Appendix 2 – Detailed Inquiry methodology


This Appendix explains the methodology adopted for the Inquiry report.

Evidence was gathered throughout the Inquiry using the following methods:

  • visits to detention centres;
  • interviews and questionnaires with asylum seeker children and their parents;
  • expert reports from paediatricians and child psychiatrists;
  • submissions to the Inquiry;
  • public hearings;
  • responses to Notices to Produce; and
  • interviews and questionnaires with children and parents who had formerly been in detention.

2.1 Visits to detention centres

From March to July 2014, the Commission visited 11 separate detention centres across mainland Australia and Christmas Island. Two centres on Christmas Island were revisited after a spate of self-harms. A total of 13 visits were made.

All visits were conducted by the President, Commission staff members and supported by Inquiry consultants. The President was accompanied by the Children’s Commissioner on visits to the Darwin, Melbourne and Adelaide detention centres. The President was accompanied by the Human Rights Commissioner in her visit to the Darwin detention centres.

At all visits the Inquiry team:

  • inspected the facilities and available services;
  • liaised with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Serco, MAXimus Solutions; and International Health and Medical Services;
  • observed daily operations; and
  • interviewed children and their parents using the Inquiry questionnaires.

(a) Schedule

The details of each visit are as follows:

DatesLocation
1 March - 7 March 2014
  • Construction Camp Alternative Place of Detention, Christmas Island
  • Phosphate Hill Alternative Place of Detention, Christmas Island
  • Aqua Alternative Place of Detention, Christmas Island
  • Lilac Alternative Place of Detention, Christmas Island
  • North West Point Immigration Detention Centre, Christmas Island
30 March 2014
  • Sydney Immigration Residential Housing
11 April - 14 April 2014
  • Darwin Airport Lodge Alternative Place of Detention, Darwin
  • Wickham Point Alternative Place of Detention, Darwin
  • Blaydin Alternative Place of Detention, Darwin
7 May 2014
  • Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation
12 May 2014
  • Inverbrackie Alternative Place of Detention, Adelaide
14 July -17 July 2014
  • Construction Camp Alternative Place of Detention, Christmas Island
  • Phosphate Hill Alternative Place of Detention, Christmas Island

(b) Inquiry consultants

The Inquiry consultants were contracted to assist in the collection and assessment of evidence. They:

  • assisted in the conduct of interviews;
  • made observations regarding children in detention with particular focus on the impact of detention on the health, development and mental wellbeing of children; and
  • assessed the adequacy and appropriateness of health services for children in detention.
  • provided advice and assistance in the editing of Inquiry evidence for the report.

The following table sets out the Inquiry consultants and the locations of the detention centres that they visited with the Inquiry team.

 

DatesLocationInquiry consultants
1 March - 7 March 2014
  • Construction Camp Alternative Place of Detention, Christmas Island
  • Phosphate Hill Alternative Place of Detention, Christmas Island
  • Aqua Alternative Place of Detention, Christmas Island
  • Lilac Alternative Place of Detention, Christmas Island
  • North West Point Immigration Detention Centre, Christmas Island
  • Consultant Child and Family Psychiatrist Dr Sarah Mares
  • Paediatrician and Child Development expert Conjoint Associate Professor Karen Zwi
30 March 2014
  • Sydney Immigration Residential Housing
  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
  • Dr Nick Kowalenko
11 April - 14 April 2014
  • Darwin Airport Lodge Alternative Place of Detention, Darwin
  • Wickham Point Alternative Place of Detention, Darwin
  • Blaydin Alternative Place of Detention, Darwin
  • Consultant Child and Family Psychiatrist Dr Sarah Mares
  • Paediatrician and Child Development expert Conjoint Associate Professor Karen Zwi
7 May 2014
  • Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation
  • Consultant Paediatrician Dr Georgie Paxton
  • Consultant Child Psychiatrist Dr Sanjay Patel
  • Senior Paediatric Trainee Dr Shidan Tosif
12 May 2014
  • Inverbrackie Alternative Place of Detention, Adelaide
  • Child Psychiatrist Professor Jon Jureidini
  • Community Paediatrician Dr Suzanne Packer
14 July -17 July 2014
  • Construction Camp Alternative Place of Detention, Christmas Island
  • Phosphate Hill Alternative Place of Detention, Christmas Island
  • Paediatrician Professor Elizabeth Elliott

 

The Inquiry consultants did not conduct individual clinical assessments and nor did they engage in a health clinician/patient relationship with the children in detention.

