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Youth Justice and Child Wellbeing Reform across Australia

Children's Rights
Boy wearing hoodie behind a wire fence


The National Children’s Commissioner is conducting a project that investigates opportunities for reform of youth justice and related systems across Australia, based on evidence and the protection of human rights. The project will explore ways to reduce children’s involvement in crime, including through prevention and early intervention.

While Australia has made some reforms to youth justice systems, there remain laws, policies and practices that impact negatively on the rights and well-being of children and young people and fail to serve the wider public interest. Official inspections have repeatedly reported on the maltreatment of children in youth detention in some jurisdictions. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds with complex needs and disabilities, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, are overrepresented in child protection and youth justice statistics across the country.

Research has pointed to problems with service systems intended to provide support for children and families, including health, mental health, education, and social services. The poor design and inaccessibility of support services lead to pressures on child protection and youth justice systems.

Children's Rights

All children in Australia, including children who commit criminal offences, are entitled to have their human rights protected. These rights are set out in international human rights treaties, in particular the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). They include children’s rights to have their best interests as a primary consideration, to be treated fairly and without discrimination, to be kept safe and healthy, to engage in education, and to have their views taken into account in decisions that affect them.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child calls on nations to implement comprehensive child justice policies that protect children’s rights.i

Project Overview

This project will gather information through a range of processes, including a review of existing literature and research, submissions from experts and organisations, and a series of stakeholder interviews and roundtables across Australia.

We will also hold targeted consultations with children and young people, including those in contact with youth justice systems across the country. Their voices will be at the centre of what is proposed. Children and young people involved in consultations will also be invited to make individual submissions, with parent/guardian consent.

The project’s findings and recommendations will be reported to the Commonwealth Attorney-General through a National Children’s Commissioner’s Statutory Report under section 46MB(3) of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth).

Submissions process

The National Children’s Commissioner’s call for submissions on youth justice and child wellbeing reform closed on 30 June 2023. So far, we have received approximately 150 submissions. We thank everyone for their submissions.

Submissions were sought on the following questions:

1. What factors contribute to children's and young people's involvement in youth justice systems in Australia?

2. What needs to be changed so that youth justice and related systems protect the rights and wellbeing of children and young people? What are the barriers to change, and how can these be overcome?

3. Can you identify reforms that show evidence of positive outcomes, including reductions in children's and young people's involvement in youth justice and child protection systems, either in Australia or internationally?

4. From your perspective, are there benefits in taking a national approach to youth justice and youth wellbeing in Australia? If so, what are the next steps?

If you would like to make a late submission, please contact: 

Submissions are limited to a total of 3000 words. Attachments or links to previously published work may be included in the submission, for example research papers. In the interests of informed public debate, submissions will be made public unless you clearly identify that you wish it to remain confidential. The Commission reserves the right to edit (for example, remove defamatory material or de-identify personal or sensitive information), or not to publish a submission, or any part of a submission, on its website at its own discretion. The Commission's publication of a submission is not an indication of the Commission's endorsement of any views or comments contained in that submission. 

What next?

We are now arranging to consult with children and young people and organising roundtables with key stakeholders. We are looking forward to the next stage of the project.

If a child is in danger

If you believe a child or young person is in immediate danger, call Police on 000.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, and you are unsure which service to contact, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. Both are available from anywhere in Australia 24 hours a day (toll free) and provide generalist crisis counselling, information and referral services.

Other support services that you may find helpful are:

[1] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment 24; Children’s rights in juvenile justice CRC/C/GC/24 (18 September 2019) paras 9–12.