The outrage and concerns for community safety expressed by many Queenslanders following recent tragic events involving young people committing unlawful acts were to be expected. Our hearts go out to all family members and loved ones who have suffered and to all who live in communities who now report being fearful of becoming victims of crime. It is completely legitimate for discussion and debate to occur about the best approaches that should be taken to youth crime – how best to prevent it from occurring and how best to stop it from re-occurring.
In the wake of recent tragic events, some community reactions that were not expected – or at least not expected to the extent that they have occurred – are the vitriolic attacks on children and young people in care who have been swept up in the more extreme views about youth crime being expressed by pockets of the community. These attacks are not being directed specifically towards children and young people who have had encounters with the law. They are being directed towards children and young people who happen to be in care, most of whom have had no involvement whatsoever with the youth justice system.
PeakCare is aware of a non-government organisation that has been the recipient of targeted social media messages urging local neighbourhood members to break into their service and to hang the children and young people living there. This is just one especially putrid example of vile messages that this organisation and others have been receiving.
PeakCare is also not a stranger to receiving comments espousing extreme views about how children should be treated that are emailed to us or posted in response to our blogs and social media posts. We despair when we read them, but on the other hand, are enormously gratified when we receive emails from people, most of whom have a lived experience of being in care or dealt with by the youth justice system, thanking us for standing up for them and standing against some of the extreme, reprehensible views expressed about them. Receiving that feedback makes our attempts at advocacy seem very worthwhile.
There are currently many thousands of children and young people in care living within communities across Queensland. These children are usually living with foster carers and kinship carers, or sometimes within domestic dwellings staffed by residential care workers supported by professional staff. These homes are innocuously scattered throughout suburbs everywhere. The vast majority of these children have not been engaged in any criminal behaviour. They are completely innocent young ones wrestling with the same challenges faced by all other children and young people in going to school, completing their homework and working out what to do when they leave school, finding out where they fit within their peer networks, taking the first steps towards forming special relationships with boyfriends and girlfriends and sometimes having their hearts broken, testing household rules and learning from their mistakes, taking steps towards becoming adults and learning what it will mean to live independently, and doing all the things that other children and young people do every day of the week, some more easily than others.
Unlike their peers, children and young people in care are also dealing with whatever traumatic events have occurred in their childhoods that resulted in them entering care. Encouraged and supported by their carers, they do so drawing on enormous amounts of courage and resilience. They are to be admired for these qualities. They do not deserve to be vilified and they most certainly do not deserve to be hung or harmed in any way.
In days gone by, they are the children who would have been warehoused in large-scale orphanages or training schools or, looking even further back, held as ‘neglected and destitute children’ in hulks moored on the Brisbane River at Lytton – whatever was needed to keep them out of sight and out of mind. A myriad of inquiries since those awful days has exposed the atrocious abuse experienced by children during this shameful period of our history.
Today, we are now facing a different, but similarly diabolical situation where many children and young people in care are fearful of how their local communities and neighbourhoods regard them. Some are now fearful of walking out their front door. Their carers and the staff members who support these children and young people are also fearful for them and sometimes frightened about how they themselves are being regarded.
While social media messages about children and young people in care posted by cowardly keyboard warriors are damaging and harmful, there is the danger of these typed words spilling out into actual deeds of violence. The bashing and murder by a group of adults of Cassius Turvey, a 15-year Aboriginal boy from Perth who was innocently walking home from school with friends in October last year shocked the nation. In equal but opposing measure, the dignity displayed by his grieving family in calling for calm and acknowledging the steps being taken “towards justice and healing for many” was a gut-wrenchingly magnificent lesson in civic responsibility.
As Queensland Members of Parliament from all political parties prepare for further debate concerning youth crime, we urge you to make sure that when forming and arguing whatever views you hold, you make it extremely clear that your decisions are not being driven by those who hold extreme views that vilify children and young people in care or that threaten their safety and wellbeing. The decisions you make must not represent attempts to appease those who hold these extreme views – this minority group will not be appeased by anything you decide and they do not represent the views held by the vast majority of Queensland citizens who want you to demonstrate well-informed common-sense and compassion.
Throughout your debates, we urge you to make use of the opportunities you are given to make it abundantly clear to children and young people in care that:
- they are cared for, valued and respected and have a place of belonging within our society
- as a society, we understand and support them in their healing and recovery from any harm they may have experienced during their childhoods and throughout any struggles they may now be experiencing
- we support them and their families in coming to terms with the complexity of their relationships, and
- we stand by them unconditionally and wish them no harm.
Similarly, we urge you to take the opportunity to state clearly, with unequivocal conviction, to all foster and kinship carers, residential care workers, government and non-government child protection and youth justice workers, legal advocates, police officers and child and family advocates that:
- their dedication, patience, wisdom and skills in caring for and working with children and young people in care is valued and applauded
- they represent for thousands of children and young people in care, a sense of hope and courage, and
- they must not give up and should focus on being the best people they can possibly be in performing their respective roles – there are children, young people and families counting on them.
As you exercise your onerous leadership responsibilities, we urge you to lead us in a direction that heads towards a compassionate society where all children are valued and away from a cesspool of ill-informed vitriol where children are unfairly and unjustly vilified. It is your choice – please choose wisely.
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