Assessment Item 1: Social Policy Plan

An Australian Social Policy Plan for Women and Child Refugees and Asylum Seekers


The issue of refugees and asylum seekers is an important and controversial issue facing the Australian community. There is a difference in definition between asylum seekers and refugees. Asylum seekers are people who look for international protection, but until their status of refugee is determined, they remain unlawful non-citizens, despite the fact that they have a legal right to ask for asylum (Phillips, 2013). In the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (and its 1967 Protocol), refugees are defined as people who have been forced to leave their native countries because of a fear of war, natural disaster or persecution due to‘race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’ (Refugee Council 2015).

Australia has been accepting refugees for resettlement since 1945 and has aimed to support the human rights and freedoms of refugees. Currently, most asylum seekers arrive to Australia by air and then claim for refugee status. However, the number of people arriving illegally by boats has increased in recent years. This situation presents a problem for the Australian Federal Government. Despite the fact that people have a legal right to ask for asylum and protection in Australia, unauthorized boats arriving to Australia violate the country’s border procedures and security laws (Phillips, 2013). Such illegal boat arrivals have resulted in dangerous incidents like the “Children Overboard” crisis in 2001 (Parliament of Australia, n.d.), where asylum seekers allegedly threw their children overboard in an attempt to receive rescue and as a result, directly enter into Australia.

Jansson (2007) states that there are three challenges in agenda building: diagnosing the context (identification of contextual constraints and opportunities), softening the context (making it more amenable to a specific policy initiative) and activation of change (making a legislator put an issue on the agenda). To ‘diagnose’ the problem (Jansson, 2007), currently there are two main complications connected to the issue of refugees and asylum seekers who are wishing to relocate Australia. The first issue is the illegal/unauthorized arrival of refugees and asylum seekers, and the second issue is the acceptance and protection of women and child refugees and asylum seekers.[1] Most discussions and legal decisions of the Australian Federal Government address the first issue, while the second issue is often overlooked. Thus, this social policy plan seeks to ‘soften’ the second issue and also ‘activate change’ in regard to the second issue (Jansson, 2007). Presently, people who arrive in Australia without a valid visa are detained. The detention centres in which women and children, without valid visas, are detained and the level of support currently in place for women and children who wish to come to Australia hardly meet their needs (Parliament of Australia, n.d.). Therefore, it is logical to conclude that the Australian social policy on refugees and asylum seekers requires certain improvement.

Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to present a social policy plan that will particularly advocate for women and children, and consider the quality of detention centres for this population. Firstly, I will discuss, using social work skills and underpinning theories, how I am going to bring the issue of women and children who seek to come to Australia onto the Australian social policy agenda. I will also outline a potential conceptual framework for a new social policy pertaining to women and children who wish to relocate to Australia.

Description of the Issue

According to statistics by the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection, in January 2016, only 625 people in total were approved for a residence determination (Australian Government, 2016). This included 128 adult females and 293 children of both sexes (Australian Government, 2016). The trend for immigration from detention increased from 1990 until 2013 and then started to decline gradually (Australian Government, 2016). However, in January 2016, there were only 88 children (aged less than 18 years old) accepted from detention (Australian Government, 2016).

The Australian social policies, pertaining to refugees and asylum seekers, which are in place, will often depend on what ideology the current political party that has power in the Federal Parliament adheres to (Parliament of Australia, n.d.). however, at all times, the government  adopts the protectionist ideology, in which all the asylum seekers are accorded security and basic access to social services. This ideology resonates with the international vision on the protection of human rights and freedoms of refugees and asylum seekers. The current Australian Federal Government has harbored concerns that criminal gangs often assist asylum seekers who come to Australia by boats (BBC News, 2015). They have asserted that this activity should be stopped (BBC News, 2015). Current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, of the Liberal Party of Australia, supports the proper protection of Australian marine borders (Crowe, 2015). Prime Minister Malcolm’s preservationist ideology contravenes the global stand on the rights of refugees and thus endangers the safety of innocent asylum seekers.

