Healthcare for children in detention

Children in detention and after they return to the community require better quality healthcare due to their ongoing, complex health needs, a new report has found.

Researchers from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), the Justice Health Group at Curtin University and the FXB (François-Xavier Bagnoud) Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University have collaborated on a report that shines a light on one of the most neglected areas in the protection of children.

The report, 'Ensuring the highest attainable standard of health for children deprived of their liberty', spans children in the justice system and institutions, children living in prisons with their primary caregiver, migration-related detention and those detained in armed conflict and on national security grounds.

MCRI and Curtin University Professor Stuart Kinner said children who experience deprivation of liberty typically have health problems that precede and were further compounded by their experiences in detention.

“With more than seven million children experiencing deprivation of liberty globally each year, the health of these children is important in reducing health inequalities,” he said.

“Despite this, remarkably little is known about either the health status of children deprived of liberty or the health services available to them in detention and once they are back in the community. The available evidence suggests that health services in places of detention are often inadequate.”

Professor Kinner said children in detention have a high prevalence of complex, co-occurring health needs, including high rates of mental illness, trauma, high-risk substance use, chronic disease and neurodevelopmental disability that require coordinated, high-quality healthcare.

Research from Australia has also reported that children released from criminal justice detention were at increased risk of preventable death.

“Emerging evidence of very poor health outcomes after deprivation of liberty suggests that in addition to ongoing efforts to prevent detention, more should be done to improve the health of these children while detained and after they return to the community,” Professor Kinner said.

“Setting minimum standards for healthcare in detention will help drive improvements in the quality of care and health outcomes. Developing mechanisms to routinely monitor and report on the health status and health services in places where children are deprived of liberty would also drive reform.”

The aim of the report is to identify gaps in the system and assist the United Nations Task Force (UNTF) in its efforts to support the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and ensure that all children, including those deprived of their liberty in all settings, achieve the highest attainable standard of health.

The full list of recommendations can be found in the report.

The report was authored by Tess Kelly, Alex Campbell, Jesse Young, Kate McLeod, Jacqueline Bhabha, Lindsay Pearce, Louise Southalan, Rohan Borschmann, Vijaya Ratnam Raman and Stuart Kinner.

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Professor Stuart Kinner, MCRI Group Leader, Justice Health

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About Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

Murdoch Children's Research Institute is the largest child health research institute in Australia committed to making discoveries and developing treatments to improve child and adolescent health in Australia and around the world. They are pioneering new treatments, trialling better vaccines and improving ways of diagnosing and helping sick babies, children and adolescents. It is one of the only research institutes in Australia to offer genetic testing to find answers for families of children with previously undiagnosed conditions.

About the Justice Health Group 

The Justice Health Group is a multidisciplinary research group dedicated to improving the health and well-being of children, adolescents, and adults in contact with the criminal justice system. The work of the Group is distinguished by methodological rigour, ethical research practice, a global equity perspective, and a commitment to real-world impact.

About the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights

The François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights (FXB Center) was founded and endowed by Albina du Boisrouvray in 1993. Her goal was to provide protection to children by furthering the vision for health and human rights of founding director Jonathan Mann, and it received the enthusiastic collaboration of then-Dean Harvey Fineberg. We use interdisciplinary approaches to promote equity and dignity for those oppressed by racism, poverty, and stigma, nationally and around the world. We are proud to partner with a diverse group of scholars, educators, elected officials, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and members of the international policy community to advance health and human rights, and to show the harmful effects of violations on children. Learn more at FXB. 


Murdoch Children’s Research Institute provided seed funding for this report.