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The Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic), the state peak body for young people, welcomed the Victorian Government’s very substantial new commitments in the spaces of family violence, education, housing and public transport. In this summary, we outline budget items of particular significance to young people and the youth sector, as well as highlighting areas for future investment, notably in the spaces of youth justice, mental health and leaving care.
YACVic welcomes the Victorian Government’s visionary commitment to preventing and ending family violence, via investment of $1.91 billion over four years. Key steps include:
- $448.1 million to establish 17 Support and Safety Hubs as central points for information, triage and services. The first hubs will be open by the end of 2017 in Barwon, Bayside Peninsula, Inner Gippsland, Mallee and north-east Melbourne.
- $269.4 million to improve the courts’ responses to family violence, including implementing specialist family violence courts in Ballarat, Frankston, Shepparton, Moorabbin and Heidelberg, and increased legal assistance for victim/survivors of family violence.
- $133.2 million in housing assistance for victim/survivors of family violence.
- $125.4 million to build the capacity of the workforce, including by establishing a Centre for Workforce Excellence and developing training tailored to support the Aboriginal workforce and improve services to diverse communities.
- $50.7 million for prevention, including a dedicated family violence prevention agency.
- $5.9 million to deliver Victoria’s first Gender Equality Strategy.
Initiatives of importance to young people will include:
- $71.1 million for an additional 450 child protection workers, and another 100 Targeted Care Packages to help children and young people live safely with their families.
- Counselling and therapeutic interventions for 3,500 children who’ve experienced family violence.
- Applicant and respondent workers in the Children’s Court for adolescents who use violence against family members.
- $11.4 million for prevention and intervention initiatives for Aboriginal Victorians, including the Young Luv program for young women aged 13-18 and Sisters Day Out, which engages young women in particular.
- Expert guidance to inform the respectful relationships curriculum in Victorian schools, via the new Family Violence Prevention Agency.
- $1 million to extend the Cubby House program at the Broadmeadows Children’s Court and expand it to the Melbourne Children’s Court. The Cubby House provides a safe, welcoming space, staffed by a youth worker, for children and young people at risk of family violence.
These welcome commitments herald a positive new direction for the Victorian community, where young people’s right to a safe and nurturing family home is upheld.
In the future, we hope to see new investment in preventative and early intervention approaches to addressing adolescent violence in the home, and building the capacity of the youth work sector to support young people at risk of family violence.
Education was another very welcome ‘big ticket item’ in the budget. Investments include:
- $685 million over five years to build new schools and update school infrastructure.
- $50.7 million over four years to improve the capacity of teachers and principals in 350 of Victoria’s most disadvantaged schools. This will include establishing specialist teaching teams and a ‘Turnaround Team’ of an executive principal and two leading teachers to assist underperforming schools.
- $7.9 million to extend the Navigator program for two years in its current eight locations, to provide intensive support to secondary-age students who are disengaged from school.
- $21.1 million over two years to provide transport to another 200 students of specialist schools and a conveyance allowance for another 1,650 students facing transport barriers.
- $59.4 million over two years to expand the Program for Students with Disabilities to another 2,600 students to meet demand.
- $19.5 million over two years to provide targeted English as an Additional Language support for newly arrived students in state schools.
- $1.6 million to extent the Student Mentoring Program over two years, to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds get better engaged in school and build confidence, goals and post-school aspirations.
- $3 million over three years to extend the Greater Shepparton Lighthouse Project, to improve school readiness, transitions and Year 12 completion in that area.
- $8.2 million to fund 25 Apprentice Support Officers, based at TAFEs across Victoria, to help young apprentices stay successfully engaged in their training and work. (This program had been defunded by the federal government.)
- $0.5 million in 2017-18 to encourage young people to develop skills and employment in the construction industry.
The Victorian Government has recognised education as critical to young people’s wellbeing and connectedness, as well as their career prospects. These new investments will help move our community towards the Education State targets of the Victorian Government, including the commitment to halve the proportion of students leaving education without a Year 12 or equivalent qualification by 2025.
We hope the new investment in improving outcomes of disadvantaged schools will include building the capacity of staff to work with young people experiencing poverty, trauma and mental health problems, and extending the study and training pathways available to marginalised young people.
While we strongly welcome the strengthening of the Navigator program, we note that it still only operates in 8 out of 17 Victorian regions. We call for an appropriate level of flexible and intensive support for disengaged students state-wide, informed by the evaluation of Navigator.
YACVic also supports the calls by the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) for:
- More resources to help disadvantaged families meet the costs of education, including IT devices and home internet
- Reform of the Program for Students with Disability to ensure that all students with additional health and development needs get the support they need to participate fully in school.
