Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 07 Hansard (Thursday, 24 June 2021) . . Page.. 2010 ..
MS DAVIDSON (Murrumbidgee—Assistant Minister for Seniors, Veterans, Families and Community Services, Minister for Disability, Minister for Justice Health and Minister for Mental Health) (11.00): I thank the Attorney-General for raising this important issue. As the minister responsible for youth justice, I would like to inform members that the ACT has very low numbers of young people of any age in Bimberi and these numbers are even lower for children under the age of 14. As of this morning there was only one sentenced young person in Bimberi and nine young people on remand, with none under the age of 14. These low numbers mean we have increased insight into the lives of these young people and their families, and this gives us a unique opportunity to look at individualised pathways away from the youth justice system.
I have previously spoken about the ACT government’s functional family therapy youth justice pilot, which is a great example of our investment in whole-of-family support for children and young people who are at risk of sustained contact with the justice system. The pilot program commenced in early 2021 and will support 20 young people and their families from entering or re-entering the youth justice system. As at 8 June 2021 a total of 19 young people have been referred to the program, and OzChild has commenced working with these young people and their families.
Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility means diversion not just from Bimberi but from the youth just system entirely, including community sentencing. These children and young people should also be provided with mechanisms to support them to access services and support without resorting to a justice system response.
Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility compels us to look at the root causes of child and youth offending. As Minister for Mental Health, I am acutely aware of the negative impact of intergenerational trauma. As Minister for Disability, I know children and young people with disability are over-represented in the youth justice system. Raising the age is an important intervention tool to make absolutely sure we are supporting children and young people who need extra mental health and disability care amongst other social and emotional supports.
We will achieve better outcomes in a more cost-effective manner for young people and their families by delivering these supports in the community rather than in the justice system. The ACT commitment to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility has been met with wonderful support from the community. We are a progressive jurisdiction and I am very happy to be part of a community looking to deliver therapeutic supports over youth justice responses.
In addition to the benefits for children, young people and their families, I note that there are benefits for the entire Canberra community if we can invest in community-based supports for young people instead of locking kids up and delivering supports in a justice centre or via a community order. Investing in support in the community will enable us to solve problems sooner rather than later. If the ACT increases investment in timely responses to young people engaging in antisocial behaviour, we can make our whole community safer. Raising the age not only ensures