The Victorian Government’s reported decision to close the Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre, and relocate a number of children and young people to the new Cherry Creek facility, is disappointing and allows less flexibility in the way the state supports young people in trouble, says Jesuit Social Services.

“We are disappointed that the Victorian Government has decided to remove an option in responding to young people, and that all young people in detention will be in facilities at Cherry Creek and Parkville,” says Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

“Minister for Youth Justice Enver Erdogan cites the state’s low number of young people in detention as one of the reasons behind the decision, but that belies the fact that the Government has just opened the Cherry Creek facility, which we maintain was not needed and should never have been built in the first place.

“We believe a low security, open setting detention facility for young people should be part of the service mix. The Victorian Government has long spruiked Cherry Creek as the most secure facility in the state with maximum security walls and fencing – this is not the kind of model that is conducive to helping children and young people address the underlying issues behind their behaviour and supporting them to lead healthy and positive lives.”

Ms Edwards says many children who have contact with the youth justice system are among the state’s most marginalised, with many children the victim of abuse, neglect and trauma and high levels of mental illness, substance abuse and disengagement with education.

“A strong and effective youth justice system acknowledges these children will return to the community one day, and supports them to exit the system better off than when they entered, to lessen the likelihood of them re-offending and to give them every opportunity to flourish.”

Senior leaders from Jesuit Social Services have previously undertaken #JusticeSolutions tours of effective justice systems across part of the US, Europe and New Zealand, finding that successful systems share an emphasis on small, home-like facilities close to the families and communities of young people, and prioritise recruiting and retaining experienced staff skilled in trauma-informed practice to meet the needs of children and young people with multiple and complex needs.

“By and large, these systems have positive, non-punitive cultures and well qualified staff who are committed to build relationships of trust. It is these relationships that allow staff to make a positive difference in the lives of young people, resulting in safer facilities for young people and staff alike, and less re-offending,” says Ms Edwards.

“At the same time, we need to take a step back and focus on continuing to reduce the number of young people who have contact with the system, including through restorative justice approaches and raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 as soon as possible.

“Giving children and young people the best chance to flourish ultimately benefits us all.”

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