Jesuit Social Services has a proud history of both ‘doing’ and ‘influencing’. We work to support people in immediate need (our doing work) and we also advocate to change policies, practices and attitudes in order to create a just society (our influencing work).

To help achieve this, we have a small team of policy staff working across the locations where we deliver services – Victoria, New South Wales and Northern Territory. This allows us to respond flexibly to policy and advocacy needs in all three jurisdictions, as well as to national issues. One key piece of advocacy that is critical to Jesuit Social Services, and something that is relevant to each and every jurisdiction across Australia, is raising the age of criminal responsibility.

Raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years has been a key policy focus for Jesuit Social Services for almost a decade, and 2022 has seen us increase our advocacy to achieve this goal. We were pleased to provide a submission recently to the Northern Territory’s Attorney General’s Department on this issue. In our submission, we called for the Government to listen to the large body of evidence that exists in supporting raising the age of criminal responsibility. We also highlighted a range of evidence-based responses that can support children aged under 14, including intensive family support and Group Conferencing.

The United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child has been clear in its recommendation to Australian States and Territories to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years. Local and international research shows clearly that brain development continues well into the mid 20s. A child under the age of 14 is less able to consider the consequences of their actions and is more likely to act impulsively and engage in risk-taking behaviours. Across Australia, most children who are incarcerated under the age of 14 are Aboriginal children. In 2020-2021, 94 per cent of young people in detention in the Northern Territory identified as Aboriginal. We urged the Government to be a leader on this reform that will transform outcomes for Aboriginal children and families, and our whole community.

In October 2022 the Northern Territory Government formally introduced legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years in line with recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children. We were pleased to see the Government take these initial steps, however it is import that the related recommendation – that no child under 14 be held in detention – also be implemented as soon as possible.

In the meantime, Jesuit Social Services will continue to advocate strongly at both a local and national level to ensure the age of criminal responsibility is raised to 14 across our country.