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Don't lock up children for drug treatment!

Joint Press Release from SACOSS, the Office of Guardian for Children and Young People, the AMA(SA), The SA Network of Drug and Alcohol Services, the Law Society SA and Uniting Communities

Key advocacy bodies including the Guardian for Children and Young People, SACOSS, the AMA(SA), The SA Network of Drug and Alcohol Services, the Law Society SA and Uniting Communities have expressed deep concerns about the Controlled Substances (Youth Treatment Orders) Amendment Bill 2018.

Despite a collective outcry from medical, legal, child rights, and health and community services, the government is insisting on advancing the Controlled Substances (Youth Treatment Orders) Amendment Bill 2018 in Parliament this week. 

Many commentators are concerned at the lack of medical or scientific evidence to support the proposals in the Bill and that it may in fact lead to harm.

"While the intention of this Bill is to allow desperate parents to seek an order in the Youth Court for mandatory drug treatment for their child, it does not include treatment for alcohol dependence or specify any treatment to address trauma or underlying mental health issues which may have led to the drug use,"  said Penny Wright, Guardian for Children and Young People, Training Centre Visitor and Child and Young Persons Visitor.

"What remains is effectively a drug withdrawal facility, where children and young people can be detained for up to 12 months, with few legal protections," she said. 

"We have serious concerns this Bill is likely to criminalise vulnerable young people for what is a health issue and it will particularly affect children and young people in care, those who are already involved in the youth justice system, those with a disability, and Aboriginal children and young people," she said.

According to Ross Womersley, CEO of SACOSS: "This Bill clearly breaches a number of human rights instruments and does not offer any of the basic protections available in similar situations (such as detention under the Mental Health Act 2009)." 

"Medical and scientific evidence does not support the proposals in the Bill," he said. 

"Currently, the availability of voluntary treatment services in South Australia for children and young people who are alcohol or drug-dependent is seriously inadequate; and there are no discussions or plans to improve access to these services," he said.

"The Opposition and minor parties are seeking to fix the Bill with well-intended amendments. However this Bill is fundamentally flawed and should be withdrawn," he said.

Michael White, Executive Officer of the SA Network of Drug and Alcohol Services, said, "The government must prior to enacting legislation, engage with the treatment sector and our colleagues with expertise in youth mental health, family relationships, child welfare and wellbeing, and education to design a system that meets the needs of the young people, families and communities this legislation is intended to help."

Ross Womersley, SACOSS CEO, said, "In this context the Government should withdraw the Bill and bring on a proper consultation with the sector and other stakeholders to ensure we get an effective model for young people who need treatment."

Tim Mellor, President of the Law Society of SA, said. "The Law Society has serious concerns that the proposed law breaches international obligation regarding the best interests of the child, and the detention of children being a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time."

"There is little evidence to support the effectiveness of mandatory treatment in rehabilitating or achieving long-term behavioural change amongst those dependent on drugs. Furthermore, there is currently a lack of affordable treatment and support services available for young people to address drug dependency," said Mr Mellor.

"Resources would be far better directed towards improving our voluntary drug treatment services that address the root causes of drug abuse. Children are far more likely to respond to treatment if they had some agency in the decision to receive treatment, rather than being forced to undergo treatment without their consent,” said Mr Mellor.

Associate Professor William Tam, AMA(SA) President said, "This is not the way to help young people grappling with drug-related issues. The premise of the Bill is flawed to begin with, but there also isn’t the evidence to support it. The AMA(SA)’s overwhelming preference is for well-resourced voluntary treatment, and more early support, education and intervention. This Bill is not the answer."

Simon Schrapel, Chief Executive of Uniting Communities which provides a range of treatment services for young people across Adelaide, said “The pressure to find solutions for young people and families impacted by drug use is significant, but poorly crafted legislation aimed at forcing young people into treatment is not a solution."

"The evidence doesn’t support such an approach but we stand ready to work with the Government and include users of current treatment services in helping to design a fit for purpose and more effective response to the issues faced by young people and their families,” said Mr Schrapel.

Published Date: 
Thursday, 29 November 2018