Children living in a Queensland residential care home were the subject of death threats on social media – including calls for neighbours to “storm the house” and “hang whoever is inside” – after media reports incorrectly claimed the premises was a halfway house for young criminals.
The head of the Queensland family and child commission, Luke Twyford, said last week he was “deeply concerned” at public sentiment which called for more punitive responses to youth crime in the face of clear evidence that “tough” approaches did not work.
The notion of a “youth crime crisis” has been fuelled by several high-profile incidents involving teenagers, some media reporting and heightened political commentary.
Queensland locks up more children than any other state or territory. The state government said it was being led by “community expectations” in introducing “even tougher” laws, despite evidence that detention and tough approaches in relation to young people are likely to lead to increased crime.
An alliance of about 50 community organisations will on Wednesday launch a call for politicians to stop “point scoring” and to implement solutions “that actually work”.
At the same time, there is growing concern about extreme and “vitriolic” responses by some community members.
The child protection peak body PeakCare Queensland said social media posts had included death threats targeting vulnerable children living in a state care home, which is owned by a charity organisation.
Guardian Australia has chosen not to publish details that might further identify the premises.
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One media report included a map clearly showing the location of the home, and described it incorrectly as a “halfway house” that “accommodates youth offenders”.
The facility houses vulnerable children in state care, most of whom have “no involvement whatsoever with the youth justice system”, PeakCare said.
One social media post in a community group, which has been taken down after a complaint, called on local people to break into the premises and hang those inside.
Deleted Facebook posts by community members included one that uses heat map technology to show the movements of children and others, including people with disabilities and other seriously vulnerable people, in care facilities owned by the same charity.
Other posts, which remain online on Facebook on public pages, contain strong racist language about the children at the home. Guardian Australia has chosen not to publish those comments.
PeakCare said children, young people and community workers were now fearful about being targeted by vigilantes.
“This is just one especially putrid example of vile messages that this organisation and others have been receiving,” PeakCare said.
“Today, we are now facing a diabolical situation where many children and young people in care are fearful of how their local communities and neighbourhoods regard them.
“Some are now fearful of walking out their front door. Their carers and the staff members who support these children and young people are also fearful for them and sometimes frightened about how they themselves are being regarded.
“In PeakCare’s opinion, there are some choices to be made by politicians from all parties about how they respond to this emerging and extremely alarming dynamic.”