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Human Service Workers and the Law

Synopsis of The Case

James a 15 years old boy and he was found breaking and entering into the neigbour’s house and he was caught searching the cupboards for the lap-top, mobile phone and video equipment of the neigbour’s house. The neighbour’s had returned unexpectedly and found broken window and James in their home and this led the neighbour call the police and this was the first time when he was caught for any crime. The James’ parents were called by the police and he was released on bail. They were called for the first hearing in the Youth Court and for family conferencing and this has been distressing for the whole family as James had never broken law before and had never committed any crime.

Legislation Applied

In South Australia (SA), the youth offenders under the age of 10 cannot be charged with any crime. However, the youth under the age of 10-14 have rebuttable presumption which implies that they are considered innocence until they are enough evidence to prove their guilty. In this state, there is more focus on the sentencing of the youth offenders on the deterrent effect on the youth personally instead of a general deterrence and this is a greater consideration in the jurisdiction for the adults.

In SA, the offenders in the age group greater than 10 and less than 18 is considered as youth offenders. There are many legal instruments which are used for governing procedure, practice and sentencing principles when there is case of a young offender (Arena, December 12, 2017). The provisions given in the Bail Act (1985), Criminal Procedure Act (1921) and Sentencing Act (2017) are relevant for ruling out the practice, procedure, bail applications and the sentencing in case of youth offenders in South Australia. However, there are many other legislative instruments which modify these legislations and then empower the Youth Court to rule out the particular orders or penalties. Another piece of legislation is the Youth Justice Administration Act of 2016. This administers the detention system of the youth and the treatment of such young offenders within the government training centers. It also establishes the community based supervision centers for the youth offenders in this state. The most important and relevant for this case is the Youth Court Act of South Australia.

In the above case, the YCA (1993) has been applied as under this act, the youth offender cannot be put in detention however, intervention measures can be taken. This is done for securing the youth from injustice and ensuring that they become productive members of the society. In this case the YCA (1993) and the YOA (1993) have outlined the procedure, practice and powers for allowing the Youth Court to give orders and penalties to James who has been found guilty and therefore, he was a young offender.

James was not put into detention however; family conference has been organized for his family. These conferences are convened by the coordinators of the youth justice and this takes place when the young offender admits of committing a criminal offence (CAASA, 2020). These conferences are provided for diverting the matters away from the traditional court system. During these conferences the young offenders and their guardian, their family members, other appropriate persons, police officers, victims and coordinators meet together. There is discussion over the offence and a suitable outcome is determined with the consensus of all. This is aimed at addressing the needs of all the parties involved while abiding by the policy and the philosophy prescribed in the YOA of 1993 (White, 2019).

Another legislation has been applied in this case and this is the Children and Young People (Safety) Act of 2017. This act allows the family conferencing unit to respond to the referrals from the Youth Court and the Department for the Child Protection. The referrals refer to the care and the protection issues of the youth offenders (LSCA, 2020). The conferencing unit provides the families with the opportunities of addressing these concerns through a family group conference. When the family believes that such a conference is useful for this child then they have the right to ask such a conference. However, they can seek alternatives and are not obliged to do so. These conferences are undertaken by the coordinators of the family group conference.

Role of Court, Purpose and Intervention

The Youth Court Act (YCA) of 1993 in South Australia allows for the establishment of Youth Courts. These courts function as the civil and criminal jurisdiction courts having powers derived in accordance with the Bail Act (BA) of 1985, Young Offenders Act (YOA) of 1993, the Children and Young People (Safety) Act of 2017, and any jurisdiction of the criminal or civil nature or as conferred by any other act as given in the section 7 of the YCA (1993). Apart from the above legislations, the Youth Court may revoke, vary or make a non-association, give restrain orders or place restrictions as per the Criminal Procedure Act of 1921 in South Australia. The court can also give an intervention order as per the 2009 act of Intervention Orders (Prevention of Abuse) where the person is a child or a youth against or for whom protection is sought as per the section 7 (b) and 7 (c) of YCA, (1993).

