17 December 2014 | General Interest
National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell has launched the Children’s Rights Report 2014, detailing the findings of her investigation into suicide and intentional self-harm among young people. The report, Ms Mitchell’s second in the role, also examines the work of the Commissioner throughout the past year to promote discussion and awareness of matters relating to the human rights of children and young people in Australia.
The Commissioner’s investigation has found that too much continues to be unknown, impeding us from predicting and preventing injury and death resulting from intentional self-harm – with or without suicidal intent – in children and young people.
The report recommends a national research agenda for children and young people, annual reports on death and hospitalisation due to intentional self-harm, and the need for standardised data collection and terminology.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are identified in the report as being disproportionately affected by intentional self-harm and suicidal behaviour. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people represent only 4.4 per cent of Australia’s population yet, appallingly, the data provided by ABS shows they accounted for 28.1 per cent of all the recorded deaths in children and young people under 18 years of age due to intentional self-harm.
This is also linked to higher rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care. At 30 June 2013, there were 40,549 children and young people in out-of-home care in Australia. Of these, 13,952 were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people — or 34 per cent of all children in care.
Out-of-home care is clearly a risk factor associated with non-suicidal self-harm and suicidal behaviour. The report calls for more prevention and support programs tailored for children and young people in out-of-home care placements – programs that actively listen to the voices of children and provide culturally appropriate therapeutic and other support, both during and post-care.
Issues of colonisation and intergenerational trauma and ongoing racism were consistently identified in consultations conducted by the Commissioner and submissions made to the examination as key factors behind the high rates of self-harm and suicidal behavior in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children.
The importance of language and culture in building identity and resilience in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people was reported to be one of the most critical protective factors. Intergenerational cultural programs with a focus of ‘on country’ responses such as the Yiriman Project of Western Australia highlights a successful example of culture as a critical protective factor.
Despite the existence of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy, and a range of other national policy initiatives focused on the wellbeing of children and young people, Australia lacks a strategic and coordinated approach that articulates and resources the full suite of interventions required.
The Commissioner hopes this examination of non-suicidal self-harm and suicidal behavior and the recommendations will provide a blueprint for the development of a specific national research agenda.
“Adopting these recommendations would deliver regular and more detailed surveillance of intentional self-harm in children and young people…and improve our understanding of effective intervention and prevention,” Ms Mitchell said.
Ms Mitchell has also released a child-friendly version of the Children’s Rights Report 2014.
Written from the National Children’s Commissioner to the children of Australia, What does the Children Right’s Report 2014 say? is a document that is accessible to children, which aims to explain what children’s rights are, why they are important, and what was found in the 2014 report.