The asylum seeker policy issued by the Law Council of Australia states that all asylum seekers have the right to seek protection, and that all refugees have the right to enjoy protection and support by the Australian Federal Government (Law Council of Australia, n.d.). This is because Australia is party to number of international conventions (Law Council of Australia, n.d.). The policy states that refugees and asylum seekers, without visas, should be detained and that male refugees and asylum seekers, in detention centres, should be segregated from women (Law Council of Australia, n.d). It also states that children should be separated from adults unless they are family members (Law Council of Australia, n.d). However, fact sheets (NSW Refugee Health Service, 2009; 2011) on women and children’s experiences in detention confirm that the system of detention centres should be re-estimated and the policy on refugee and asylum seeker housing should be improved.

To ‘diagnose’ the problem further (Jansson, 2007), women living in detention centres are often subject to physical, psychological and sexual violence, including rape, forced abortion and health risks due to insufficient access to resources and health care, especially reproductive health care (NSW Refugee Health Service, 2009). Social, financial and personal losses make these women extremely vulnerable in all aspects. Moreover, men predominately manage detention centres; therefore these detention centres are often unsafe for women due to sexual violence risks (NSW Refugee Health Service, 2011).

Children, on the other hand, are even more vulnerable than women in all aspects. Often, they are unable to manage their daily needs without the help of adults. Children often face sexual abuse and violence, physical violence, immense psychological stresses, health risks, diseases, disabilities (including delays in growth) and a lack of social and educational opportunities due to their status (NSW Refugee Health Service, 2009). The evidence shows that the personnel currently working with women and children fail to use proper social work skills to explore the issues of trauma and minimize re-traumatization (NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors, 2004).

Need for Policy Changes

The policy cycle in Australia begins with the identification of issues. In the above description I have identified the issue. In the policy cycle, the following stages are then performed: policy analysis; policy instruments; consultation; coordination; decisions; implementation and evaluation (Bridgman & Davis, 2004). In the following section, I will outline a possible change in social policy pertaining to the issue, how this social policy can be implemented and how this social policy can be evaluated. It is worth noting, that in Canberra, the Department of Prime Minister and the Cabinet are responsible for policy coordination. In the states and territories, this is the responsibility of the mayors or chief ministers (Bridgman & Davis, 2004). The development and management of social policy pertaining to refugees and asylum seekers is chiefly the responsibility of the Australian Federal Government.

The above description of the issue of women and children who seek to be relocated to Australia shows that there is a need for a policy change particularly in regards to their housing in detention centres. In order to ‘activate change’ (Jansson, 2007), policy alternatives and forecasting should be carried out (Dunn, 1981). Policy forecasting on the issue of women and children suggests that the new policy options should be evaluated in terms of their efficiency and consequences.

This is not to say, however, that the Australian Federal government has not tried to implement some measures that ensure the rights of refugee women and children are upheld. For example, Australia is one of the rare countries that have a special refugee visa for Women at Risk. This visa was introduced to assist women who seek protection through a settlement program. The visa includes ‘women and their dependents’ who are subject to persecution (Australian Government, Department of Social Services, 2013).

The Woman at Risk Visa confirms that women are perceived as the main care providers for children who are dependent on adult care and provision (Australian Government, Department of Social Services, 2013). Taking this into consideration, the concept of the detention centre, as understood in Australia, may and should be re-evaluated in terms of women and children’s safety. Measures should also be taken to ensure that women and children are reunited where possible.  The Australian Federal Government should also provide women and children with social workers and volunteers who possess the social work skills of ensuring efficient cross-culture communication and who can explore the issues of trauma in order to address them (NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors, 2004).