Following the visits, the Inquiry consultants prepared expert reports.

These have been incorporated into the substantive chapters of the report. The expert reports are available at the Commission’s Inquiry website.

(c) Detention centre interviews

The Inquiry team designed questionnaires that would elicit both quantitative and qualitative data.

Interviews were conducted in group settings, in private interview settings and with an interpreter when required.

Interviews were conducted in various formats taking into consideration the preferences of interviewees. This included:

  • parents with younger children together;
  • families together;
  • children individually; and
  • unaccompanied children together.

The Inquiry staff conducted 486 interviews of children and families in detention. In total, the Inquiry staff interviewed 1129 individuals in detention.

At the beginning of each interview, interviewees (or where appropriate their parent/s or guardian) were asked for their consent to:

  • the anonymous use of the information from the interview to produce the report;
  • the use of the information from the interview to discuss medical needs or other requirements with the Department; and
  • their file/s (including medical files, detention case reviews, documents about security decisions and documents about incidents) being requested by the Commission if necessary.

At the conclusion of each visit, the Inquiry team consolidated cases of concern about individual asylum seekers and provided information about these cases to the Department for immediate follow-up.

Interviewees’ testimonies and quotes have been incorporated into the substantive chapters of the report.

Copies of the questionnaires are provided in Appendix 6 of the report. Information about the collection and collation of questionnaire data is provided in this methodology section.

2.2 Submissions

A total of 239 submissions were received.

Of these:

  • 105 were public submissions;
  • 69 were public submissions with name withheld; and
  • 65 were confidential and were not published.

Submissions were received from a number of stakeholders including:

  • the Department of Immigration and Border Protection;
  • children currently in detention;
  • children and parents who had previously been in detention;
  • professionals working in detention;
  • visitors to people in detention;
  • peak bodies representing health, medical professionals and experts in child welfare;
  • legal academics;
  • refugee advocates; and
  • human rights experts.

While submissions were generally in the form of written commentary, poetry, photographs, videos and drawings were also received.

Submissions from or about Nauru were accepted and incorporated into the substantive chapters of the report.

Public submissions have been made available on the Commission’s Inquiry website.

In accordance with the President’s confidentiality directions, names and identifying features of asylum seekers and certain other individuals have been redacted from these submissions.

A full list of the public submissions is provided in Appendix 3 of the report.

2.3 Public hearings

The President convened five public hearings between April and September 2014.

At the third, fourth and fifth hearings, Ms Naomi Sharp assisted the President as Counsel.

Prior to giving evidence, each witness provided an oath or affirmation.

At the commencement of each public hearing, the President gave a direction to the media prohibiting the publication of any information given in evidence that could identify a person other than the person giving the evidence.

Five public hearings were conducted as follows:

NumberDateLocation
14 April 2014Sydney
22 July 2014Melbourne
314 July 2014Sydney
422 August 2014Canberra
59 September 2014Sydney

Pursuant to section 21(5) of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth), a number of witnesses were compelled to attend and answer questions. Others were invited to attend and give evidence.

Witnesses were provided a copy of their draft transcript for corrections.

In accordance with the President’s confidentiality directions, names and identifying features of asylum seekers and certain other individuals have been redacted from the transcripts.

Transcripts have been made available on the Commission’s Inquiry website. A list of the Inquiry witnesses that appeared at public hearings is provided in Appendix 4 of the report.

