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HomeVolume 28Law makes clear cops' duties to children

Law makes clear cops’ duties to children

By ERWIN CHLANDA

[See update at the bottom of the report.]

The frequent claim by police that it cannot act on street kids unless they are committing a crime does not seem to hold water for the person in the street when they look at Territory legislation.

The NT’s Care and Protection of Children Act specifically obliges the police, as well as the Territory Families department CEO, to “initiate an investigation to determine whether a child is in need of protection, and to decide whether any further action should be taken”.

This applies to situations in which a child is at “risk of harm”.

Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker (pictured) did not respond to our request for comment.

These issues have been broadly discussed in Alice Springs for years, including in an ongoing campaign by Tourism Central Australia (TCA), representing the region’s economic lifeblood.

“If a child is on the street at 2am or even later, they should come under the care of the Government,” says TCA’s CEO, Danial Rochford.

A night-time youth accommodation facility was created but staying there is “voluntary” and only a very small number have taken it up.

“We were saying it should be a not negotiable that kids have wrap around support services if they are out on the streets late at night, because they are at risk, and that is the point of the Child Protection Act.

“It’s a fair comment to say that Tourism Central Australia have been very active advocating on this because of its impact on our sector,” says Mr Rochford.

“We need to see a reduction in youth crime in our region. We have been a leading voice calling for change. It is a critical issue that our town must deal with. We must get on top of this issue for the future of our community, the social fabric of our region.

“Ultimately the government through their relevant agencies has that responsibility and that’s something we would still like to see.”

Mr Rochford says TCA fully supports Regional Controller Dorelle Anderson to “marshal resources and make agencies accountable for what they are doing”.

TCA has just under 400 members. Windows in its office have been smashed 18 times since January 1, says Mr Rockford.

The Care and Protection of Children Act stresses that it has as its objectives “to promote the wellbeing of children, including … to protect children from harm and exploitation”.

This is a summary of some of the Act’s objectives: Maximise the opportunities for children to realise their full potential; and to assist families to achieve [this] object; and to ensure anyone having responsibilities for children has regard to [these] objects … in fulfilling those responsibilities.

To oblige members of the public to report cases of children at risk of harm or exploitation; and to ensure the Minister, the Chief Executive Officer of the Department (CEO) and authorised officers – clearly including the police – have the power to take appropriate actions to protect children who are in need of protection; and promote the wellbeing of children generally; and promote the wellbeing of young persons who have left the CEO’s care.

The Northern Territory Government has responsibility for promoting and safeguarding the wellbeing of children and supporting families in fulfilling their role in relation to children.

The family of a child has the primary responsibility for the care, upbringing and development of the child, the Act says in summary.

“A child may be removed from the child’s family only if there is an unacceptable risk of harm to the child.”

That clearly means a child can be removed not only if she or he is harmed, but is at risk of harm.

In exercising powers or performing functions under this Act, public authorities – clearly including the police – have a responsibility to: promote and safeguard the wellbeing of children and support their families, says the Act.

The CEO may arrange for the temporary placement of a child … to be taken into the CEO’s care for a period not exceeding 2 months.

The CEO may enter into the arrangement only if … the parents agree to enter into the arrangement.

Meanwhile the NT Government has announced an immediate review of bail laws and penalties for weapon offences in the wake of an alleged murder of a bottleshop assistant in Darwin.

The measures also include:-

• Equipping transit safety officers and security and crowd controller licence holders with capsicum spray.

• An audit of late night retail outlets, advice about business security and crime reduction through environmental design.

Government funding of security and crowd controllers at take-away liquor outlets until the end of June 2023.

• Best practice training guide for retail workers when dealing with confronting situations.

• Financial support to licensed premises to increase the physical safety and security of their liquor stock against theft or damage, making it easier to issue trespass notices.

UPDATE March 26, 11.50am

ED: We put these follow-up questions to Tourism Central Australia CEO Danial Rochford, about children at risk who are taken from the streets to a place of safety and care.

We asked for “yes” or “no” answers.

1] They should be able to leave that place at their discretion. (That is the current situation, as we have reported.)

[2] They should be required to stay – for example – until a satisfactory arrangement for their care and safety has been made.

Mr Rochford replied:

“We have publicly called for the need to wrap care around young people who are found to be out on the streets late at night – who are clearly at risk.    

“If a child is at risk (and quite clearly being out at 3am for instance they would be) they should come under the care of appropriate government support services utilising an appropriate facility to urgently provide wrap around support, care and safety.   

“Having children as young as 10 years old roaming the streets late at night is something as a society we must draw a line in the sand on and put all resources we can collectively muster to ensure our communities’ children are protected. 

“I am confident that the work being done by the new Regional Controller will go along way to supporting the many causal issues facing our communities that are leading to criminal behaviour, but in the short term we need to do more to ensure children are not put in risk.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. Any kid on the street by its own or without any adult supervision under a certain age and without purpose after dark is at risk.

  2. Could it be a fear that the parents will claim the police and government are stealing our children, again?

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