As a Magistrate in the Children’s Court of Victoria, I see children and young people whose lives are spiralling downwards as a result of the (often cumulative) effect of their drug or alcohol misuse or mental illness or criminality. These young people are amongst the most vulnerable in our society because many of them have been subject to trauma, neglect or abuse. I applied for a Churchill Fellowship because the current voluntary system is not working for many of our most troubled young people. I was aware that, if considered necessary, Sweden has compulsory orders to require young people to receive intensive treatment in secure homes. I wanted to know whether such orders could make a difference.
I visited secure homes and therapeutic community residences in Sweden, Scotland, England and New Zealand. I experienced many highlights, including meeting a vast number of dedicated staff who had the welfare and advancement of young people as their prime objective. I observed the positive results from placing trust in young people in therapeutic community environments in places such as Glebe House in Cambridge and Auckland Youth Odyssey. I was impressed by the homely feel of the ‘manors’ at Huntercombe’s Maidenhead and Stafford Hospitals in England. I was overwhelmed by the support provided by Mr Ola Karlsson Rûhmkorff and the staff at the secure (SiS) facilities in Sweden. Dr Dickon Bevington presented an enlightening model for engaging young people in the community. I am very grateful to Judges Jane McMeeken (Christchurch) and Tony Fitzgerald (Auckland) for allowing me to observe the successful Youth Drug Court and Crossover Court List. Most importantly, I was delighted to be able to talk with young people about their experiences.
The advice I received from numerous experts and practitioners in all countries was that, for some young people, compulsory orders to attend therapeutic residential facilities are necessary in order to ensure these young people are safe and secure, to deal with the addiction, to commence the process of improving their physical and mental health and wellbeing and to reconnect them with education and training. I spoke with some young people who admitted they did not wish to attend such a facility, but having been there, they believed that it was essential for them.
I was able to identify critical elements for successful facilities, including the need for them to be welcoming and therapeutic (not punitive) and well located. High quality staff; effective after-care and transition back into the community; and external scrutiny are vital. I have recommended that residential therapeutic facilities that meet these objectives be established as a matter of urgency. Legislation will be required to enable orders for compulsory assessment and treatment (Youth Therapeutic Orders) to be made in the Children’s Court of Victoria. As a result of observations I made in New Zealand, I am also recommending that a Youth Drug Court and a Crossover List (to coordinate the process of dealing with the many young people who are subject to both criminal and child protection proceedings) be established in the Children’s Court of Victoria.
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