We await further details on the future of the valuable, state-wide and long-standing School Focused Youth Service (SFYS), funded to the end of the 2017 calendar year. SFYS gets schools and community organisations working together to provide a wide range of supports for young people at risk of disengaging from school. It is vital such work is supported to continue.
We also call for further investment in young people’s employment options via increased support for the Local Learning and Employment Networks (LLENs). This unique Victorian model supports place-based initiatives to improve young people’s engagement and transitions in relation to school, training and work, forging links between industry, schools and community. The LLENs received a 4-year funding commitment in 2015-16, but contracts for providers are due to end after the 2017 calendar year. YACVic supports a secure, ongoing role for this valued initiative.
Engaging young people in their communities
We welcome the commitment of $4 million to build young people’s engagement in community life, school, work and family by extending these initiatives for two years:
- YACVic Rural, currently operating in the Great South Coast and Southern Mallee.
- The Regional Presence Project delivered by the Centre for Multicultural Youth in Ballarat and Morwell.
- The Scouts and Guides program (extended for four years) to increase participation by young people from culturally diverse and disadvantaged communities.
Also welcome was the continued funding for the Koorie Youth Council (four years) and $1.8 million over two years to continue the Aboriginal Youth Mentoring Program.
New funding (as yet unspecified) has also been pledged to expand the functions of the Commission for Children and Young People over two years.
These commitments are very welcome. Aboriginal young people and young people from multicultural communities need a voice in government decisions and opportunities to get together, express themselves, build skills and strengthen their communities.
YACVic is proud to work closely with the Koorie Youth Council, and to support the valuable youth mentoring initiative. So far, this program has consulted widely with Aboriginal young people to design and develop mentoring initiatives which are meaningful and beneficial to them, as well as providing bespoke training and support to agencies around Victoria and developing evaluation frameworks to ensure continuous quality improvement.
We also welcome the opportunity to expand our advocacy, youth engagement and sector development in rural and regional Victoria. This new funding for YACVic Rural will help more young people to participate in their rural communities, build new skills and connections, access strong and capable services, and have their contributions celebrated and their voices heard.
Welcome commitments in this space include:
- Young adults will be supported by $19.9 million over two years to provide an additional 256 packages of essential support for young people needing assistance during the day to develop their skills and participate in the community after they leave school. This is part of the Futures for Young Adults program, to assist young people prior to their transition to the NDIS.
- As part of the $36.2 million commitment to fund the transition to the NDIS over three years, there will be a further $10 million investment in NDIS Transition Support Package to help consumers and service providers prepare for the NDIS.
We welcome steps to increase the independence and decision-making of young people with disabilities. YACVic is proud to support the work of the Youth Disability Advocacy Service (YDAS), the only advocacy service in Australia which exists to work directly with young people with disabilities to achieve their human rights. In 2016, YDAS worked on a range of NDIS readiness initiatives for young people around Victoria.
We support calls by VCOSS for future investment in a strong and diverse disability advocacy sector – likely to be more important than ever as young people and their communities grapple with an entirely new service system under the NDIS. We also urge that service continuity be guaranteed to people with disabilities during and after the transition to the NDIS, to ensure that people do not suffer reduced access to necessary supports.
This budget saw very substantial investments in the youth justice sector. The largest commitments concerned infrastructure in the ‘tertiary’ spaces of youth justice centres, notably:
- $288.7 million for a new high security youth justice precinct that will replace the existing Parkville Youth Justice Precinct.
- $72 million over two years to repair, strengthen and fortify units at Parkville Youth Justice Precinct and Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre. The government will continue to operate the Grevillea unit at Barwon prison ‘as an interim measure while the strengthening works are being completed’.
Other noteworthy commitments included:
- $3.4 million over two years to deliver a Fast Track Remand Court in the Children’s Court, to ensure young people’s cases are dealt with more promptly.
- 42 new youth specialist officers within Victoria Police to support a renewed youth engagement framework.
- An additional Mental Health Court Liaison Officer at the Children’s Court.
- Establishment of a 2-bed secure forensic mental health unit for youth justice clients within the Ursula Frayne Centre in Footscray, and a specialist clinical mental health in-reach service for young people in youth justice centres.
- Establishment of a forensic youth mental health service for young people displaying problem behaviours who are at high risk of offending.
- $15 million over two years to enable Legal Aid to provide additional legal services for children and young people, including in order to meet the demands arising from the Youth Diversion Program, Youth Control Orders and Intensive Monitoring and Control Bail Supervision Scheme.
We welcome the establishment of the Fast Track Remand Court, which should help to reduce uncertainty for young people on remand, ease the pressure on youth justice centres, and ensure that young people can access the treatment and rehabilitative services they need sooner. As of January 2017, nearly 50% of young people in detention were on remand, so the need is clear.
