The Minister for Territory Families, Dale Wakefield said the NT Labor Government has taken responsibility for failing to care, protect and support those who needed it most, adding that since August 2016, the Territory government has embarked on a historic $18.2 million a year youth justice and child protection reform, as announced last year.
Ms Wakefield also explained that 217 of the royal commission’s recommendations related to action by the NT government, while a further 10 required action by the federal government and other organisations.
"We need coordinated effort in order to make effective, meaningful and generational change to our youth justice and child protection systems," Mr Wakefield said in a statement.
"Now more than ever, we need the support of the Commonwealth government working in collaboration with the Northern Territory government and the Aboriginal-controlled and non-government sector."
The NT Government has stated it will implement 17 work programs under four major objectives, including putting children and families at the centre of decision-making, improving care and protection services, improving youth justice, and strengthening governance and systems.
“In order for our communities to be safer and stronger, every Territory child MUST have pathways for a bright future,” Ms Wakefield emphasized in a statement.
In a press conference later today, Ms Wakefield added there will be timelines for the implementation plan of the recommendations at the end of March.
The report delivered by the Royal Commission in November last year was sparked by the ill-treatment of children under the care of the Territory government.
The final report recommended a complete overhaul of the youth justice system and demanded the immediate closure of Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.
Last month, the NT Government announced it would invest $70 million to replace both the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre and the Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre with two new youth justice centres.
CEO of Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory, John Paterson said that the peak body welcomes the Territory Government’s response to the Royal Commission recommendations.
“Our child protection and youth justice systems are broken and only fundamental, wholesale reform of the systems can improve outcomes for the Aboriginal children and young people in the Northern Territory,” Mr Paterson said.
However, he stressed solutions need to come from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples themselves.
“These reforms need to be driven and led by Aboriginal organisations and people. We advocate for a new single act to regulate both youth justice and child protection systems.”
Olga Havnen, CEO Danila Dilba Health Service, also welcomed the response, labelling it “comprehensive in its approach”.
“We also acknowledge that it’s going to take some time for that systems reform to filter through and to have something of a real impact in the way those changes, services and programs are delivered,” she added.
Jared Sharp, Jesuit Social Services’ Northern Territory General Manager, said the NT Government's response was "heartening", but also highlighted the need for adequate funding.
“What we now desperately need is the budget commitment from the Northern Territory Government to implement all of these recommendations in full,” he said.
“This is our once in a generation opportunity to get this right – and we’ve got a Royal Commission that’s given us a blueprint – we now have to implement it.”
Strengthening Child Protection
Speaking to reporters in Darwin, Ms Wakefield said her department understood the utmost importance of ensuring child safety while they’re in protection, and the need for child placement with appropriate carers, preferably family or community members that share the same culture or speak the same language.
“This Royal Commission sets out very clearly that there is a lot of work to do. And that is one of the areas that we need to work on,” she said.
“I don’t think those issues about culture versus safety are mutually exclusive. I think you can do both. A child that has a strong sense of identity, a strong sense of self, a strong sense of culture, whatever that culture is, is going to do better than a child who is feeling disconnected with who they are.”
The minister said that a review was underway after reports emerged of a serious incident involving the alleged sexual abuse of a child in Tennant Creek last week.
“We also know we have to look at what happened with the Tennant Creek incident we’ve put in a review process, we will be honest and transparent about that.
"Child protection is difficult work, and to do that properly, we have to be very honest, very transparent and absolutely keep our focus on child safety.”
Key reforms implemented since August 2016:
· $18.2 million Better Outcomes for Youth Justice reform package
· $3 million invested in Family Enhanced Support Services (FESS)
· Bail support services and accommodation facilities
· Expansion of victim conferencing
· Establishing five year NGO funding arrangements
· The establishment of Youth Outreach and Re-engagement Teams (YORET)
· Recruitment of Transition Care Officers