As Australia’s first jurisdiction committed to raising the age of criminal responsibility, the ACT Government has today released an independent review that identifies service gaps and alternative models that will assist the ACT in raising the age.
The independent review, led by Emeritus Professor Morag McArthur in partnership with Aboriginal consultancy Curijo and Dr Aino Suomi from the Australian National University, looks at the ACT’s current service system and identifies ways in which that system could be changed to better meet the needs of children who will be most affected by raising the age of criminal responsibility.
The review proposes a model of wraparound and case management services for children and young people, including appropriate after-hours and crisis accommodation for this age group in the ACT.
Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said the ACT can provide better alternatives to custody for children under 14.
“Right across Australia, children as young as 10, can be arrested by police, brought before the courts on criminal charges and receive custodial sentences,” Attorney-General Rattenbury said. “This review is a crucial part of the ACT Government’s commitment to this nation-leading reform.
“In committing to raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility we also recognise the reality that some children and young people can, and do, cause harm to themselves or others. The ACT Government must have effective systems in place to support these children and young people, and their families, as well as safeguarding the community, when the age is raised.
“The review clearly shows the work and reforms we need to consider in the coming months and years and highlights the importance of early, coordinated and sustained help for children and their families.
“This review doesn’t deter us from the challenge ahead though. In fact, now we know how to make it happen. We know the importance of this reform and we remain committed to raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility.”
Minister for Families and Community Services, Rachel Stephen-Smith, said children involved in criminal behaviour do so because of complex and unmet needs.
“We know that the majority children and young people who engage in serious harmful behaviours have a background of trauma, disability and/or poor mental health,” Minister Stephen-Smith said. “We must ensure that these children and young people are able to access timely and holistic support before, during and after a crisis.
“Through last week’s ACT Budget, we will be expanding the Safe and Connected Youth Program to include dedicated therapeutic respite accommodation. The program offers children and young people outreach support, therapeutic case management and family mediation with the aim of reducing family conflict and addressing the risk of homelessness and engagement with the justice system for young people aged 8 to 15.
“We will continue to work with young people and our non-government partners to shift our service system to provide earlier support for children and their families as we take the next steps to raise minimum age of criminal responsibility.”
Minister responsible for Youth Justice, Emma Davidson, said that this report provides the ACT with an opportunity to reimagine its entire youth justice system so children, young people and their families are better supported through early intervention and rehabilitation.
“A robust and integrated support system for children and young people will improve social and justice outcomes across the community. It will be transformational for future generations where all young people can live healthier, safer and happier,” Minister Davidson said.
“It truly takes a community to raise a child. I look forward to working with the youth, mental health and disability sectors to continue delivering programs, such as the Functional Family Therapy pilot, that meet the needs of young people at-risk, so they have more opportunities in life for growth, development and support.”
Legislation to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in the ACT is expected to be introduced in 2022.
The review of the service system and implementation requirements for raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility in the ACT can be read here: https://justice.act.gov.au/safer-communities/raising-age