Federal Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma, has released a new report which calls for the ‘skilling up’ of existing services that work with Indigenous young people with cognitive or mental health issues, in an effort to halt their slide into the juvenile justice system. The report is from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC).
Releasing the report, Preventing crime and promoting rights for Indigenous young people with cognitive disabilities and mental health issues, Commissioner Calma outlined the disturbing fact that Indigenous young people in juvenile justice were at least four times more likely to have an intellectual disability than the general population.
“This report details many stories of young people with cognitive disabilities or mental health issues – such as developmental disability or autism – who have fallen through the cracks of social services and ended up in custody,” Mr Calma said.
“We need to strengthen early detection and assessment programs and give health workers, educators and the judiciary the tools that can help them distinguish a cognitive or mental health problem from bad behaviour,” he said.
Rather than reinventing the wheel, Mr Calma said the report profiled successful holistic early intervention programs that were already making a difference in young people’s lives.
The Commissioner said that promising practices such as Tirkandi Inaburra Early Intervention Program in South Western NSW should be replicated around the country.
Tirkandi, an Aboriginal community-controlled early intervention centre, provides a culturally-based residential program for 12-15 year old Aboriginal boys at risk of falling into the juvenile justice system. It is the only program of its type in Australia, providing educational, recreational, life and living skills, and cultural awareness activities to develop skills and abilities while strengthening self-worth, cultural identity and resilience.
Tirkandi Inaburra Executive Officer Colleen Murray said while they don’t target young Indigenous people with cognitive disabilities or mental health issues, they make up a sizeable proportion of the Centre’s clients who are achieving good results.