This National Youth Week Youthlaw calls on governments to recognise and address significant barriers that prevent young people across Australia achieving their potential.
High youth unemployment
For the past 10 years youth unemployment has steadily increased. Young people have an unemployment rate that is twice and in some regions, triple the adult rate. The impact of this on young people can be enormous including long-term unemployment, poor mental & physical health, vulnerability to drugs and crime and homelessness.
Recent spikes in repeat and serious offending are being committed by young people in areas of very high unemployment.
There is wide consensus yet little focus on the inadequate funding of public secondary schools, TAFE and other educational and trade schools. It has resulted in high school disengagement and a generation of young people unable to obtain employment.
High youth mental health
The mental health needs of young people are only starting to be recognised, and funding for these services is way behind this need. Headspace is a start but needs greater funding. Greater funding is also required across the spectrum of need including chronic and complex mental health.
High exposure to family violence and childhood abuse
The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence and other inquiries are starting to reveal the impact family violence has on children and young people. In addition child abuse and neglect is a significant issued as is evidenced by high child protection intervention rates across Australia.
Data from Frontyard Youth Services indicates that a high proportion of the vulnerable young people presenting have been subjected to childhood abuse, neglect and./or family violence, often resulting in homelessness, poor mental health, substance abuse, school disengagement, victimisation and unemployment.
Despite media reports that focus on youth crime, the Victorian Crime Statistics Agency figures from March show a 37% drop in the number of youth offenders aged 10 to 14 over the past 10 years, and no increase in the number of youth offenders aged 15 to 19.
However overwhelmingly young people in the criminal justice system have a background of vulnerability and disadvantage including family breakdown and violence, childhood neglect, and abuse. Those who have been in the child protection system are overrepresented (62% of those in juvenile detention) as are indigenous youth who are 2.4 times more likely to be in juvenile custody than non-indigenous youth.
What is needed?
- Creation of employment and training pathways & opportunities for young people
- Increased funding for education, mental health and family violence services
- Early intervention mechanisms such as police, court diversion & bail support to prevent vulnerable youth from entering the criminal justice system
- Free legal representation for all vulnerable young people under 25 facing criminal charges
- Increased funding for specialist youth legal centres to assist young people to assert and protect their rights.
- Increased funding to frontline youth and community services including community legal centres) to support vulnerable young people
- Governments to resist introducing law and order measures (eg. harsher & mandatory sentencing, minor offences leading to jail, new offences) that only net widen young people entering the criminal justice system and jails.
- Governments to act on calls to change criminal justice approaches and introduce a justice reinvestment approach that focuses on addressing the causes of crime.
- Governments to act on the calls to cut indigenous prison rates by ending mandatory sentencing for minor offences.