YWCA Canberra on the health and wellbeing of children in immigration detention

16 October 2015

Last week, approximately 1000 doctors, nurses and clinical support staff at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) spoke out regarding the severely detrimental impact of immigration detention on children’s health and wellbeing. [1]Children's picture

In a joint statement, they argued that “Children have nightmares, bed-wetting, and behaviour problems. They develop depression and anxiety symptoms, and their development is affected. These issues are so common they’ve become normal in detention. It is difficult, if not impossible, for us to treat these children while they are still detained.”

The Australian Medical Association endorsed the move, stating that “The high quality care and recovery they are receiving at the Royal Children’s Hospital and other hospitals around Australia will be diminished once the children are returned to the detention centres.”2

YWCA Canberra strongly supports the human rights and wellbeing of all children; as such we commend the staff of RCH Melbourne for advocating on behalf of these highly vulnerable children.

It is estimated that there are 24 million people globally who are refugees or displaced due to conflict and discrimination. Ten per cent of these people are children less than five years old.

Many of these children and their families have either witnessed or been victim to extreme violence. Refugee families are often displaced for years at a time, during which essentials such as food and accommodation are inadequate and sexual and physical violence is rife. [3]

The trauma and loss experienced by refugee children and their families requires intensive support and care. This is particularly salient as research consistently demonstrates that early childhood is an absolutely critical period in a child’s development, which can determine their future health and wellbeing.

This position is recognised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, who state that during the early years, children experience the most rapid period of growth and change during the human lifespan. It is during this stage that children actively make sense of the physical, social and cultural dimensions of the world they inhabit. Put simply – the early years are the foundation for a child’s long-term physical and mental health. [4]

For thirty years, National Children’s Week has been recognised in Australia to  celebrate the right of children to enjoy childhood.[5]

The 2015 National Children’s Week theme is ‘Children’s Rights are Human Rights’. I stand with my sector colleagues at Northside Community Service –  this presents a salient opportunity to reflect on the urgent issue of vulnerable  children’s mental and physical wellbeing.


[1] The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. 12 October 2015. ‘Children in immigration detention’

[2] Australian Medical Association. 11 October 2015. ‘Release children from detention – AMA backs stance on Melbourne RCH doctors’

[3] ANU Trauma and Grief Network. ‘Refugee and asylum seekers: Supporting recovery from trauma’.

[4] United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.  2005.  Convention on the Rights of the Child.

[5] Children’s Week Council of Australia Inc. 2014. What is Children’s Week

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