Magistrate Peter Dingwall. Photo: Graham Tidy
A magistrate has criticised the decision of ACT authorities not to use special powers to confine a 12-year-old child, instead having her arrested and placed in Bimberi when her behaviour escalated out of control.
ACT law allows the director-general of the Community Services Directorate to apply for a ‘‘therapeutic protection order’’, which essentially gives workers the power to confine a child or young person.
But the ACT Children's Court has heard no application to use the powers has been made since they were first introduced in 1999.
Magistrate Peter Dingwall questioned that decision during a case involving a 12-year-old girl, who was in the ACT Children’s Court on Thursday on a series of offences, including property damage.
The girl is living in a special care facility, but her behaviour can quickly escalate out of control, the court heard.
Mr Dingwall criticised the approach of arresting the girl and bringing her before court.
‘‘She ought not to be in the criminal justice system,’’ he said.
The magistrate questioned why there had not been an application for a therapeutic protection order.
He said it seemed a more appropriate response than locking the girl up, which he said was neither ‘‘desirable nor working’’.
‘‘It seems to me that the director-general is not using a tool that might assist,’’ he said.
But a representative of the director-general told the court the orders were designed to be used only as an absolute last resort.
She said strategies were being adopted that appeared to be proving successful with the 12-year-old girl.
But she noted that behavioural change of the type sought took time, and that a therapeutic protection order would be counter-productive to the approach authorities were taking, designed to empower rather than restrain the girl.
Mr Dingwall said their strategies were commendable and he was not suggesting it was an easy matter.
But he said when the girl’s behaviour did escalate, there needed to be a better approach than simply arresting her.
The court dismissed the charges against the 12-year-old and she was released from custody.