."

In that case, the parents and teenager involved were not speaking to each other and the parents were unaware of what their child had been involved in. 

"It was a real shock for them,” Mr Both said.

“Although we understand the barrier of privacy, in some way we manage to contact the lawyer and tell him, at least we have to give information for the family to let them know what is actually about.” 

Community organisation Court Network has been training the cultural guides.

"They are someone who looks like those court users in the court, so that kind of crosses a lot of those barriers," executive director Maya Avdibegovic said. 

"Some members of the community are quite disadvantaged, [they have] experienced a lot of racism and discrimination." 

"We are aware of the journey of some of the young people being quite displaced.” 

Maya Avibegovic from Court Network
Maya Avibegovic is Court Network's executive director.

Ms Avdibegovic said some people the organisation supports can handle issues differently to what is expected in traditional Australian culture. 

"You have generational issues, young kids settling better and embracing the new culture, and parents not being able to follow up on that," she said.

"We are again dealing with a community that had previously in their country of origin a very different justice system."

"A lot of fear of authority is also present there, so providing all of that information, educating them on all of that, is quite empowering."

Crime rates remain low

Victorian crime figures for the past year showed there were only 15 Sudanese or South Sudanese youth offenders aged between 10 and 19 years old. That group had the lowest number in the data age breakdown by country except for Sri Lanka which recorded 13 offenders in the same age bracket. 

In the five years from July 2014 to June this year, Sudan and South Sudan-born alleged offenders only contributed less than one-and-a-half per cent of incident proportion in crime figures on average.

But the Sudan and South Sudan group had the highest proportion after Australian born offenders, who accounted for about 77 per cent in the data which included multiple victims and offences, but did not include prosecution outcomes. 

Ms Avdibegovic said proportionally, based on the community's size, the rates are still higher than usual. 

And despite the low crime levels overall, cultural guide Kear Both said there was a real need for support in the community.

'We are just a small number, we are doing this type of crime, really there is something wrong," he said.

Concerns over media reports

Another of the cultural guides, Kuol Deng, said previous media reporting has damaged the image of people of Sudanese and South Sudanese backgrounds in Victoria. 

"The children become now the topic," he said. 

"We want to bring them back, put them in community, to fit in community, to serve their people, they are the leaders of tomorrow." 

Multicultural youth worker John Garang Kon
John Garang Kon works with a South Sudanese community support group in outer Melbourne.

Mr Both said the media had been doing its job when reporting on crime but said in Sudan, young people haven't been committing crimes like they do in Australia. 

"In my culture, you cannot find small kids under 18 drinking at all, so it is very strange for me," he said.

He said it is justified for the media to highlight these issues. 

"Committing crimes in front of the public, it is a very strange habit," he said.

Centre for Multicultural Youth worker John Garang Kon said having extra culturally-oriented support in the courts will be positive.

"Although the crime stats would be low, we need to reduce it so that we don't see any young person and their families involved in whatever is happening, youth crimes and all this," he said. 

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