Minister for Human Services
Ashley Youth Detention Centre
06 April 2016 [10.55a.m.]

QUESTION:  Can the minister provide the House with an update on what is being done to  provide a therapeutic response at Ashley Youth Detention Centre?

ANSWER:  Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her interest and her question on  this matter. Detention for young people should only be used as a place of  last resort. That is why our new youth portfolio has a strong focus on  youth at risk and community youth justice responses to young people in  trouble alongside a dedicated youth detention capability.

In Tasmania we have seen a significant and welcome reduction in the number  of young people detained in youth detention that points to the benefits of a strong diversionary approach to young people in trouble, something we work closely with our partners in the community sector to deliver.

If a young person is detained, we want to ensure we use that time as an opportunity, not simply as a time of detention. The Commissioner for Children, Mark Morrissey, has been working with me very closely since his appointment on youth justice issues and has provided insight and guidance as to how the care environment in our youth detention centre can be strengthened by embedding a therapeutic environment.

We fully endorse the requirements of this approach and recognise the benefits for a meaningful therapeutic environment for our young people in Tasmania who enter detention. This can be achieved through ensuring every element of a young person’s experience in the centre – their education, their engagement with staff, the living environment – all work together with one aim, to help the young person leave the centre with the skills, knowledge and personal abilities to become a productive member of our community.

We have also been working closely with the staff and management of Ashley Youth Detention Centre as well as with our community sector partners who work alongside the young people in Ashley to strengthen our collective roles in making the environment conducive to change and development of a young person. This has included making changes to the living environment, improving our training, redrafting our practice guides and procedures and seeking to embed a reflective learning environment for the staff.

However, we also know we have limitations on how far we can truly progress  a therapeutic environment at Ashley. It is an older facility, whereas more contemporary detention facilities are more conducive to creating an optimal therapeutic environment. That is why this Government has commissioned the development and an implementation plan for a youth at risk strategy which will have as its main component a redevelopment plan for custodial youth detention in Tasmania. This Government has provided additional funding of $200 000 to enable this work to be undertaken.

As an integral part of this plan, we will be looking at every opportunity to ensure the key ingredients for a therapeutic environment for young people in custodial detention are built into our plan. We know from research that detention centres which have the most success include elements such as a strong focus on staff recruitment, retention and  practice development; access to ongoing training and learning for staff and management; a multidisciplinary team who can comprehensively assess and provide support, guidance and targeted interventions to help the young person address a number of issues they may be struggling with, including mental health, drug and alcohol dependency; a contemporary safe and age-appropriate environment for the young people to reside in; access to learning and skills training for young people; and integration with community-based programs for when individuals exit detention.

This Government is investing $200 000 into this initiative as we need to ensure we not only get the detention model right for Tasmania but also need to consider how we join this up with the overall youth justice system.

We believe the benefits for joining up our system within government and our community sector partners will produce significant benefits to our young people as they return to their communities as strong, resilient contributors.

I want to thank the Commissioner for Children for all his work in assisting the Government with developing a therapeutic model for Ashley, as well as our new director of youth services, Karen Jabbour, who has taken on board all the work in this area, especially in regard to developing a youth at risk strategy. This Government has invested an extra $5.3 million to youth strategy initiatives across the state.