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Children and Youth - Ashley Youth Detention Centre

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Tags: Ashley Youth Detention Centre, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I'd like to talk to you about the Franklin unit at Ashley Youth Detention Centre. It is notorious for violence, disfunction and for younger children in that unit not being safe. The allegations that we sent to your predecessor came from another former staff member. The Franklin unit mostly houses older boys. Young boys are threatened with going to the Franklin unit by staff, which is run by 'thuggish', and that was the quote from the staff member, youth workers who had been there for years. A number of these people were named.

There are instances reported like scabies cream being put on the genitals of kids and Deep Heat in the Franklin unit and that children and other staff are frightened of the older children who work in the Franklin unit and some of those youth workers. Are you able to tell the committee what, if anything, has changed at the Franklin unit at Ashley Youth Detention Centre, which according to the Noetic report from five years ago should be shut down?

Ms COURTNEY - Thank you, Ms O'Connor. There have been a range of things we have been progressing at Ashley Youth Detention Centre. One of them is the capital works. I think it was $7.3 million for refurbished facilities.

Ms O'CONNOR - You can't put a shine on a cow pat, minister.

Ms COURTNEY - Regarding the unit, I'm happy to ask the deputy secretary to provide further information on that. We are continuing to ensure that we have, through this redevelopment and $7.3 million, a range of initiatives to ensure there are improvements at that space. We have the entrance, step down living units, improvement of accommodation areas and de-escalation areas -

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, it's a really short Estimates. If we could just narrow the answer to what's changed at the Franklin unit, that would be really helpful.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, the minister is answering a question.

Ms COURTNEY - One thing that went to the substance of Ms O'Connor's questions, regarding the practice approach at Ashley Youth Detention Centre was the work under way includes a new learning and development framework to ensure staff are trained to deliver a therapeutic model of care at Ashley Youth Detention Centre.

Ms O'CONNOR - But it's the same staff who have been there all along, isn't it?

Ms COURTNEY - A therapeutic practice framework describing the practice principles of how services are delivered at Ashley and a review of the policies and procedures to ensure they are contemporary and fit for purpose -

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Chair. This is a one-hour Estimates about children and young people. There are people here who really just need questions answered. Perhaps you could help the minister make sure the answers are really brief and if the information could come from the department, that she refer to the department straight away.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, I can't direct the minister to answer your question in a particular way but I am sure she is getting to her point.

Ms COURTNEY - I am trying to provide outcome -

Ms O'CONNOR - What has changed in the Franklin unit?

Ms COURTNEY - Yes, and thank you, Ms O'Connor. Your question also went to the practices we have at Ashley and I wanted to provide you with an update.


Ms COURTNEY - The approach is based on recommendations in the Noetic Report in its options for custodial youth justice in Tasmania. I am more than happy to ask the deputy secretary to provide some specific details.

Ms O'CONNOR - While we are giving the deputy secretary a chance to provide that information, perhaps the deputy secretary could tell us whether staff are cycled through the Franklin unit, like in other parts of Ashley Youth Detention Centre or if it is the same people running the unit all the time?

Ms CLARKE - In relation to the matters you raised, specifically scabies cream and the like within Franklin Unit, the research we have done indicates that there were historic issues to do with the Franklin unit based on historical information that we have been able to assess when we assess records.

Ms O'CONNOR - Could you please define 'historic'?

Ms CLARKE - Certainly. Right back and through to 2000 and prior.

Ms O'CONNOR - Our understanding from former staff, at least two, is that some of these barbaric practices happened at the Franklin unit at least up until a year ago.

Ms CLARKE - That is certainly not my understanding, but I am more than happy to meet with those staff and get some detail

Ms O'CONNOR - No, I don't think they would feel particularly safe passing that on.

Ms CLARKE - There is certainly no evidence of that. The design of the Franklin unit had an outdoor space. In the new design each accommodation facility now has outdoor spaces which are de-escalation spaces for young people, including in the redesign, de-escalation rooms inside as well. Young people can have more freedom to go outside and access space to cool off sometimes, when they need to.

Ms O'CONNOR - Are staff cycled through the Franklin unit?

Ms CLARKE - Yes, they are on a 24-hour roster. The staffing roster is soon to change, we are in the midst of a change, but currently they have been rostered through.

The matters that you were talking about may be historical but if you have information that suggests otherwise, we are happy to look at that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Given the sterling job my colleagues, Ms White and Ms Johnston, are doing of representing the issues raised by the complainant, a former staff member of Ashley, I want to go back to the Franklin unit.

We heard before from the deputy secretary that concerns about the Franklin unit are historic in nature. When we tried to pin down a date, it was some 21 years ago that these issues that I talked about were apparently prevalent. However, we have had information from two people who have worked at Ashley that the Franklin unit is a terrible place for children. That it has not substantially changed in any manner, and that the staff who are at the Franklin unit are the same staff who have been there for a long time, and especially young children who go in there are considered to be at significant risk, potentially of sexual abuse.

We'd like to know what, if anything, has changed at the Franklin unit to better protect those children. For example, when we talked before about rostering, I'm not interested in what happens on a 24 hour basis. Are the youth workers who are in the Franklin unit moved through the complex, or do they stay at the Franklin unit, and some of them, we are told, harm children?

Ms COURTNEY - First of all, Ms O'Connor, before I go to the deputy secretary, I would be appalled and incredibly concerned if there is harm occurring presently. I would ask and implore you to provide any information to me or to Ms Clark at any point -

Ms O'CONNOR - I would do that if it was serious enough, but I would also advise you that this information was sent to your predecessor in the role, who told parliament that he thought children were safe at Ashley.

Ms COURTNEY - As I said, Ms O'Connor, I take the safety of young people there very seriously. As the minister responsible for children and young people, I want to ensure, particularly if there is a current allegation about the safety of a child, that I'm able to progress that appropriately.

Ms O'CONNOR - Good, because I’m talking about the safety of children. I understand you have a genuine concern about this, but what I'm hoping for is a reassurance from you that children are safe at Ashley - we don't believe they are - but also an understanding of what, if anything, has changed in the Franklin unit.

Ms COURTNEY - I receive reassurance from the deputy secretary in particular, as well as the secretary, around the safety of children. If there is further information, I would appreciate that very much, but I will ask the deputy secretary to talk further about the Franklin unit, noting your particular interest.

Ms O'CONNOR - Chair, can I pass on my final question to Ms Johnston before the clock knocks off?

CHAIR - Of course. For your information, Ms O'Connor, we are going to five past five.

Ms O'CONNOR - I just want to make sure that Ms Johnston has an opportunity.

Ms COURTNEY - I will ask the deputy secretary to provide some more information.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, just briefly, and then I'd really like Ms Johnston to have an opportunity.

Ms CLARK - In relation to the Franklin unit generally, I think the admission process is very important. So, when a young person comes in, we have a range of assessments. We have of course our admissions process, but importantly, our health teams are all involved in the assessment process, which goes to matching how young people might be placed together when they first come into the centre.

Through the upgrade, the centre actually has additional options available to it that it hasn't had historically, because of its accommodation units, and the capability now of each of those units, noting too that our numbers continue to remain low.

For the Hansard, the information that we have reviewed to date on historical matters takes us back to 2000 and beyond. So, that's the information that we have assessed ourselves.

All information that has come to us of concern, we have vigorously investigated, which is how we've come to the attention that some of this information was from 2000 and prior. That's our assessment to date.

Again, can I say as the deputy secretary of this division, if anyone has any information we will examine that in great detail. We do that at arm's length from the service, and we'll continue to do that. To date we have done that on every piece of information that has been brought before us.