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Opinion

Taking steps towards a genuine 'new path'

Opinion

The outgoing Guardian for Children and Young People has revealed her deep concerns about the Kurlana Tapa Youth Training Centre. Today, Human Services Minister Nat Cook responds by explaining the steps being taken to improve the detention centre – and the biggest current challenge.

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I came to politics very late in life.

I loved being involved in the community – local footy clubs and my kids’ schools – but I wasn’t an activist.

This changed when a one-punch attack took the life of my beautiful son. One young person killed another and two lives were destroyed in a single moment. Two families and all their friends were impacted forever.

As a nurse for decades, I had observed the life-changing outcomes of both accidents and crimes. But when tragedy struck, my family was thrown into the middle of how our community prepares young people for life and how we respond to offending.

Youth Justice – and justice for young people – is the reason I ran for Parliament. I am so honoured to have this portfolio as Minister for Human Services.

Penny Wright is the outgoing Training Centre Visitor whose job includes visiting, reviewing and reporting on conditions at the Kurlana Tapa Youth Training Centre where young offenders are detained. I acknowledge her important work and advocacy over the past five years and welcome Shona Reid to this critical role.

Penny provided recommendations to the former Liberal government as early as November 2019 that were apparently accepted, but not acted on in full, despite the dedicated work of Centre staff. This is disappointing for so many reasons – not the least of which are the young people who could have received better support in recent years.

In her recent article, Penny raises important concerns – highlighting a lack of action by the former government – about Kurlana Tapa that means “New Path” in the Kaurna language.

Providing the best care, support, education and guidance for young people in the justice system is critical to finding a “New Path”.

Our system took a huge step forward 10 years ago when we closed the old Magill Training Centre. It was a relic of the past that had the look and feel of a prison.

In contrast, Kurlana Tapa focuses on diversion, rehabilitation and restoration. The $21.75 million upgrade of Kurlana Tapa will deliver one of the most modern and therapeutic facilities in Australia.

We need people who understand that our job is not about ‘fixing kids’. They’re not broken

The build includes an eight-bed unit so young people awaiting court appearances are accommodated separately from those on remand or sentenced to detention.

This is in addition to counselling and sensory rooms to better support young people with complex needs, new classroom areas and extended visiting spaces to ensure safe, secure and private interactions with families and visitors.

There’s a two-year pilot program underway so that eligible children aged 10-13 can be supervised in safe, non-custodial accommodation rather than police custody. This comes with intensive and rapid engagement and support for the child and their whole family.

All of these changes can only make a positive difference for our kids.

The significance of ‘Kurlana Tapa’ meaning ‘New Path’ isn’t lost on me. Young people shouldn’t walk a new path on their own – it’s our job to take that journey with them.

The new buildings will be amazing, but a major challenge is recruitment and retention of staff in a climate where many employers are struggling to fill roles.

We have great staff – but we need more and are recruiting NOW.

If you’re interested, I encourage you to check out the opportunity.

We need people who understand that our job is not about ‘fixing kids’. They’re not broken. We need compassion, creativity and commitment to working with young people who need help, support and guidance.

I agree with Penny that these children are not “difficult”. Many have experienced deep trauma and have been dealt an unfair start in life. They need and deserve the very best supports and that is exactly what I’m committed to delivering.

Nat Cook is Human Services Minister

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