Immigration detention endangers children, psychologists warn

Keeping children in immigration detention is unacceptable, as it worsens trauma, threatens family bonds and puts normal development and access to education at risk, according to the Australian Psychological Society (APS).

The Society, the peak body for psychologists in Australia, spelt out the dangers in a recent submission to the Senate’s detention reform inquiry and has called on the Government to honor its humanitarian commitments by doing more to ensure the mental health and wellbeing of young refugees.

Dr Susie Burke, senior psychologist at the Australian Psychological Society and one of the authors of the submission, said: “The recent release of many children in detention is welcome but the Australian Psychological Society is concerned that fundamental aspects of government policy in relation to detention remain unchanged.  Giving priority release to some families deemed at risk fails to acknowledge that detention compromises the mental health for all families.”

She said the negative effects of holding children in detention were well documented in the Australian Human Rights Commission enquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, which reported in 2004.

Dr Burke said: “Holding children and young people in detention is particularly harmful. It accentuates developmental risks, threatens the bonds with parents and carers, limits educational opportunities, has destructive psychological impacts and worsens the effects of existing trauma.”

In its submission, the APS recommended that children should not be detained, that immigration detention be only used as a short-term option — and should not take place offshore or in remote locations — and stressed that community-based alternatives to detention should be prioritised.

She said: “Efforts to ensure all young people receive access to formal schooling are welcome, given this can provide much needed security and stability along with consistent and positive care which are required for children to develop happily and healthily.  We hope the ‘community-based accommodation’ proposed gives children regular social opportunities such as the chance  to play with children their own age, participate in sport and enjoy other creative pursuits – which are all necessary for healthy child development.”


For more information or to arrange an interview contact Karen Coghlan or Judith Heywood on 0435 896 444.

Psychological wellbeing of refugees resettling in Australia - Acrobat icon - small (353kb)

More information on the detention reform inquiry is available on the Senate website  
The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 20,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples’ lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.