The role of this court is to hear the matters relation to the criminal offences, adoption, surrogacy and child protection. It has two branches one is the court which is inclusive of the registry and a conferencing unit. The youth court is presided over by a Judge and these two units are supervised by a manager in each branch. The hearings of this case are closed for the public. This court cannot impose a sentence to a young offender above three years as per the section 14(2) of the YCA (1993). The judicial registrar also may not impose a detention sentence as per the section 14(2a) of this act. A special justice may not hear and ascertain a major indictable offence as per this act for imposing a detention sentence or determining and hearing any application in relation to the protection and care of the young offenders. This is according to the section 14(3) of this act.

Therefore, the Youth Court has the power in hearing the matters related to youth like the murder or the manslaughter offences that are tried in the Supreme Court usually. The youth matters can be also be heard in adult courts when a youth requests for a trial by the jury. This is because the jury is not present in the matters of Youth Courts. However, even if the youth is tried in an adult court, they cannot be sentenced as an adult until the court gains satisfaction that the sentencing is warranted due to the gravity of the offence and the offending history of the youth (LSCA, 2020).

Intervention treatment is given by the Youth Court through the Treatment Intervention Court. This supervises the eligible defendants whose offences are in relation to the mental health impairment or substance abuse (LSCA, 2020). There is Youth Court Treatment Intervention program which provides intervention treatment for the mentally ill youth. This court also gives provision for the eligible defendants to access six months treatment intervention stream. The youth offenders who are not eligible for a family conferencing owing to the nature of their offences are targeted for this intervention stream. There are also treatment services being provided by the Youth Court and these are rendered by the private psychologists.

Social Workers Role in Youth Justice

Social workers have important role in counselling the families and the young people who have been caught committing crimes. They work to help these people live a dignified life by following the laws of this country. Further, they encourage the young people to take up education and other curricular activities to channelize their energy in productive and respectable work rather than in criminal activities. Further, they provide education and awareness to the families in dealing with the young people who have been creating trouble with police. This helps the families in creating a positive environment where the young people are able to develop appropriately without going to criminal ways for satisfying their needs and desire.

The social workers can work alongside and independently for the youth offenders and the juvenile justice system (UNICEF, 2014). They have a role of primary and secondary prevention. At the primary level, the social workers provide services on a self-referral basis for responding to the difficult situations being faced by the youth offenders and their families. At the secondary level the social workers provide help in identification of the children in the families who are at risk of youth offending. They identify proactively and then respond by taking punitive and preventive steps. These are the families where there is evidence of neglect, delinquency and intrafamilial violence (Farrington, Ttofi, & Piquero, 2016).

The social workers also provide services when interfacing with the justice system. They have a role in secondary prevention when the child or the parents coming into the contact of the justice system. Therefore, the social workers have to be involved in the arrest or questioning of the child or youth who is below the age of the prosecution or has not been involved in criminal activity however, the child may be in danger like there can be situations of unaccompanied migrant or homelessness. This is necessary for the social workers as they work for the promotion of social justice (Kam, 2014). The social workers have to check for the wellbeing of the youth when they are given detention sentence and they are kept in the detention centers (UNICEF, 2014).

In this case study, the social workers have to work to counsel the families in overcoming from this distressing situation. A social worker has important role in youth offending (Rogowski, 2012). A social worker working with the James family must have skills like counselling, empathy, effective communication, critical thinking, cultural competency and active listening. These skills are necessary in responding to the issues for a social worker (Fengler, & Taylor, 2019). Further, he or she should have knowledge of the relevant legislations which are applied in this case. The procedures and practices of the court when dealing with such offences must also be known to the social worker. He or she should also have knowledge about the intervention and other services which are being provided by the court to help youth offenders like James change his life and become a productive member of the society. With these skills and knowledge, a social worker can work effectively with youth offender like James and his family. Thereby, acts as a change agent for James life and guide him to become a good member of the society.

Social Justice and Ethical Issues

One of the core values for the profession of social work is the social justice (Ponnuswami, & Harris, 2017). A social worker assists the clients in navigating through the complex systems and then access the necessary support, resources and services. However, in this profession a social worker has to face a number of ethical dilemmas and these are the challenges to boundaries, issues related to privacy and confidentiality of the client, informed consent in case of young people or children, perceptions of unprofessionalism and a creation of actual or perceived conflicts amongst the involved parties’ interests. There are many challenges which are encountered by the social workers when working for the social justice as there has to be equality for all and hence there arises ethical dilemmas (Morgaine, 2014).

