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New SA child protection watchdog appointed

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The head of Reconciliation SA has been appointed the state’s new Guardian for Children and Young People to advocate for children in state care.

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Eastern Arrernte woman Shona Reid, who is currently CEO of Reconciliation SA, will take over from outgoing Guardian Penny Wright on August 1.

She will also assume the roles of Child and Young Person Visitor, Training Centre Visitor and Youth Treatment Order Visitor – legislated positions which will see her advocate for children in both state care and youth detention over a five-year term.

Reid, who has cultural connections in both South Australia and the Northern Territory, is currently co-chair of the Justice Reinvestment SA Board and also sits on the SA Housing Authority and Youth Training Centre Review boards.

Before heading Reconciliation SA, she worked in various public sector roles in Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, ministerial offices and the Department for Child Protection.

Reid described the Guardian role as “a position that has the capacity to challenge what we think is unchangeable, an opportunity to critique systems and inspire”.

She said it also represented a responsibility to ensure the cultural interests of First Nations children in care and detention are understood.

“The holding of this office is both a privilege and honour,” she said.

“As a mum of seven, three of which I have the honour to be a second mum to, I know too well that it takes a village to grow kids up well.

“It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the community and society in which we grow and nurture children and young people upholds their rights and protects their interests.”

Wright – a former South Australian Greens Senator who took over as Guardian in 2017 – said it had been an “absolute pleasure” to serve in the role.

Her five-year term expires on July 31.

“I have seen a young person, after several years of persistence, meet brothers he had never known, and a child finally moving out of residential care to live with a grandparent interstate,” Wright said.

Child Protection Minister Katrine Hildyard thanked Wright for her service, saying she had “made a difference” and that Reid brought a “great depth of experience” to the role.

“As minister, I am viscerally determined to progress positive change on the complex and often interconnected issues that children and their families face,” she said.

“I look forward to working together with Shona to do so through amplifying the voices of children and young people in care and ensuring they play a key role in decision-making about their care and all aspects of their lives.”

Reid’s appointment comes after Wright yesterday released a new report detailing the circumstances of 71 South Australian children in state care who were caught up in the criminal justice system.

The report claimed the government engaged in “systems abuse” by not placing children in appropriate homes or training staff on how to manage problem behaviour.

It stated those practices “foreseeably cause harm to children and young people and help propel them deeper into the youth justice system”.

Wright also raised concerns about the practice of detaining children in adult police cells and called on the government to commission an urgent independent review.

Children charged with crimes were held in adult cells on 2030 separate occasions in 2020-21, with Aboriginal young people accounting for 44 per cent of the admissions.

Hildyard told InDaily the government would “carefully consider” the 15 recommendations made in Wright’s report.

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