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Release child detainees: nurse leaders

Nurse groups have labelled the Australian Human Rights Commission’s landmark Forgotten Children report, the clearest evidence yet that the Australian government must rethink its policies regarding the detention of children in immigration facilities.

In the wake of the report – which outlined the trauma experienced by children in immigration detention and referred to numerous counts of self-harm as well as claims of children being placed on suicide watch - the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) along with the Maternal Child and Family Health Nurses Australia (MCaFHNA) have both condemned Australia’s current treatment of child detainees.

The report found that children in immigration detention had significantly higher rates of mental health disorders compared with children in the Australian community, that dozens of children with physical and mental disabilities had been detained for prolonged periods, and that in some cases children of parents assessed as security risks had been detained for more than two years without hope of release.

Among the recommendations listed in the report, commission president professor Gillian Triggs called for all children and their families to be released into community detention or the community on bridging visas with a right to work. She also requested a royal commission into the treatment of children in Australian immigration detention, for funded mental health support to be provided to any child detained at any time since 1992.

“My hope is that the evidence detailed in this Report will prompt fair-minded Australians, Members of Parliament and the Federal Government to reconsider our asylum seeker policies and to release all children and their families immediately, or as soon as practical,” Triggs wrote.

In a statement, ACN chief executive officer adjunct professor Debra Thoms said the report represented an opportunity for “long overdue change”.

“This robust and evidence-based report proves what many working in health have known to be true for decades – detention will lead to lifelong negative impacts on a child’s learning, socialisation and development,” Thoms said.

“While it is pleasing that the current Government has made progress in reducing the number of children in immigration detention centres, all evidence in the report clearly indicates that this number must be reduced to zero as a matter of urgency.”
MCaFHNA president Julian Grant echoed Thoms sentiments, adding that the early years of a child’s life “lay the foundations for his or her future growth, development and happiness”.

“Psychosocial trauma and lack of health care in childhood often result in children experiencing learning difficulties, behavioural problems and physical and mental ill health,” Grant said.

“These issues may have a negative effect on their quality of life into adulthood.”

The report and its findings have been broadly criticised by Prime Minister Tony Abbott who told parliament that the commission was engaging in “transparent stich-ups” and ruled out a royal commission into the treatment of children in detention.

“Where was the Human Rights Commission when [Labor] were in government, when the boats were coming, when the people were drowning and when the children in detention were mounting up and up?” Mr Abbott said.

“I say to the Human Rights Commission: if you are concerned about real human rights, real human decency, real compassion for people, you should be writing congratulatory letters to the former Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, who has stopped the boats, who has saved lives and who has got children out of detention.”

Listen below to hear from fellow of ACN Sandy Eagar, who was previously the organisation’s representative on the The Immigration Health Advisory Group:

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