Advocacy for improved supports & services

family violence, school , mental well being , child protection & Koori specific

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Family Violence

What’s the problem?

Family violence is experienced by many children either directly or as a witness. The impact of this is only beginning to be understood. Most children and young people do not speak to anyone about this and there are few dedicated services or supports for young people. Not receiving the therapy and support they need can lead to serious impacts including poor mental health, dropping out of education, unemployment and homelessness. For some young people it also leads to using violence against family members and their partners and children.

The final report of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence released 1 April 2016 is a great starting point for understanding the problem and some of the solutions. The Andrews Government has committed to funding all recommendations. The Federal Government has not made a similar commitment.

We applaud recognition that young people using violence require a different response than adults. Many are victims of family violence themselves and/or have been exposed to dysfunction and violence by family members. They are also still developing and forming their attitudes and behaviours. We strongly support recommendations for increased programs and interventions with a therapeutic focus that address their violence and that which underpins it.

Key recommendations in the report we support:

  • substantially increasing available therapeutic programs and counselling for child and youth victims of family violence and that such support should not be of short duration but for as long as required
  • police and child protection to pay attention to the views and needs of children and young people
  • funding of supportive accommodation for those young people who have become homeless due to family violence
  • preventative and relationship education for young people.

Relevant funding in the Victorian 2016-17 State Budget included:

  • $21.9 million for respectful relationships education
  • $572 million over 2 years for housing and specialist supports
  • $8.5 million to child protection for long-term therapeutic support and sexual assault counselling for children exposed to family violence
  • $500,000 for youth specific initiatives such as the Sexually Abusive Behaviours Treatment program.

What action do we want ? 

Much more support is needed as there is very little available for young people who have been abused or witnessed family in childhood and/or are using violence themselves in their relationships.

We urge implementation ASAP of the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence Report (2016):

  • funding of therapeutic programs and counselling for children and young people who are victims of family violence (within 2 years): Rec 23.
  • subject to evaluation, extend the Adolescent Family Violence Program (within 2 years): Rec 123
  • funding of youth homelessness and other youth services providing supported accommodation for young people experiencing family violence (within 2 years): Rec 24
  • Melbourne Children’s Court worker positions to assist young people and families in situations where adolescents are using violence in the home (within 12 months): Rec 126
  • Youth Resource officers to provide support to young people and their families where police attend at an incident in which an adolescent has used violence in the home (within 12 months): Rec 125
  • funding of crisis and longer term accommodation for adolescents who use violence in the home. This to be combined with therapeutic support provided to end the young person’s use of violence in the family (within 2 years): Rec 124.

Disengagement & exclusion from education

What’s the problem?

The Victorian Education Department acknowledges that up to 10,000 young people drop out of school entirely every year. Research indicates lack of engagement with education is a strong predictor of criminal offending and of long term and chronic homelessness, health problems and unemployment. Disciplinary proceedings including suspensions and expulsions have a serious impact on students and can contribute to disruption or dropping out of school. Increasingly experts agree that there is over-reliance on discipline instead of positive and preventative responses to student behaviour.

Young people have told us:

  • suspension and expulsion are not always conducted with fairness
  • there isn’t enough support and counselling offered through school
  • schools often don’t listen and there is a lack of a reasonable response to needs – e.g. learning difficulties, not fitting in and bullying by other students
  • schools use discipline to get rid of students who don’t fit in
  • there are few alternatives to mainstream schools.

What action to do we want?

