Reduce detention time for asylum seekers, especially children

The Australian Psychological Society is calling on both political parties to minimise psychological trauma on asylum seekers by processing asylum claims as soon as possible and reducing overall the time that refugees spend in detention.

The Executive Director of the Australian Psychological Society Professor Lyn Littlefield said, "Prolonged periods of detention have negative psychological effects, especially on children and young people. We hope both political parties can commit to reducing detention periods for the mental wellbeing of these vulnerable people, most of whom will go on to become Australian citizens."

She said that while detainees were offered psychological support in detention, evidence showed it was difficult to get a positive outcome when the traumatic situation was still occurring.

"Holding children and young people in detention is particularly harmful as it increases developmental risks, threatens the bonds between significant caregivers, limits educational opportunities and has traumatic psychological impacts," Professor Littlefield said.

"You can end up with children who are severely delayed developmentally, who have difficulty learning, who have lost trust and hope, who can't form bonds with other people and may have difficulty making friends. Such children are not going to be able to adapt well to life in a new country. It is difficult enough under normal migration conditions for people to adapt but for traumatised children you are making it extremely difficult. Children deserve the best care we can offer them."

She said that ongoing uncertainty was a major traumatising factor and so temporary protection visas and other visa conditions that restricted the rights and entitlement of asylum seekers and processes that delayed the determination of refugee status have negative effects on mental health, increase uncertainty and inhibit the recovery and resettlement process.

"If you don't change detention conditions and speed assessment processes you risk doing lasting psychological damage and you make it much more difficult for people to resettle and become productive citizens" Professor Littlefield said. "Politicians must remember that asylum seekers are extremely fragile people as most have already undergone trauma so they are a very vulnerable group psychologically."


The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 19,000 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.


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