Calls for Canberra's criminal age of responsibility to lifted to 12 years of age
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Calls for Canberra's criminal age of responsibility to lifted to 12 years of age

Advocates have called for more to be done to address the lack of therapeutic care options for Canberra's youth, including raising the criminal age of responsibility to 12 years of age.

The calls come as a new "plan of action" from the Change the Record coalition goes even further, calling for all states and territories to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14.

The eight-point plan would also get children who have not been sentenced out of prison, and include justice targets in the Closing the Gap framework.

In the ACT, children's advocates are recommending the changes once again, after the appearance of an 11-year-old girl in the ACT Children's Court this week for alleged violence towards her carers.

The girl had been arrested three times in as many weeks but had nowhere to go due to the lack of a "therapeutic protection place" to send her as legislated in the ACT Children and Young Person's Act.

The girl was ultimately released back to her carers where the alleged incidents had occurred, but the alternative was sending the child to the Bimberi juvenile detention facility.

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In other cases, a therapeutic place could be considered the young person's home.

ACT Human Rights Commissioner Dr Helen Watchirs and ACT Children's Commissioner Jodie Griffiths-Cook this week said the ACT government needed to lift the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years old.

"I think it highlights that the law is wrong," Dr Watchirs said.

"We called for it be reformed back in 2005. We repeated it in 2011 and the government rejected it."

"I think the community has moved and there's a lot more evidence of harm detention can cause."

Dr Watchirs' is echoing recommendations made recently by the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.

The final report made 230 recommendations in response to allegations of abuse at Don Dale juvenile detention centre in the NT.

ACT Youth Coalition acting director Hannah Watts said there was a gap in mental health services for Canberra's under-12s.

"A lot of the youth services are targeted at 12-years and above, and there are some children services which generally go up to 8 years of age, but for children in between there are barely any services," Ms Watts said.

"I think the difficulty we have in the ACT is we're dealing with very small numbers so it's very hard to say let's set up a whole place or a system."

Dr Watchirs said the ACT was a small jurisdiction which didn't have the facilities necessary but said there were options interstate.

ACT children's minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the ACT government had previously tried to set up a dedicated facility which would meet the requirements of a "therapeutic protection place".

However a tender for facility twice failed to secure a suitable provider in 2008 and 2010.

"I've met with Chief Magistrate Walker and discussed therapeutic responses for young people engaged with the youth justice system," Ms Stephen-Smith said.

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The Step Up for Our Kids program, launched in 2015, was the government's alternative to dealing with children requiring a therapeutic protection place.

The minister also said she was awaiting the response of taskforce established to review the achievements of a long-term youth justice framework, but provided no timeline as to when the response was due.

Finbar O'Mallon

Finbar O'Mallon is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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