Victoria’s second Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Justin Mohamed, will conclude his term today, Friday 3 December, leaving a significant legacy building on the work of the state’s first dedicated Aboriginal children’s commissioner, Andrew Jackomos PSM.
Over more than three-and-a-half years, Justin’s term has coincided with a remarkable period of reform in Victoria, including the Treaty process and the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission, and as national moves to raise the age of criminal responsibility have received unprecedented focus.
Justin has connected his work to these broader reforms, placing self-determination and connection to family, community, culture and Country at the heart of solutions to the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in the child protection, out-of-home care and youth justice systems.
Working across the breadth of Aboriginal organisations, and with Aboriginal communities statewide, Justin’s signature achievement has been the completion and tabling in the Victorian Parliament of the Our youth, our way inquiry into the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in Victoria’s youth justice system. The report will have far-reaching impacts for Victorian youth justice practice, policy and legislation, and doubtless an impact in the reform of youth justice nationwide.
Justin’s advocacy of a re-imagined youth justice system places the interests and voices of Aboriginal children and young people at its centre, seeking community-led solutions to nurturing young people strong in their culture instead of entrenching them in the justice system. Raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 was a key recommendation of the report to address its disproportionate impact on Aboriginal children and young people.
Alongside Justin’s work in youth justice, he has also acted with courage to name and demand action on structural racism across all systems impacting Aboriginal children and young people, who are similarly over-represented in the child protection and out-of-home care systems and in notifications to the Commission of abuse and other harmful conduct under the Reportable Conduct Scheme.
This work has included individual inquiries, and also Justin’s leadership of the development of a new stand-alone child safety standard that has been adopted by government and will apply to as many as 60,000 organisations from July 2022.
Justin has also continued the work to reduce the number of Aboriginal children and young people entering the care system, and to expand the role of Aboriginal carers and organisations when placement in care is necessary.
Justin’s shared leadership has been invaluable throughout the pandemic, a period in which the risk to children has been heightened and their visibility has declined. Working with our Principal Commissioner, Liana Buchanan, Justin has been instrumental in keeping vulnerable children and young people in focus, and in helping to build new ways of engaging with them that will last beyond the pandemic.
Justin’s work leaves a strong legacy that will also shape the agenda of the next Commissioner. This includes monitoring reform following the Victorian Government’s response to our recommendations in Our youth, our way. There also remains the task of broad education around institutional racism, and the measures necessary to address it.
As Justin recently remarked, ‘The solutions to the issues facing Aboriginal children and young people must be self-determined, community-led, and reconnect or strengthen Aboriginal children and young people’s connection to community, culture and Country’.
Justin’s achievements and commitment to Aboriginal children and young people will ensure his continuing vital contribution in his new role as Deputy Secretary, Aboriginal Justice, with the Department of Justice and Community Safety.
We thank Commissioner Mohamed for his contribution, and look forward to working with him in future on issues of our common interest.
The process to appoint Victoria’s third Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People is now underway.