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Report paves way for a youth justice system that helps, not harms, Aboriginal children

A new report, tabled in the Victorian Parliament today by the Commission for Children and Young
People, highlights a range of potential reforms that would prevent Aboriginal children from having
contact with the youth justice system and ensure that children who have contact with the system
are given every opportunity to lead positive futures, says Jesuit Social Services.

“The over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the youth justice system
is a national shame that requires urgent action from political leaders across the country. Here in
Victoria, Aboriginal children and young people are nine times more likely than non-Aboriginal
children and young people to be in youth justice custody and 10 times more likely to be subject to
community-based supervision,” says Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

“This report outlines that Aboriginal children and young people in Victoria continue to be
disproportionately targeted by police, sentenced by courts, and removed from families and
communities. While the report focuses on Victoria, we know these systemic problems are not
isolated to Victoria, and are present in other jurisdictions across the country.”

The report highlights a range of challenges experienced by some Aboriginal children and young
people, which impact their involvement with the youth justice system, including fragmented contact
with education, mental health problems and substance use, involvement with the child protection
system and family disadvantage.

“The Commission states that the foundations of the youth justice system need to be reset to give
Aboriginal children and young people the best chance to lead healthy, positive lives. Addressing
intergenerational challenges will take long-term work, but this report provides a range of suggested
reforms that can be implemented in the short-term and make a tangible positive difference to
current and future generations,” says Ms Edwards.

“This includes raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years, which Jesuit Social
Services has long advocated for. Primary school aged children belong in the classroom, not in prison.
The fact Australia incarcerates children as young as 10 is out of step with human rights standards,
medical science on child development and international best practice, and it disproportionately
impacts Aboriginal children.

“Jesuit Social Services also supports other recommendations proposed in the report, such as
increasing the capacity of Aboriginal organisations to design, coordinate and deliver support services
to children and young people; prioritising early intervention and diversion processes at all points of
the system; and the funding of family support programs to address disadvantage experienced by
Aboriginal children and young people involved with the youth justice system.

“This report paves the way for a youth justice system that will ultimately help, not harm, Aboriginal
children and young people and create stronger and more cohesive communities for all.”

Media enquiries – Kathryn Kernohan, 0409 901 248 or kathryn.kernohan@jss.org.au

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