  • an urgent review by the Victorian Government of exclusion from school that looks at processes for suspensions and expulsions, informal pressure on families to pull kids out, kids dropping out and no-one following them up
  • support for young people to stay in school when they look like they are disengaging
  • increased funding to public schools as they are stretched and under-funded
  • support to schools such as wellbeing staff, psychologists, counsellors and youth workers (not one counsellor for 8,000 kids as is common now).
  • staff who can identify who is not attending school and work with them to keep them in school (Note: in some regions this role is being played by the Navigator program)
  • support for schools to develop trauma informed practice and build literacy and first aid skills in relation to youth mental health – reputable models include the Berry Street Education Model, Calmer Classrooms, Mind Matters, Youth Mental Health First Aid, and Teen Mental Health First Aid (Note: it is not enough to ‘offer’ PD for school staff. Schools must have adequate staffing, resources, time, and partnerships and, in some cases, formal requirements to ensure this professional support is accessed and utilised properly)
  • adequate support for new teachers to work with students experiencing trauma and mental health problems
  • support to schools to work collaboratively with students, families and outside services to develop innovative classroom designs and practices which reduce anxiety and foster positive relationship-building
  • support for schools to provide students with a range of high quality VET in Schools and VCAL options, without passing costs onto families experiencing disadvantage
  • alternative schools for young people who find their mainstream school so inappropriate to their needs that they disengage
  • provision of the Student Resource Package or an equivalent funding package to support re-engagement either into a mainstream school or an alternative or community-based vocational setting
  • continued funding of youth foyers that provide supported accommodation to vulnerable young people and engage young people in education and training.

Submissions & publications

From the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVic):

Inclusion and exclusion of students in Victoria schools (2016)

Mapping the Middle Ground (2010) on supporting the educational engagement of young people aged 10-14 years

Mental well being

What’s the problem?

  • one third of young people in Victorian youth justice centres have mental health issues
  • a significant number of young people who come in contact with the criminal justice system are suffering trauma from childhood abuses and experiences that has not been diagnosed or adequately treated
  • a key driver of serious repeat offending is childhood abuse and neglect
  • family violence is extensive and seriously impacts on many young people
  • many young people are only diagnosed for the first time with a mental heath disorder in detention
  • a significant number of young people turn on themselves (e.g., suicide, substance abuse) and become chronically homeless and unemployed
  • suicide rates for LGBTI  young people is high and reflects the lack of acceptance of their sexuality.

We note and welcome 2016-17 State Budget funding:

  • $43.8 million for the Doctors in Secondary Schools program
  • $1.15 million to expand the HEY project, which works to strengthen the mental health of young people who are same sex attracted and sex/gender diverse
  • $59 million over 3 years to rebuild Orygen Youth Mental Health
  • a grant to the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre to develop a youth suicide prevention app, to link vulnerable young Victorians to support and help them develop a safety plan
  • $21.9 million over two years for respectful relationships education.

What action do we want?

We urge:

  • adequate funding of mental health & psychological services that are targeted at vulnerable young people
  • adequate funding of such services throughout the youth justice system
  • reorientation of juvenile detention practice from being punitive to being a therapeutic environment.

Child protection

What’s the problem?

Two-thirds of children in Victorian youth justice centres are known to child protection authorities.

We know nine out of 10 Koori children in out-of-home care are traumatised by family violence. High figures also apply for non-Koori kids. Too many make their way into the criminal justice system. These children need the right services and supports to recover from the trauma they have lived through.

What action do we want?

We urge:

  • a well-being and restorative approach to young people in child protection residential and out of home care including practices that reduce police involvement in response to challenging behaviours of young people in care
  • adequate therapeutic treatment for all Koori young people entering the out of home care system to address the trauma they have experienced.

Koori specific services

What’s the problem?

Koori children are 12 times more likely to be locked up than non-Koori children. Many of these children have themselves already been victims of the worst society has to throw at them. When they offend, we need to tackle the causes and support them to turn around, not compound these causes by exposing them to more abuse.

What action do we want?

We urge:

  • substantial investment by the Victorian Government in specific initiatives to address the high proportion of Koori young people in the criminal justice system.

Submissions & publications

From the Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People:

The Taskforce 1000 inquiry: Always was always will be Koori children – systemic inquiry into services provided to Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care in Victoria