"The need to effectively address this problem is an urgent one and an embarrassing one." - Gordon Harrison
Children's advocate pleads to Parliament to save girls in adult institutions
Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison has written to the country's lawmakers urging them to address the plight of children, especially girls, deemed to be beyond control and who are being unlawfully held in adult detention centres.
Labelling the situation as embarrassing, Gordon Harrison, urged the politicians to act immediately to solve the problems associated with uncontrollable children.
"The plight of the uncontrollable child has not escaped the attention of the Office of the Children's Advocate," reads the opening paragraph of the 21-page document entitled 'Focusing on the Uncontrollable Child: Recommendations to the Houses of Parliament'.
"These recommendations are evidence-based and attempt to present a practical snapshot of the situation in its current form. It is the view that this approach should assist members of the honourable Houses of Parliament to appreciate the extent of the dilemma and the urgency of the situation.
"It is hoped that these recommendations will be transformed into the recognition that there is a need for action and that it has to be treated as priority," Gordon Harrison noted.
She added: "The need to effectively address this problem is an urgent one and an embarrassing one."
The children's advocate argued that she was not presenting unattainable recommendations but low-hanging fruit.
"As such, I have focused on the uncontrollable female juvenile whose two-out-of-three options reside in adult facilities; this is a comparatively worse situation than that which exists with our boys.
"It is for this reason that focus has been awarded to the plight of the females as the first grouping to whom these recommendations may be applied," said Gordon Harrison
So as not to offend the male-dominated Houses of Parliament, the Children's Advocate was quick to point out that she was not being sexist. "There is no intention to ignore the boys."
Gordon Harrison noted that "the majority, if not all of the girls now being held in adult institutions, experienced some episode of trauma prior to being placed on correctional orders by the court".
She reasoned that those traumatic experiences went unreported or untreated, either totally or in part.
"Acting out, truancy, drug and alcohol use are common responses to trauma - and in some cases, are common responses to the onset of adolescence (puberty)," she stated.
The Children's Advocate contended that there has been a failure over the years to recognise that the needs of the troubled girls have yet to be addressed in a cohesive and sustainable manner.
Among the recommendations tabled by Gordon Harrison to the lawmakers is a mandatory assessment by a forensic psychiatric professional of any child who is alleged to be uncontrollable by his or her parent or guardian.
The Children's Advocate also asked members of parliament and senators to recognise the need for a facility that can accommodate those children who exhibit maladaptive behaviour patterns, and who need special services geared to address the underlying causes of their behavioural problems.
She also recommended that girls who were currently being held in adult detention facilities, solely because they were deemed uncontrollable, should be professionally assessed by mental-health experts to determine whether there are underlying traumatic experiences that have caused their behaviour.
"It is recognised that even though these recommendations relate to a portion of the juvenile population, there are cost implications. It is submitted, however, that since the urging is for a mere portion of the population at this time, less resources will be required and I ask that serious consideration be given to implementation," the children's advocate pleaded.