Designing Intervention Strategy

The intervention strategy for solving the problems of women and children who wish to relocate to Australia is developed according to the incremental model (Bochel & Bochel, 2004). The main characteristics of the incremental model include: 1) restriction of policy: new policies differ from the existing policies only in terms of solving the problem; 2) policy is determined by means available, not by abstractive objectives; 3) the policy deals with problems as they arise; 4) the policy suggests that the range of problems is likely to change with time, therefore, policymaking and improvement is a never-ending activity (Bochel & Bochel, 2004). The new policy on housing of women and children in detention centres will apply this model and will be restricted to women and children who arrive without family only.[2]

The conceptual framework of the new policy is twofold: 1) to protect and provide support for women in detention centres and 2) to protect and provide support for children in detention centres. The strategies are as follows: 1) to provide better protection of women and children, The Australian Federal Government should transfer the management of detention centres from male managers, guardians and safeguards to female managers, guardians and safeguards to decrease the chances of sexual violence.[3] 2) a) to provide better protection of children in particular, the Australian Federal Government should issue a special visa for children, similar to the Women at Risk visa.[4] b) to provide improved care and support for children who are already housed in a detention centre, the management may offer women the chance to engage in care for children, under the supervision of female social workers, to enhance the level of mutual socialization, interpersonal care and support, and protection of children by adults.[5]

Female personnel for women and children in detention centres and female social workers who supervise contact between women and children in detention centres will need to possess the social work skills of efficient cross-cultural communication and the ability to address trauma issues ethically to provide emotional stability and social protection for the women and children (Bochel & Bochel, 2004). Moreover, the personnel and social workers working with the women and children should possess the social work skill of identifying and assessing problems and needs (Bochel & Bochel, 2004). In addition, they should also be able to support the re-socialization of women and children into the community (NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors, 2004).

Expected outcomes from the implementation of the new policy include:

 1) a) decreased cases of discrimination and gender-based/sexual violence, and thus minimized re-traumatization of women and children in detention centres, due to the presence of female personnel and social workers (NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors, 2004); b) a more nurturing environment for women and children in detention centres who are hoping to be relocated to Australia.

 2) increased positive health and socialization outcomes for children as their care and support are provided by women (in cases where neither have family contact) in detention centres under the supervision of female social workers.

Evaluating the new policy

It is recommended that the new policy be evaluated and monitored frequently. This activity is necessary to assess the efficiency of the policy, the level of change, and the monitoring of new problems that may occur. Evaluation and monitoring should not be performed at the end of the implementation of the new policy; moreover, the policy, which has been developed according to the incremental model, does not suggest any ‘end’ (Bochel & Bochel, 2004). Therefore, the process of change should be monitored and evaluated constantly. Some of the policies are tied to a number of key deliverables. For instance, a policy on behavior reform can be analyzed from the way the asylum seekers easily integrate into the community. Evaluation enables the implementers to ascertain that they working within the scope of their core objectives (Hardcastle, Powers, & Wenecour, 2004). 

A new policy should be more effective or bring better change to the community. Under the adequate causal theory, a proposed policy must be able to give defined outcomes (Hardcastle, Powers, & Wenecour, 2004). If a proposed strategy does not fulfill these functions, then it would have failed. In some cases, the implementation of a policy is only possible through funding from stakeholders. Evaluation of efficiency is also necessary for accountability and to justify the continuation of funding if the policy is effective (Bochel & Bochel, 2004). In coming up with a policy, the drafters can tie it to a number of objects within given timeframes. For instance, a policy can direct that within three months, all the asylum seekers should be articulate in the local dialect. Evaluators can then gauge their performance against the set parameters.

Policies change as they are being implemented. It is common for an implementer to derail from the intended course along the way. Sometimes, the manner of handling certain issues may change due to legal repeal, subsequent criminalization, or merely policy change. On the other hand, the organization may alter the mode of handling certain issues, maybe due to insufficient funds or from internal management issues. If an organization is forced to change due to supervening circumstances, the intended policy may not be implemented as intended. Unresolved internal management issues are the greatest hindrances to policy implementation as they can even cripple the operations of the organization.  