The Code of Ethics for this profession has been laid down by the AASW (2010). This expresses the responsibilities and the values which are integral to this profession and also characterizes it. This code is helpful for ethical decision-making for the social workers (Gray, 2010). The ethical code relevant for this case is that of social justice. The social workers work for the promotion of the social justice and fairness. This is done by acting to reduce the obstacles in the social justice. They also work to expand the choices and the potential of the involved parties in the matters of social justice. However, special regards are given to the people who are disadvantages, oppressed, have exceptional needs or are disadvantaged. This can give rise to ethical issues for the social worker in some cases.

In this case, there is an ethical issue for the social work profession. This is the conflicting idea of protecting James and his family from getting experiences of courts and judicial process. There is one stance of protecting the child in this case so that he is able to lead a normal life and become a normal person in the society. However, the other stance is of securing justice against the victims who have suffered from the offences of James as he had been found to broke the window of his neighbours and was trying to steal electronic items. Therefore, it the pursuit of social justice, the social workers can bring negative impact to the innocence life period of James. Hence, as per the code of ethics, the social workers have to work to strike a balance between these two conflicting stances. This can be done by involving the community and the families to help James change his attitude and life choices.

Conclusion on Conceptualizing Social Justice in Social Work

The social worker must counsel the family and act in collaboration for helping James in getting rid of his criminal trespassing behavior. This will allow him to lead a better life and become a productive member of the society. Hence the social worker will be able to act as a change agent in his life and for the family as well.

References for Conceptualizing Social Justice in Social Work

Arena, J. (December 12, 2017). How does sentencing for young offenders work in South Australia? Available at http://www.andersons.com.au/lawtalk/2017/december/sentencing-young-offenders/#

Australian Association of Social Workers, (AASW). (2010). Code of ethics. Australian Association of Social Workers. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjn0enSmozsAhVyILcAHXkXBs4QFjAAegQIBBAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.aasw.asn.au%2Fdocument%2Fitem%2F1201&usg=AOvVaw0x1poqkjgZlmUZ2kffcnwn

Court Administration Authority of South Australia, (CAASA). (2020). Available at http://www.courts.sa.gov.au/OurCourts/YouthCourt/Pages/Family-Conferences.aspx

Farrington, D. P., Ttofi, M. M., & Piquero, A. R. (2016). Risk, promotive, and protective factors in youth offending: Results from the Cambridge study in delinquent development. Journal of Criminal Justice45, 63-70.

Fengler, J., & Taylor, B. J. (2019). Effective assessment: a key knowledge and skill for a sustainable profession. Social Work Education38(3), 392-405.

Gray, M. (2010). Moral sources and emergent ethical theories in social work. British Journal of Social Work40(6), 1794-1811.

Kam, P. K. (2014). Back to the ‘social’of social work: Reviving the social work profession’s contribution to the promotion of social justice. International Social Work57(6), 723-740.

Legal Services Commission of South Australia, (LSCA). (2020). Youth Court. Available at https://lsc.sa.gov.au/dsh/print/ch15.php

Morgaine, K. (2014). Conceptualizing social justice in social work: Are social workers “too bogged down in the trees?”. Journal of Social Justice4(1), 1-18.

Ponnuswami, I., & Harris, N. (2017). Teaching research methods to social work students in India and Australia: reflections and recommendations. Social Work Education36(6), 690-701.

Rogowski, S. (2012). Social work with children and families: Challenges and possibilities in the neo-liberal world. British Journal of Social Work42(5), 921-940.

UNICEF. (2014). The role of social work in juvenile justice. Retrieved from http://www.socialserviceworkforce.org/system/files/resource/files/The%20Role%20of%20Social%20Work%20in%20Juvenile%20Justice.pdf

White, M. (2019). Youth justice and the age of criminal responsibility: Some reflections. Adel. L. Rev.40, 257.

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