How education is unlocking potential for kids in youth justice

September 18, 2017 |

Right now, it’s crunch time for Victoria’s 20,000 Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) students.  With less than three months until graduation, VCAL students around the state are racing against the clock to finalise projects that demonstrate their literacy and numeracy capabilities, personal development and work related skills.

One of those students is Ryan (not his real name). Ahead of National Homelessness Week last month, Ryan chose to focus his VCAL personal development project on raising awareness of homelessness in Australia. Ryan applied his classroom learning to plan a BBQ.  He designed posters and plastered them across his campus. He organised vegan, vegetarian, halal and gluten-free options for his classmates, and spent a day in the kitchen making 100 cupcakes for the event. Ryan was determined to reach as many of his classmates and teachers as possible, to raise awareness and highlight the issues facing people who are experiencing homelessness.

After students and staff had gathered for the feast, Ryan delivered an impassioned speech highlighting issues surrounding homelessness and how community members can contribute to minimizing homelessness. Ryan brought a tear to more than a few eyes with his honest and humble words. A strong advocate for the homeless community, Ryan brought a unique perspective to the subject: Ryan is a student at Parkville College in the Malmsbury youth detention facility. Homelessness is something many of his classmates have a personal experience of. Ryan’s teacher contacted us about the project, telling us: “The time and effort that went into this was incredible and I have never been so proud!”

Stories like Ryan’s are important.  They challenge a wildly inaccurate narrative about young people in the youth justice system that has emerged over the past 18 months.  Stories like Ryan’s run completely counter to the myths and stereotypes about this group of young people.

Stories like Ryan’s also highlight the strong link between education and positive outcomes for young people who are involved with statutory services and other social services. The recently-released Youth Justice Review and Strategy undertaken by James Ogloff and Penny Armytage, commissioned by the State Government, highlighted that young people involved with the youth justice system have typically had “fragmented and persistently problematic contact with education services”.

Through programs such as Springboard and Connect Youth – which provide intensive support to young people to reconnect with education and training and build pathways to employment – Melbourne City Mission has seen first-hand how education can and does disrupt trajectories into long-term disadvantage.

In our Connect Youth program – where 31 per cent of young people have engagement with youth justice – we know the positive outcomes that are possible when young offenders receive an education response supported by long-term case management.

The Youth Justice Review and Strategy highlights the importance of measures that support young people – and the service system itself – to address the underlying causes of their offending, and divert children and young people away from detention facilities and repeat involvement with the justice system.

Education is key to this.  Melbourne City Mission unequivocally welcomes the recommendation that State Government establish a priority objective that links young offenders to education/skills training and employment.

That’s what smart justice for young people looks like.

By Vicki Sutton, CEO, Melbourne City Mission.

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