2.4 Evidence provided pursuant to Notices to Produce

(a) The Department of Immigration and Border Protection

Pursuant to Division 3 of Part II of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth), the Commission compelled the production of documents and information by issuing three ‘Notices to Produce’ to the Department.

The first ‘Notice to Produce’ was issued on 31 March 2014. Topics covered by this notice include:

  • data on children in detention, on bridging visas and subject to residence determinations,
  • size of rooms in detention,
  • availability of education,
  • statistics on deaths, self-harm and incidents,
  • qualification requirements for staff,
  • age assessments,
  • data on children in detention on Nauru including deaths, self-harm and incidents and access to services; and
  • historical data.

The Department did not provide information concerning Nauru. The Department considered the information ‘not relevant to the Inquiry, as it does not relate to the immigration detention of children in Australia and is, therefore, outside the scope of the Terms of Reference’.

The Commission responded to the Department’s objection, confirming the scope of the Commission’s Terms of Reference and asking again for the production of the documents in relation to Nauru required by the compulsory notice. The Department wrote back advising that it maintained its previously expressed position.

Given the limited timeframe for the Inquiry, the Commission did not take any further steps in relation to the refusal by the Department to fully comply with the statutory notice.

The second ‘Notice to Produce’ was issued on 11 July 2014. Topics covered by this notice include:

  • children with disabilities;
  • medical evacuations;
  • children born in detention;
  • data on mothers with children in detention;
  • data on stateless children;
  • Serco incident reports;
  • incidents involving children in the community;
  • torture and trauma;
  • capacity of compounds; and
  • costs.

The third ‘Notice to Produce’ was issued on 12 August 2014 and related to:

  • Health of the Nation Outcome Scales for Children and Adolescents; and
  • video and audio-visual footage from Phosphate Hill Alternative Place of Detention.

(b) International Health and Medical Services

Pursuant to Division 3 of Part II of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth), the Commission compelled the production of documents and information by issuing two ‘Notices to Produce’ to International Health and Medical Services.

The first ‘Notice to Produce’ was issued on 24 July 2014 and related to:

  • data on screening of children;
  • staffing profiles;
  • services provided to unaccompanied children;
  • torture and trauma;
  • transfers;
  • recommendations for community placements; and
  • the Complaints process.

The second ‘Notice to Produce’ was issued on 24 September 2014 and related to:

  • data language legend;
  • data on screening of children;
  • data on screening of adults;
  • Kessler Psychological Distress Scale; and
  • Harvard Trauma Questionnaire.

2.5 Interviews with children and parents released from detention

(a) Background

The Inquiry team conducted interviews with children (and some parents) that had formerly lived in detention. The purpose of these interviews was to investigate the impact of detention over time.

From the period April to August 2014, the Inquiry team interviewed 92 children and 12 parents who were currently living in the community and had previously been in detention.

The Inquiry team developed a questionnaire to gather information about the longer-term impacts of detention. The interviews were promoted through refugee and asylum seeker organisations and schools. Respondents volunteered to be interviewed on the basis of complete anonymity.

Taking into consideration the different wishes of the interviewees, interviews were conducted in varying formats, such as:

  • families together;
  • children individually; and
  • unaccompanied children together.

A copy of the interview questionnaire is provided in Appendix 6 of the report.

(b) Schedule

Interviews were conducted as follows:

DateLocationNumbers
15 March 2014Darwin5 children, 2 parents
13 May 2014Adelaide6 children, 3 parents
5 May 2014Melbourne12 children, 3 parents
6 May 2014Ballarat13 children, 2 parents
5 August 2014Sydney41 children
June-July 2014Phone interviews15 children, 2 parents

2.6 Data Management

Data and charts were drawn from various sources. These include:

  • Inquiry questionnaires
  • Evidence provided pursuant to the Notices to Produce.

