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Doctors against holding children in detention

Tuesday 13 October 2015 | Published in Regional


MELBOURNE – Doctors from Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) have called on Australia’s Federal Government to end the practice of keeping children in detention, saying they cannot effectively treat them.

Almost 1000 doctors, nurses and clinical support staff across the RCH have joined the call.

In a pre-recorded statement provided to the ABC, doctors said they were treating children who had spent more than half their life in immigration detention centres.

“In children from detention, our team see children with nightmares, bed wetting, and severe behaviour problems, children from detention develop anxiety and depression,” the hospital’s head of general medicine, Dr Tom Connell, said.

“It’s become so common that it’s almost normal in children from detention to have these symptoms.

“At the Children’s Hospital, our team find it’s almost impossible to treat these children effectively while they remain detained.”

The hospital did not deny reports that they were refusing to discharge children in detention, saying it was a matter for “serious discussion” on a case-by-case basis.

The Australian Medical Association’s Dr Tony Bartone said the hospital was ethically obliged to consider such action.

“We’ve got to consider the environment in which they’re being discharged into in part of their care,” he said.

According to the Australian Border Force’s most recent report, published on August 31, there are currently 93 children being held on Nauru and 104 children in detention in Australia.

There are 405 children living in Australia in community detention.

RCH paediatrician Professor Paul Monagle said the doctors had no hope of improving the situation if children they treat were sent back to detention.

“What we see from children in detention is a whole range of physical, mental, emotional and social disturbances that are really severe and we have no hope of improving things if we are sending those children back to detention,” he said.

The call comes after an open letter signed by more than 1200 people, including Australian of the Year Rosie Batty, urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to shut down the Manus Island and Nauru immigration detention centres.

They argued that conditions at the offshore centres perpetuate violence against women, children, families and gay men.

Batty wrote in the letter: “Those who care about violence against women and children need to care about what happens to people elsewhere under our care.”

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the Coalition was elected to “stop the boats” and there would be no change in policy.

“I understand the concern of doctors, but the Defence and Border Force staff on our vessels who were pulling dead kids out of the water don’t want the boats to re-start,” he said in a statement.

“My support is with the Defence and Border Force staff and I won’t be supporting a change in the policy.”

He said the Federal Government had significantly reduced the number of children in detention.

RCH consultant paediatrician Dr Kate Thomson-Bowe said detention had life-long effects on children.

“The emotional development of children is affected, their speech and learning can be affected and the anxiety and mental health consequences can start from very early childhood and we see that has an impact on their development long term,” she said.

“Children need a lot of security and opportunity to play in order to develop normally.

“The environment of a detention centre is so far from what develops normal opportunity, the families don’t have the opportunity to play together, the children are subject to rules and regulations that no typical child is subjected to.”

Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy tweeted in support of the RCH staff, saying they were “acting in the best interests of their patients”.

Dr Connell called on the Federal Government to end the practice.

“What we need now is for moral leadership on this issue to recognise that this is a significant problem and to move towards steps to remove children from detention,” he said.