In a previous role, I sat at tables in Brisbane’s youth detention centres and listened to children share their stories. In the children’s eyes I saw resilience and strength but also a deep sadness. I saw the sadness of children who had been let down by systems. I listened as young people spoke about struggling to find a safe place to sleep each night and not understanding why now they could not see their family. One young person told me that he didn’t have a single positive person in his life who wasn’t paid to hang out with him. These stories broke my heart. I could not understand why our society was locking up marginalised children who needed trauma-informed support and care?
QCOSS has partnered with First Nations-led coalition, Change the Record to deliver the Queensland Raise the Age campaign. As the Queensland Raise the Age campaign coordinator, I have been travelling around the state to connect with local legends from community organisations who support justice-involved children and their families. I have heard inspiring stories of children receiving the practical, cultural and therapeutic support they need from community organisations to reconnect with school and community. In a recent webinar, Jabalbina shared about empowering a child in Cairns who was interacting with the justice system. The young person received care as well as practical and cultural support. This young person is now thriving in the community and is a mentor to others.
Unfortunately, these effective programs often receive patchy funding. Rather than a comprehensive approach to supporting children to divert them away from the justice system, the Queensland Government has committed to pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into building new detention centres and harsh approaches that will lead to more children being arrested.
Prisons are failing our children, failing to address trauma and failing to keep communities safe. We know that 96 per cent of children put into Townsville’s detention centre are charged with a new offence within the year of their release.
This is because prisons do not have the ability to address the root causes of problematic behaviour or provide care and support.
A better future is possible where children’s rights are upheld, children are supported and all communities are safer. Queensland politicians have evidence sitting on their desks that supports a comprehensive, state-wide approach aimed at prevention and diversion of all children under 14. The government just needs to fund a system response to support and divert all children younger than 14 away from the legal system. Ultimately, the Government must raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 in Queensland.
Please contact me at [email protected] to join the Queensland Raise the Age campaign. All communities deserve to feel safe. Together, let’s campaign for a brighter future for children, families and communities.