(a) Data from Inquiry questionnaire for children and parents in detention

The Inquiry used questionnaire forms to record answers from children and parents during their visits to various detention centres. A copy of the interview questionnaire is provided in Appendix 6 of the report.

The interview responses were both quantitative and qualitative.

Quantitative responses were entered into a data entry form using Microsoft Excel. Qualitative answers were counted and categorised according to a programmed codebook. Responses were grouped into the best fit category or an ‘other’ category. These codified responses were entered into the data entry forms. Data was recorded for each possible respondent from an interview.

The aggregated data for each specific question was separated into the following cohorts:

  • All respondents
  • Parents and their babies (children aged 0-1; answers provided by parents)
  • Preschoolers (children aged 2-4; answers provided by parents)
  • Primary schoolers (children aged 5-12; answers provided by children and parents)
  • Teenagers including unaccompanied children (children aged 13-17; answers provided by teenagers)
  • Unaccompanied children (children without a parent or guardian; answers provided by unaccompanied children)

 

Cohort responses to questions were tabulated and used in the report.

(b) Data from Inquiry questionnaire for children and parents released from detention

The Inquiry used questionnaire forms to record answers from children and parents released from closed detention. A copy of the interview questionnaire is provided in Appendix 6 of the report.

The interview responses were both quantitative and qualitative.

Quantitative responses were entered into a data entry form using Microsoft Excel. Qualitative answers were counted and categorised according to a programmed codebook. Responses were grouped into the best fit category or an ‘other’ category. These codified responses were entered into the data entry forms. Data was recorded for each possible respondent from an interview.

Responses to questions were tabulated and used in the report.

(c) Data from evidence received pursuant to the Notices to Produce

Data was provided by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and International Health and Medical Services pursuant to the Notices to Produce. This was incorporated directly into the report.

Data was also extracted from documents provided pursuant to the Notices to Produce. This data was collated and tabulated as charts in the Inquiry report.

2.7 Approach to incorporating evidence

Australia’s obligations pursuant to the Convention on the Rights of the Child are incorporated throughout the report.

Frameworks for childhood development and needs at different stages underpin chapters 6 to 9 of the report.

The focus of the Inquiry was to capture the voice of children and their parents. Testimonies, quotes, quantitative data and case studies are incorporated into the report using the words of the asylum seeker where possible.

Evidence to the Inquiry was also provided by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and its contractors, medical professionals, peak bodies, former detention staff and legal academics. Where possible, this evidence was incorporated in the form in which it was received.

2.8 Assessment of probative value

While the stories and experiences of children and their parents were not given under oath or affirmation nor subjected to cross-examination, as this is an impact assessment report, the testimonies were crucial to understanding the impact of detention on the health, wellbeing and development of children.

Evidence from primary sources, for example, from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, children and parents in detention, professionals working in detention and Inquiry consultants was given considerable weight in this report. Secondary source information was used to corroborate Inquiry findings or to frame the stages of childhood development.

2.9 Selection and use of case studies

The case studies in the report are based on Department of Immigration Border Protection case files, health files, submissions and interviews conducted by Inquiry staff from the Commission.

The Commission acknowledges that these case studies do not represent the experience of all children in detention. Nevertheless, the case studies do illustrate the impact of detention on the health, wellbeing and development of the children they describe.

2.10 Context for analysis of the evidence

The Convention on the Rights of the Child provided the framework for assessing the laws, policies and practices regarding the detention of children, and the framework for the findings in relation to the impact of detention on children.

Where improvements to conditions have been made during the period of the Inquiry, these have been acknowledged in the report.

2.11 Confidentiality

On 3 April 2014, the President of the Commission issued confidentiality directions to preserve the anonymity of asylum seekers and other certain individuals who provide information to Commission staff or those acting on behalf of the Commission in relation to the Inquiry.

The President made these directions to protect the privacy, security of employment and human rights of those persons.

The President made a further direction that in order to prevent an unreasonable disclosure of the personal affairs of persons, evidence that identifies (or could identify) any individual should not be published.