Sweeping reforms of the ACT's service system would be needed when the age of criminal responsibility is raised, as a new report has concluded without reforms the legislative change would not result in better outcomes for children.
The government-commissioned review has recommended children under 14 who engage in criminal behaviour should be met with a therapeutic response and that early intervention services were vital.
The report identified several gaps in the ACT's current system, which included a lack of co-ordination and integration across the service system, demand outstripping the availability of services and that children under 12 were not eligible for a range of intervention and specialised services.
There was also a lack of safe accommodation for children and this would need to be intensified with the change to the age of criminal responsibility.
It recommended reforms including offering early intervention services, building workforce capacity and a strengthening of universal services, especially schools, to respond to needs.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must also be strongly represented in building a self-determined alternative response.
"Based on the findings of this report, we argued for seizing the opportunity for comprehensive systems reform," the report said.
"These reforms are underscored by a shared responsibility for children's wellbeing and safety."
An independent authority should be developed to oversee the implementation of the reforms, the report recommended.
The report also outlined an alternative response, recommending a multidisciplinary therapeutic panel to make service delivery decisions for children with complex needs and a co-ordinated wraparound service.
"The response includes a non-justice embedded youth worker model and safe accommodation options to support police's interactions with children who may be at risk of antisocial or unsafe behaviour," the report said.
"The [panel] would consider and review children who have been referred to the panel because of the level of complexity of their needs or because there are insufficient or inadequate existing service responses to meet those needs.
"The work with children and their families would be co-ordinated by a new wraparound service. The wraparound service would develop individualist child and family-centred plans to respond to the complex needs of children."
The ACT government has committed to raise the age in which a child can be held criminally responsible from 10 to 14 years - the first Australian jurisdiction to do so.
The review, led by Emeritus Professor Morag McArthur with Aboriginal consulting firm, Curijo and Dr Aino Suomi from the Australian National University, was commissioned by the ACT government earlier this year at a cost of $119,000.
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Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said the review did not deter the government from the challenges involved in raising the age, saying the report showed how it needed to happen.
"This review is a crucial part of the ACT government's commitment to this nation-leading reform," Mr Rattenbury said.
"In committing to raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility we also recognise the reality that some children and young people can, and do, cause harm to themselves or others.
"The ACT government must have effective systems in place to support these children and young people, and their families, as well as safeguarding the community, when the age is raised."
Family and community services minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the government would work with young people and non-government agencies to shift the service system to provide earlier support for children and families.
"We know that the majority of young people who engage in serious harmful behaviours have a background of trauma, disability and/or poor mental health," Ms Stephen-Smith said.
"We must ensure these children and young people are able to access timely and holistic support before, during and after a crisis."
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