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Western Australia trials Young Offender Program

PERTH, 2 AUGUST 2000, 2 PM.

I am pleased to be here today to join in launching Western Australia’s new trial service to help young people who have been juvenile offenders to get back on track.

The service is called a Young Offender Pilot Project and is one of 11 projects, either operational or about to become operational around the country – 5 in Victoria, 2 in Queensland, 2 in the Northern Territory and now, 2 in Western Australia.

The Young Offenders Pilot Program was announced by the Prime Minister in early 1998, and the first seven projects commenced in Victoria and Queensland in December of that year.

The Commonwealth has allocated almost $2.4 million for these programs, including over $330, 000 to the Western Australian Government for two new services in this state – one in Kalgoorlie and one in Perth. This clearly demonstrates the Commonwealth’s commitment to finding new ways of meeting the needs of young offenders.

The primary aim of the Young Offenders Pilot Program is to trial various models of intensive, coordinated support for young offenders who are at risk of becoming entrenched in the criminal justice system. The pilots will test the effectiveness of providing focussed support to young offenders through a single point of contact, or more specifically, the caring supervision of one youth worker or a small team of youth workers.

A comprehensive ongoing evaluation of the various project models will provide valuable information that will help to develop long term strategies for working with and rehabilitating young offenders.

The Commonwealth so far has worked with the Queensland, Victorian, West Australian and Northern Territory Governments, which have been contracted to manage the projects, and to come up with a variety of models to trial these services. In this way they can cater for regional and demographic differences, since young people in say, Mackay in Northern Queensland do not necessarily have the same set of circumstances as young people in North Melbourne. Provision of the services has been contracted out by various organisations, further diversifying the method of service delivery.

For example, in Victoria there is a service which has a specific rural focus, assisting young offenders in rural areas, and a metropolitan Melbourne service which targets early school leavers. And there is a service based in the Southern Suburbs of Melbourne which targets juveniles from the Indo-Chinese community of the Dandenong area. Then there is the Mackay-based project run by Kalyan Youth Services, which provides North Queensland young offenders with comprehensive assistance.

The Western Australian projects are specifically catering for Western Australian young people. However, we have ensured that the service providers in Victoria and Queensland were able to link up with local officers in the Western Australian Ministry of Justice to share the valuable insight gained from implementing their projects.

Learning from the experiences of these pilots is essential. This is why the Young Offenders Pilot Program is continually evaluated from progress reports given by the agencies against agreed criteria. The evaluation strategy includes data collection recording participation outcomes, surveys and interviews with project staff, field visits by officers of the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs, interviews with local stakeholders and community organisations, client case studies and a national workshop.

There are numerous benefits from this program for the young people involved, including:

>> Improved relationships with family members. This is achieved through supporting the family to accept and support the young person, whilst changing patterns of behaviour and stabilising the young person.
>> Decreased drug use
>> Returning to school or securing employment
>> Enrolling in TAFE or other training or educational courses.
>> Improved self esteem

A key success factor of the program is the ability of the project workers to develop trusting relationships with the young people. The project workers get up close and personal with their clients, often teaching them basic living skills, general health and drug education, and help to provide stability in their lives. When I have visited services, workers have told me about how they pick young people up from home, feed them and take them to school and try to ensure they stay at school. They provide vital community support and mentoring for the young person and their families.

The following examples provided by project managers demonstrate how the program works.

A young Vietnamese woman offender, let’s call her Sarah, was referred to the Young Offenders Pilot Program with multiple problems including no income and living away from home due to family conflict. Sarah was on a methadone program which was unstable, and she did not know anything about her options to access services to help her get back on track. After discussions with Sarah, her case worker developed a support plan where she was provided with at least 4 hours of weekly counselling sessions.

During these sessions, Sarah learnt about her education and employment options, and was helped to improve her family relationship. The Young Offenders Pilot Program team also advocated on her behalf with Centrelink regarding the Youth Allowance, and she began to receive this payment.

After Sarah was helped to assess her education and employment opportunities, she decided that she wanted to take a part-time computer class and, at the same time, search for a part-time job.

Due to a lack of transport, the Young Offenders Pilot Program workers took her regularly to the computer class at a community learning centre and helped her look for a job.

After 8 weeks, Sarah successfully completed her computer class and now studies an administrative course at TAFE. The project team has also arranged for her to participate in a range of community activities.

Family contacts have been established by the project workers in a culturally and linguistically acceptable manner, and Sarah is now regularly visiting her family, her methadone program is stable and she is completing her TAFE course.

Another case involved a young man in custody – let’s call him Paul. The project worker visited Paul twice whilst in custody, explaining the project and discussing options available to him on release. When Paul was released from custody the project worker continued to provide support, helping him to establish contact with Centrelink and then a job network provider and access to further intensive support that his Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder entitled him to.

Further, when a traineeship was advertised on a dairy farm, the worker contacted the employer and arranged an interview. Paul got the job, and the project worker organised boots and overalls and money to help him out until he was paid.

When he took the employer’s bike for a ride down to the shop without permission, the project worker stepped in and asked the employer to give him a second chance. After 3 weeks in the position, a mentor was provided to support him for 2 months. The mentor attended Paul’s TAFE component of the traineeship to help him with his numeracy and literacy difficulties.

Although Paul was put off after two months due to the financial difficulties of his employer, he managed to secure work at a local factory. Paul had the start he needed.

These examples speak for themselves.

Of course, not all stories are success stories. While there are a lot of successes, every Young Offender Pilot Program has its failures where young people drop out for various reasons including chronic drug use. There is no quick-fix solution for all the young people who are the clients of the Young Offenders Pilot Program. Research shows what many youth workers and many people present here would already know that the backgrounds of young offenders are most often characterised by unemployment, lack of educational achievement, mental health problems, alcohol and substance abuse and family breakdown.

However, what these services do, is give young people a chance to gain some stability in their lives.

Without taking up any more of your time, I’d like to reaffirm the Commonwealth government’s commitment to all young people, particularly those with special needs.

I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of youth workers throughout Australia. These people never fail to impress me with their tireless and often thankless dedication and commitment to helping young people.

I extend my best wishes to all those who will be involved in these challenging and often difficult projects.

See also

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