SA youth drug program yet to start despite govt funding

A controversial but potentially “life-saving” program which allows authorities to detain drug-dependent children for treatment is yet to be tested – eight months after the state government set aside $1.8 million to implement it.

Aug 12, 2022, updated Aug 12, 2022
Photo: Pexels

Photo: Pexels

The program, called Youth Treatment Orders, was a Marshall Government election promise and allows the Youth Court to request that detained children be assessed to determine whether they are drug-dependent, refuse to seek voluntary treatment and pose a danger to themselves or others.

The court would then have the power to order those who meet the criteria to undergo treatment while detained for up to 12 months.

Legislation underpinning the program passed parliament with Labor’s support in 2019, with the former government granting the Youth Court the powers to start implementing it in December last year.

At the time, former Attorney-General Vickie Chapman told InDaily the program would only be used as a “circuit breaker in only the most serious of cases”, arguing it could save children from “potentially a life of addition or drug dependency”.

But advocates including the Australian Medical Association, Youth Training Centre Visitor and SA Council of Social Service argued the government should have instead funded a voluntary treatment program, describing the government’s solution as a “medical experiment” that could breach human rights standards.

Tender documents released last year show the Attorney-General’s Department awarded clinical psychology practice PsychMed a $1.87 million contract, beginning in December and to be paid by the hour, to deliver the program.

Eight months later, the department confirmed to InDaily that the Youth Court was yet to make any applications to order children to undergo compulsory treatment.

A department spokesperson said the Youth Court had also reported that a voluntary program where treatment was attached to certain bail conditions had also had a low take-up.

A child’s family member, a person holding or acting in the office of the Public Advocate or a medical practitioner are also able to make applications to the Youth Court.

“The compulsory program was always intended as a measure of last resort, and a mechanism to review the program after three years has been built into the legislation,” the department spokesperson said.

“The Attorney-General’s Department will be monitoring the take-up of the program until that review takes place.”

PsychMed corporate accounts, liaison and quality assurance manager Sophie Bourne told InDaily the practice won the tender in partnership with OARS-Community Transitions – a non-government organisation which provides services to people who have offended.

She said PsychMed was approached by the Attorney Generals’ Department because of its “expertise in delivering applied psychological assessment and treatment programs on behalf of the state and commonwealth governments”.

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“It is a fee for service agreement for PsychMed to conduct assessments and for OARS to provide treatment,” she said.

“Referrals for assessments are entirely in the hands of youth court magistrates.”

A government spokesperson told InDaily last year that it expected that up to 44 detained children would need to be assessed for drug dependency issues each year, but only five were likely to require mandatory treatment.

Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre at Cavan. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

According to a government document released last year, the program is “the first of its kind in Australia”.

The Marshall Government initially said that court-ordered drug treatment could be requested by parents who are unable to convince their children to engage in voluntary rehabilitation and who, as a measure of last resort, wanted them to be detained to receive support.

But following backlash from social service groups, the government announced that only children already detained at the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre at Cavan would be eligible to take part in the program.

If you or someone you know needs help with alcohol or other drugs go to

You can also contact the Alcohol and Drug Information Service on 1300 13 13 40.

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