                                                            Discussing Barriers

A barrier to the new policy could possibly be the so-called “ruling class” of Australia, which consists of people who gain profits from private ownership or productive properties. These people often own resources, have certain ideological power and are able to ‘choke off’ any alternatives and changes (Tiver & Matheson, 1997). This group of citizens may be reluctant to support visas for children who need protection in Australia.

The policy of connecting women and children (who have no other family contact) in detention centres, in order to enable women to provide care and support to children with the purpose of improving health and social outcomes for both groups, may also face opposition by Australia’s ‘ruling class’. This is especially the case if a refugee woman adopts a refugee child. Obviously, women with adopted children may demand better conditions and be more difficult to relocate.

Another barrier would be the unfavorable legal regime (Sundet & Kelly, 2002). In the absence of enabling provisions, it proves hard to cause the government or the local authorities to act. The role of taking in asylum seekers or refuges and providing for them adequately cannot be undertaken by the non-governmental organizations alone. The government provides key services such as safe passage, security, and identification (Sundet & Kelly, 2002). Besides the policy adopted by the ruling coalition may be unfavorable to the refugees. For instance, in the wake of global terrorism and amidst revelations that some of the refugees are criminals disguised as prisoners of war, the government has taken a self-preservationist approach. This approach is designed to protect the native Australians as opposed to the refugees. In some cases, the refugees are left stranded at sea or given refuge at a far off and remote location. An unfavorable legal regime is one of the major hindrances to implementing a new policy (Hardcastle, Powers, & Wenecour, 2004). What may be proposed in the policy may be against the law, leading to more difficulties.

Methodology for Policy Change

The methodology for policy change includes an appeal firstly to public agencies to raise awareness on the issue of safety for women and children whilst in detention. Some organizations have already stepped out to protect the rights of such women and children as illustrated in a Joint Media Statement provided by the Australian Council of Social Service (2016) (see Appendix I). This Joint Media Statement shows support for the church sanctuary offer for asylum seekers.[6] In addition, within the same methodology framework, informational letters describing the new social policy proposal, should be sent to relevant agencies like the Australian Council of Social Service to offer a ‘softened’ vision (Jansson, 2007) and an alternative strategy to solving the problem of inadequate detention centre accommodation for women and children who are seeking to be relocated to Australia (see Appendix II as an example).

In addition, the concerned organizations can train their workers better on effecting social change. Training can be both on-jobs for the current employees and off-job for the prospective employees. Training creates a huge pool of skilled man power that can be easily hired to promote the objectives of the organization. As a uniform way of streamlining the operation of the organizations, social workers must be trained in certain core skills and bear recommended minimum qualifications (Warner-Smith & Brown, 2002). For instance, social workers must be understanding, approachable, and sympathetic (Hardcastle, Powers, & Wenecour, 2004).

Implementation of Change and Social Work Skills   

The implementation process can be done in various stages. The critical stage would be through legislation or the adoption of a working policy. The policy or the law can then outline how the various steps can be attained over time. In most case, progressive change is the most effective way of bringing change to an issue (Cerna, 2013). In addition, the concerned stakeholders can deploy manpower equipped with the relevant social skills to counsel, guide, and reform the refugees or asylum seekers.

Refugees form part of the community they move into. By all means, they should be assisted to integrate fully into the society. Discriminating them only enhances their plight. In the past, the government has endeavored to assist them based on the prevailing economic circumstances. There is a need for the government and the humanitarian agencies to drive efforts to assist them further. The best way of assisting the refugees overcome their trauma and suffering is by offering them a chance to earn an income (Hardcastle, Powers, & Wenecour, 2004). Some of them have employable skills and can be absorbed into the job market. Most of the world jurisdictions have a stringent work policy. However, some exceptions can be made, depending on the responsiveness of the asylum seekers. All this while, they can be counseled to get over their frustrations and trauma.

