Latest News & Updates

Youthlaw opposes push for PSOs in shopping centres & main streets

Victoria Police and Government want Protective Service Officers (PSOs) to be allowed to continue to patrol shopping centres and main streets beyond the pandemic.

Youthlaw opposes this:

PSOs have limited training – only about one third of the training of other police officers.  Yet they have a significant powers including carrying guns, issuing fines, searching & detaining & exercising move on powers.

The lack of training for PSOs, coupled with the lack of an independent complaints system, leaves vulnerable groups open to unfair, over-policing. It is disappointing that one of the major grounds of arrest during the state of emergency has been drunk in public place – especially when the government has committed to abolishing this offence.

We already hear about incidents at train stations involving PSOs and excessive fining of young people with known vulnerabilities. Young people will be particularly vulnerable to over-policing with PSOs patrolling shopping centres and main streets post pandemic. These are some of the few public places that young people are able to gather together in relative safety, and which don’t cost any money.

We call for a review of the PSO program rather than expansion of their duties. 

We also call for independent investigation of all misconduct complaints against PSO and police.

We’re still here to help you during COVID-19

Youthlaw is here to support young people during COVID-19.

You can contact us for help if :

  • Are confused about what you can and can’t do under the new COVID-19 rules
  • Feel unsafe at home. Or, you are worried about the safety of someone in your family during the COVID-19 isolation measures.
  • Want advice about a fine you got for being out and about
  • Have to go to court
  • Were treated unfairly by police
  • Are having trouble paying your rent or bills because you lost your job or aren’t working as much

Although we are not currently running our drop in clinics or face-to-face appointments you can still get legal information and advice, Monday to Friday 9am- 5pm by:

Calling us to speak confidentially to a lawyer on 9113 9500.

Or sending us an email to

We know that family violence can get worse during these times, especially when people are home together, all the time.

Family Violence includes:

  • Someone physically hurting you in any way (hitting, kicking you etc) ;
  • Using the Coronavirus to control or frighten you;
  • Stopping you from getting medical treatment that you need;
  • Restricting your movements around the house for example, saying that you can only stay in one room; or
  • Monitoring your mobile and/or email.

If you are in immediate danger, please call 000.

If you are not in danger right now, but would like to talk to a lawyer or a youth worker about family violence, you can speak to our family violence program by calling our main phone line on 9113 9500, or emailing us at

Please note: We are not a crisis service.

  • If you feel unsafe or threatened or fearful for yourself, a child or family member, please call 000.
  • If you are in a crisis, call Safe Steps, Victoria’s 24/7 family violence response line on 1800 015 188.
  • If you need an interpreter, call the Telephone Interpreter Service (24 hours) on 131 450. They will connect you with the service you want.

Young people are being punished for being victims of childhood abuse & neglect

Sentencing Advisory Council Crossover report

28 June 2019

The Sentencing Advisory Council Crossover Kids report into vulnerable children in the criminal justice system  released yesterday,  is a powerful analysis of a historical & current failure to adequately address the trauma of childhood abuse & neglect.

This is a timely report given the recent Vic Government budget announcement of expansions & new prisons to be built.

It is quite clear from this report that adequately addressing the trauma of childhood abuse & neglect would substantially reduce prison numbers.

The report tells us that young people are being fast tracked into the criminal justice system. They are being punished for being abused in childhood.  Of all children sentenced or diverted in the Children’s Court in 2016 & 2017 (a total of 5,063 children) 1938 or 38% had a history of child protection.

  • 58% of those offending between 10 & 15 had a child protection history. Previous studies have found early offending to be a strong predictor of re-offending & adult imprisonment
  • A high proportion of young people on remand have a child protection history.
  • 1 in 2 in youth detention had a child protection background
  • Multiple placements in care was a prominent feature (1 in 2 had 5 or more placements )
  • Residential unit care was a prominent feature ( 58% in residential care /10% in other care )
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) young people were over represented by a factor of 11.5

It is time that the trauma that children have experienced is adequately recognised and addressed.

There are simple actions the Victorian government can take:

  1. Early and adequate therapeutic care, counselling & support for all children experiencing childhood abuse, including at opportune moments such as early offending.  We note a similar recommendation from the Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People Andrew Jackomos (Always was ,Always will be Koori Children – 2016 )as well as many other recommendations, in regard to Koori children in the child protection system.
  2. Improved care in child protection – Residential care and multiple placements are clearly inadequate and very harmful. The Vic Gov’t has signalled intention to move young people out of residential care; however more needs to be done. It can’t be temporary /inadequate fixes such as caravan park accommodation.
  3. Review of bail laws and guidelines to ensure that young people with a child protection background are not disproportionately impacted because of lack of a home to be bailed to.
  4. Legislative guidelines to all courts sentencing children that they must take into account the child’s experience of abuse, trauma & neglect, parental death, loss, removal from family or experience of out-of-home care and how these circumstances relate to the child’s offending; the need to ensure that the child has a safe, stable and secure place to live; or the need to protect the child from harm or the risk of harm. Currently NO such requirements exist in sentencing guidelines
  5. Government initiated protocols to reduce involvement of police in residential homes, those results in charging of young people.
  6. Raise the age of criminal responsibility

Taking action will reduce youth crime & prisons numbers. What could be better for the gov’t and the community?

The report is 1 of 2 to be released. The 2nd will drill down to the type & extent of abuse experienced by those in the criminal justice system.  We expect this will reveal that often those most severely sentenced in the criminal justice system are those who have been most severely abused.

It is important we all recognise that most young people with a child protection history do not offend. The number of child offenders with a child protection history was 1,938 over the 2 years studied whereas in the year 2015-16 there were almost 15,000 substantiated child protection cases and close to 10,000 children were removed and placed in care.

Find the report at

Ariel Couchman

Young People’s Legal Rights Centre (Youthlaw)


Proposed changes to laws will result in more young people in the criminal justice system

Proposed new laws , listed to be debated in Parliament today, would result in more  young people, often from disadvantaged parts of our community, getting caught up in the criminal justice system.  These proposals come at a critical time when Victoria actually needs to be doing much more to reduce prison numbers and promote reforms to prevent people entering cycles of crime.

In particular our concerns with the Bill are provisions that:

  1. Permits police officers taking DNA samples from children without judicial oversight. We believe the current law provides important and necessary protection to children given their greater vulnerability, the imbalance between a police officer and a child suspect and the potential for undue influence, and
  2. Introduce a new criminal offence of intimidation of officers or a family members that we believe will see over-charging of alleged young offenders (often from disadvantaged parts of our community) potentially in circumstances where the officer or family members were not placed in a state of apprehension or fear, and where the accused did not intend to place the victim in such a state.
  3. The Bill reduces the commercial quantity of heroin from 250 grams to 50 grams and introduces a new offence of trafficking for an organisation. Our concern is that the significant quantity adjustment will put a large number of vulnerable heroin users in the commercial trafficking offence category. People charged as commercial quantity traffickers would no longer have options which help users to rehabilitate, recover from their addiction and be supported to steer away from the criminal justice system.

We urge Victorian parliamentarians to rethink these changes in the Bill that we fear will not promote a safer community (as intended), but  entrench more young people in the crime, who could have remained and been supported in their communities.