Joint Submission to Review of Age of Criminal Responsibility
The Australian Youth Affairs Coalition (AYAC) together with Youth Action and the other state and territory youth sector peak bodies across Australia created a joint submission calling on the Council of Attorneys-General (COAG) and the Australian Government to raise the age of legal criminal responsibility from 10 years to 14.
Children as young as 10 years old in Australia are being arrested, prosecuted and detained in prisons. They are being torn away from their families, communities and culture. They are being incarcerated in facilities that increase the likelihood of reoffending when compared to suitable alternatives, such as youth work programs and community supports. In Australia, there are around 600 children below the age of 14 who are locked up in prison each year.
Children and young people deserve supports that enable them to succeed. This is particularly important for children between the ages of 10–14. The earlier children have contact with the criminal justice system, the more likely they are to have long term involvement in crime. Raising the age of criminal responsibility will reduce long term offending and increase community safety.
The Australian community, including state and territory governments, is collectively responsible for supporting children and young people to reach their potential and become positive and productive citizens. Raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 is an appropriate first step toward reducing overrepresentation of particular cohorts of young people, and better supporting children and young people in Australia.
The research is clear, prevention and early intervention is better for young people, better for communities and better for the government's hip pocket.
Yet even after decades of government reports, reviews and reforms calling for greater investment, there has been little movement and funding continues to be crisis oriented rather than focusing on preventing the issue in the first case and intervening much earlier when an issue starts to arise.
The failure to grow investment in true prevention or early intervention only serves to increase children, young people and families who require intensive support, while at the same time undermines effective work already happening on the ground.
Youth Action in partnership with Fams and LSCA have done the groundwork to prepare the 2019 early intervention review paper 'The case for an effective prevention and early intervention approach' which fills the definitional gap and proposes a model for investment.
To read the 2019 review download the PDF.
Youth Action partnered with MYAN NSW to provide a response to the Inquiry into Migrant Settlement Outcomes. Our submission focussed on the youth settlement and multicultural sector in NSW, as well as addressing misrepresentations regarding young people and anti-social behaviour.
NSW has a talented and diverse population of young people with enormous potential. In NSW alone, almost 30% of young people are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds – that’s over 340,000.
Most young people are doing well in Australia, however some have contact with systems like youth justice. Our joint submission disputed perceptions regarding 'youth gangs', and challenged the disproportionate focus on the small number of young people from refugee and migrant communities engaging in anti-social behaviour.
We urged the inquiry to focus on youth justice principles that recognise the different capacity of young people. We encourage a focus on prevention and intervention while ensuring services to young people are timely and culturally intelligent to support positive outcomes for young people.
Below are the commitments we have achieved from the Baird Government on the 9 vital youth issues in our 2015 election agenda.
Prevention & Early Intervention Services:
Commit to increase the Child, Youth and Family Support program budget by $52 million.
74 Youth Action members lobbied their local candidates, and we received support from many politicians who have since been elected to the NSW Parliament.
The Government did not commit to increasing funding for the Child, Youth and Family Support program budget.
We will continue to campaign to highlight the amazing work that youth services and youth workers do, and push for a commitment from government for an increase in funding.
Commit to improving housing affordability for young people.
The Government has pledged to set up a $1 billion fund for social and affordable housing and $20 million for a Social Housing Community Improvement Fund. Further details on these plans are still needed, but this is a promising sign.
Because the government has not released details on this plan, Youth Action NSW will continue to campaign to hold them accountable, ensuring that the government makes a tangible impact on housing affordability.
Domestic & Family Violence:
Respond to the findings of the Youth Action & White Ribbon Foundation’s research on youth attitudes to violence.
WIN: The Government announced a significant plan to eliminate domestic and family violence and created a new Ministerial Portfolio devoted to this issue.
In June 2015, the Government announced the inclusion of Domestic & Family Violence into the mandatory NSW 7–10 Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) syllabus. Youth Action continues to advocate for the interests of young people in the process.
Fund training for rural youth workers to enable them to identify and work with young people on Mental Health issues, and to assist them to better understanding referral pathways.
WIN: As a direct result of our campaign, the Government pledged $250,000 for youth mental health first aid training in NSW. The training will develop the skills of youth workers, particularly those in rural and regional areas, to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental health problems in young people and respond effectively.
This training will be rolled out over the next 4 months in all areas of the state, so stay tuned to announcements on how you can access this free training!
Apprenticeships and Traineeships:
Funding for the expansion of the Sydney Alliance Working Start program – which links disadvantaged young people into local apprenticeships.
The Sydney Alliance Working Start program was not funded by the NSW Government. However, the Government has recognised the crisis in youth unemployment, and has committed to give scholarships to 200,000 disadvantaged youth to undertake industry apprenticeships and traineeships. The Government has also committed to providing $25 million for 25,000 scholarships for students to take on traineeships and apprenticeships in technology-based industries.
We will continue to work with government to ensure that support is provided to apprentices and trainees, not just before they get a job, but during the first 6 months of them starting work.
Fund a pilot of Justice Reinvestment in Bourke.
The Government has committed to funding a plan to develop a pilot Justice Reinvestment program in Bourke run by Just Reinvest NSW.
However, details as to the nature of this funding have not yet been forthcoming and so it is important to hold the Government to their election promise.
Commit to an independent review of School Suspension and Discipline Policy and Practice within the first 100 days of forming government.
No mention was made of the school suspension by the Government during the election campaign, but Youth Action is committed to pressing for an independent review of School Suspension and Discipline Policy and Practice.
Increase youth workers in schools through the Student Support Officer programs and through better linkages between schools and youth services.
WIN: Within its $150 million ‘Supported students, successful students’ funding package, the Coalition has devoted $51.5 million of flexible funding to respond to issues such as cyber safety or bullying. This funding is equivalent to an additional 200 Student Support Officers.
Alcohol and Other Drugs:
Develop comprehensive alcohol education programs for young people aged 15-17.
The Government has not addressed Youth Action’s recommendation that the Government develop a comprehensive alcohol education program for young people. Youth Action will continue to press the Government on this subject.
You can download the comprehensive election agenda below.
This research formed part of the Keeping It Together (KIT) Youth Sector Support Project undertaken by Youth Action (formerly YAPA), to support the youth sector through a significant period of change brought about by two key reforms.
Firstly, after 21 years of serving NSW young people with locally devised programs, the Community Services Grants Program (CSGP) began a reform process that would see services fall under two umbrellas—the Early Intervention and Placement Prevention Program (EIPP) focused on direct services to children, young people and their families, and Community Builders, focused on community strengthening. This change precipitated a 25% increase in funding available across various types of services, including a large proportion of services working with young people.
Secondly, the Report of the Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in NSW handed down by Justice James Wood in 2008 and the subsequent reforms under the NSW Government’s action plan Keep Them Safe: A Shared Approach to Child Wellbeing 2009–2014 resulted in wide–ranging changes to the ways in which youth services and their colleagues across the community services sector were required to deal with their work with children and young people.
In response, YAPA and NSW Family Services Inc., the peak organisation providing support to non–government organisations in NSW that provide services to families experiencing stress, partnered to deliver the Keeping It Together Sector Support Project to youth and family support services across NSW, as funded by the Department of Family and Community Services (formerly Department of Human Services—Community Services).