Training and education programs are essential for refugees to ad


The current social policy on acceptance, housing, protection and care for women and children, who are seeking to be relocated to Australia, practiced by the Australian Federal Government does not seem to be particularly efficient and humane. Women and children suffer sexual abuse and violence in detention centres, experience negative health outcomes due to malnutrition and a lack of available comprehensive health care, and are deprived of social interaction and support. In addition, strict Australian policies on illegal immigration of asylum seekers attract negative attention from the international community in terms of human rights protection. This is despite the fact that the country has the right to protect its citizens and borders and to prevent the criminal activities of the so-called people smugglers.

In order to ‘activate’ change in relation to the ‘diagnosed problem’ (Jansson, 2007), an improved social policy on detention centre housing and protection of women and children who are trying to relocate to Australia should be implemented. This social policy plan proposes  a substitution of male personnel in female and child detention centres for female personnel; issuing special protection visas for children; and allowing women and children, who do not have family contact, to make contact with one another whilst in detention (under the supervision of female social workers).


Australian Council of Social Service (2016). “Australia’s international aid and community sector backs church sanctuary offer for asylum seekers”. Joint Media Statement. Retrieved 12th March, 2016, from

Australian Government (2013). “Getting settled: Women refugees in Australia”. Department of Social Services. Retrieved 12th March, 2016, from

Australian Government (2016). Immigration Detention and Community Statistics Summary/ Department of Immigration and Border Protection.  Retrieved 12th March, 2016, from

BBC News (2015). “Australia asylum: Why is it controversial?”. Retrieved 12th March, 2016, from

Bochel, C., & Bochel, H. M. (2004). Extracts from The UK social policy process (pp. 31-38, 180-186 & 191-193). Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan.

Bridgman, P., & Davis, G. (2004). The Australian Policy Handbook. Allen & Unwin.

Cerna, L. (2013). The Nature of Policy Change and Implementation: A Review of Different Theoretical ApproachesILE. Retrieved 16th March, 2016, from

Crowe, D. (2015). “Malcolm Turnbull sets new path from Abbott on refugee crisis”. TheAustralian. Retrieved 12th March, 2016, from

Dunn, W. N. (1981). Guidelines for Preparing Policy Issue Papers. In Public Policy Analysis: An Introduction (pp. 360-363). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Hardcastle, D., Powers, P., & Wenecour, S. (2004). Community Practice: Theories and Skills for Social Workers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jansson, B. (2007). Becoming An Effective Policy Advocate: From Policy Practice to Social Justice. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.

Law Council of Australia. (n.d.). Asylum Seeker Policy. Retrieved 12th March, 2016, from

NSW Refugee Health Service (2009). “Refugee Children”. Fact Sheet 8. Retrieved 12th March, 2016, from

NSW Refugee Health Service (2011). “Refugee Women”. Fact Sheet 5. Retrieved 12th March, 2016, from

NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors. (2004). “Working with Refugees”. A Guide for Social Workers. NSW Refugee Health Service. Sydney Australia. Retrieved 16th March, 2016, from

Parliament of Australia (n.d.). “Chapter 2 – The “Children Overboard” Incident”.

Former Senate Committees. Retrieved 12th March, 2016, from

Phillips, J. (2013). Asylum Seekers and Refugees: What are the Facts?. Canberra: Department of Parliamentary Services, Parliament of Australia.

Refugee Council (n.d). Retrieved 19th March, 2016,from

Sundet, P. A., & Kelly, M. J. (2002). Legislative policy briefs: Practical methodology in teaching policy practice. Journal of Teaching in SocialWork, 22(1/2), 49–60.

Tiver, P., & Matheson, C. (1997). Theories of the Australian State. In Module 1 Part 1 The State, Government and Social Policy (pp. 9-13). Wagga Wagga: OpenLearning Institute, Charles Sturt University.

