Youth services and diversionary initiatives in Lake Macquarie

16th October 2018

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (20:15:51):

We often hear that it takes a village to raise a child. While I am not sure that the adage is entirely true all the time, it is certainly true when it comes to protecting, growing and encouraging vulnerable young people in our local communities. The Lake Macquarie community is no different to most, with many young children and adults finding themselves on the wrong life path for a variety of reasons. The electorate's youth unemployment rate is roughly the same as the State average at 10.3 per cent, but its youth crime rate has generally been falling for some time. I am particularly pleased about the latter statistic as there are many people and agencies in the Lake Macquarie area who work together to protect our vulnerable young people, keeping them on the right track, providing pathways to reform, and helping them find new opportunities.

Our police and justice system are vitally important in creating good outcomes when our young people are, for whatever reason, at risk. Recently I was pleased to receive an update from Magistrate Ellen Skinner on some of the great initiatives and youth services that are employed throughout my electorate that provide opportunities for young people appearing in the Children's Court. In 2009 Magistrate Skinner became the youngest Magistrate to be appointed in New South Wales. Having worked as an Aboriginal Legal Service provider for some years, she has served as Magistrate at Broadmeadow Children's Court since 2017. The court, which hears the majority of juvenile cases in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie area, now hosts a meeting every two months which brings together managers from Police, Education, Health, Juvenile Justice, Family and Community Services, and local non-government organisations involved in providing services to young offenders. The meeting aims to provide an oversight for youth workers to assist in ensuring that government agencies are delivering the services needed. So far it has been working very well. The court also hosts an afternoon tea every three to six months that brings together people working in the youth services sector to discuss issues and share ideas.

Among other initiatives, Family and Community Services now funds an outreach worker to provide referrals and support to young offenders. I am told that this initiative is assisting in reducing youth homelessness, conflict and the number of children who remain in custody because appropriate accommodation is not available to them. Allambi Care, a prominent non-government service provider in my electorate, also funds a youth case manager who attends court every Monday to speak to young offenders, identify needs, and assist with referrals. It also has recorded early success. Two young offenders who frequently appeared before Magistrate Skinner last year have been able to make vast improvements to their lives and have stayed out of trouble for almost a year. It is a fantastic achievement for them.

A collaboration of services including local police and Police Citizens Youth Club centres developed a 10-week life skills project called Leaders in Training [LIT]. The pilot program has been running throughout Lake Macquarie and early results suggest it is also doing well and may be extended into other areas. LIT is backed by a number of organisations including Wesley Youth Services, APM Employment, Family Planning, TAFE, the Salvation Army, Relationships Australia, and local police. It targets anger management, drug and alcohol issues, employment and education issues, general life skills, sexual and mental health, and even cultural issues. These are just some of the initiatives happening in my community. I am proud of the way that various agencies are collaborating to make good adults out of our vulnerable young people.

There is no magic wand we can wave to keep our kids out of trouble. Substance abuse and mental health issues are still significant issues in our communities, as is youth homelessness and proper education. As I mentioned earlier, it sometimes takes a village to raise a child well. I am buoyed by what is happening in my electorate. I have had regular meetings with Superintendent Danny Sullivan, the District Commander of Lake Macquarie Police District and a friend of the member for Terrigal. He has a particular interest in identifying and protecting vulnerable or at-risk young people. He has told me that he is proud of the role that senior constables Lisa Thompson, Vanessa Ell and Darren Martin have had in working with others through LIT to assist younger members of the community. He was particularly complimentary Magistrate Skinner's role. I thank the police, the agencies and the many individuals such as Magistrate Ellen Skinner for the work they are doing, for the commitment they are providing to this important sector, and for the opportunities and hope they are providing to young people in Lake Macquarie.

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