Warner-Smith, P., & Brown, P. (2002). The Town Dictates what I do: The Leisure, Health and Well-being of Women in a Small Australian Country Town. Leisure Studies, 21(1), 39–56.

Appendix I

    1. ”. Joint Media Statement. Retrieved 12th March, 2016, from

Thursday 4 February 2016

Australian international aid and community sector agencies today united behind churches across the country who are opening their doors to asylum seekers facing removal back to offshore detention centre.

The groups, including ACOSS, Australian Council for International Development, Anglicare Australia, Catholic Social Services Australia, Mission Australia, Oxfam Australia, St Vincent de Paul Society, Save the Children, and World Vision, urge  the Australian government to allow the families and their children to stay in Australia.

“The High Court of Australia may have ruled against the challenge to the legality of our offshore detention centres, but what’s at stake here is the safety and wellbeing of traumatised and vulnerable people, including 37 babies and 54 children. This goes beyond technical legalities, it’s about our humanity, our morals and values, our human rights obligations and what’s the right humanitarian thing to do,” said ACFID Chief Executive Officer, Mr Marc Purcell.

“We are a wealthy nation made up of people who have been welcomed from all around the world. It is certainly within our capacity and our moral duty to provide these people sanctuary,” said ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie.

“We remain opposed to offshore processing, and urge the Federal Government to immediately move to process the outstanding applications of asylum seekers and provide safe haven here in Australia. Our services are offered to provide assistance to the families and their children to enable them stay in Australia, out of harm’s way.”

“Australia’s churches, community sector and broader civil society are ready and able to welcome and ensure the proper care and protection of this small group of people and children. We have housing, community, employment and faith networks that will ensure people seeking asylum in Australia are safe and integrate successfully into the Australian community. We call on the Government to work with us to ensure Australia fulfills its humanitarian obligations,” Dr Goldie said.

“Aid agencies have staffs who are highly experienced in working with refugees in places like Afghanistan and with the Syrians displaced by war. They also have staff that specialise in working with families and children suffering from trauma. Many of our member agencies can support the churches offering sanctuary with this range of expertise,” said Mr Purcell.

Media contacts:
ACOSS Media Adviser: Fernando De Freitas 0419 626 155
For interviews with Marc Purcell, CEO, ACFIDcontact Joanna Pradela

Appendix II

26 March 2016

To Fernando De Freitas,

ACOSS Media Adviser

Dear Mr. De Freitas,

According to the Joint Media Statement made by ACOSS and other organizations, there is a current issue with the housing in detention centres for refugees and asylum seekers. Clearly, the existing Australian Federal Government social policy is not efficient and humane enough in regard to detention centre housing and protection of refugees and asylum seekers, especially the most vulnerable population: women and child refugees and asylum seekers. In view of this, I have developed some alternative strategies on detention centre housing and protection of women and child refugees and asylum seekers, which would allow more positive safety and health outcomes for women and child refugees and asylum seekers through improved detention centre housing and everyday care. The recommendations within these strategies may be useful for the ACOSS campaign on refugee and asylum seeker protection in Australia. Please see the detailed information in the accompanying documents.

Best Regards,

[1] From here on in this paper, I will refer to women refugees and asylum seekers as ‘women’ and I will refer to child refugees and asylum seekers as ‘children’.

[2] The new policy does not attempt to foresee the potential problems arising in the future. Therefore, if these recommendations are implemented, then rectifications are encouraged if any unexpected consequences or accompanying issues arise.

[3] From here on in this paper, I will refer to managers, guardians and safeguards as personnel.

[4] The Women at Risk visa only covers refugee women’s children. This social policy plan advocates that a new type of visa should be created for children who travel without their female family members.

[5] This is in cases where the women and children have no family members remaining.

[6] The church sanctuary was where Australian churches opened their doors to asylum seekers while urging the Australian Federal Government to provide sanctuary to these asylum seekers.