Given the high rates of poverty and poor mental health amongst young people in the justice system, the new investments in forensic mental health supports and legal services are welcome. And we trust the new Victoria Police youth specialist officers will help deliver better outcomes for young people and their communities.
Infrastructure changes are needed at Victoria’s youth justice centres, and YACVic urges that some of this resourcing be used to implement the relevant recommendations of the recent report by the Commission for Children and Young People, The Same Four Walls: Inquiry into the use of isolation, separation and lockdowns in the Victorian youth justice system.
At the same time, urgent action is also needed to change the culture within the centres. We must invest in people – building the capacity of staff to develop strong, nurturing and respectful relationships with young people and ensuring young people’s access to appropriate therapeutic, educational, cultural strengthening and behavioural change initiatives. In particular, we seek a commitment to maintain and strengthen the highly-valued Parkville College. Future investment is also needed to embed effective youth diversion and intensive community-based interventions for young people within Victoria’s legal system.
We welcomed the Victorian Government’s appointment of an expert review into the youth justice system by Ms Penny Armytage and Prof. James Ogloff, and we trust their findings will guide future reform in this space.
YACVic maintains that an adult prison is not an appropriate environment for underage young people, and we continue to urge that the closure of the Grevillea unit be expedited.
Mental Health and Wellbeing
As well as the abovementioned forensic youth mental health services, this budget also saw commitments to mental health supports including:
- An additional $201 million over four years to assist in managing critical demand in the mental health system. In 2017-18, there is provision for 579 additional inpatient services and around 75,000 hours of community care. (Includes Commonwealth funding under the National Health Reform Agreement.)
- $81.1 million to implement the third stage of the Ice Action Plan, including providing 30 new rehabilitation beds, 960 treatment places for people on community corrections orders, building new residential drug rehabilitation services in Gippsland, Hume and Barwon, and counselling services for 3,800 parents to reunite them with children and family.
- A new Prevention and Recovery Centre in Ballarat.
- 12 month extension of the Family Drug Treatment Court in Broadmeadows, for parents whose children are in care due to parental AOD issues.
- $8.4 million over three years in increased mental health and primary wellbeing support within Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations.
- Creation of 34 new Aboriginal alcohol and other drug worker positions.
- Specialist mental health education for Victoria Police.
Young Victorians often tell us how worried they are about poor mental health – their own, or their loved ones’. Recently YACVic and the Victorian Government held forums in 12 Victorian communities. We consulted with 472 young people, and mental health was the most common concern raised. According to Mission Australia, one in four young Australians experiences symptoms of likely mental illness. We applaud new investment in this space.
However, while we recognise the urgent need to treat people who are critically unwell, we hope to see stronger future investment in prevention and early intervention, including within school communities, families and peer groups. These are the places most young people will turn to first, for support with an emerging problem.
We also support the calls by VCOSS and VICSERV to ensure that Victorians can access appropriate community-based mental health rehabilitation services following the imminent transfer of Mental Health Community Support Service funding to the NDIS. Grave concerns exist that large numbers of people with mental illness will fall through the cracks. VICSERV estimates that as many as 10,000 Victorians living with mental illness will be unable to access an appropriate service in the NDIS environment – an alarming and dangerous prospect.
New investments in housing for all Victorians include:
- The delivery of the $1 billion Social Housing Growth Fund, a dedicated fund to support partnerships between the Victorian Government and the community housing, private, not-for-profit and local government sectors. The fund will deliver new social and affordable dwellings and subsidised rental accommodation.
- New investment in improving the capacity of family violence refuges.
- An additional 110 public housing properties for family violence survivors.
- An inclusionary zoning trial to generate 100 social housing dwellings.
- $18 million in advocacy and assistance for vulnerable tenants.
- Doubling of the First Home Owner Grant in regional Victoria, and cutting of stamp duty for first home buyers purchasing low-to-moderate cost homes.
YACVic welcomes these steps to provide safe, affordable housing to more vulnerable Victorians. This is an important issue for young people. In a 2013 survey of the Victorian youth sector we found that crisis accommodation and transitional housing were by the far the most common areas of unmet need, and in our recent consultation forums with 472 young Victorians, housing was the third most common concern they raised.
Missing from these welcome reforms, however, is a guarantee of a safe home for every young person leaving out-of-home care. This cohort, who leave the care system at the vulnerable age of 18, are at very high risk of poor outcomes in relation to education, employment, health and justice, as well as to homelessness. We urge that young care-leavers be able to access appropriate housing and holistic support until at least the age of 21.
Significant investments include:
- $1.12 billion in improvements to regional public transport, focused on the Ballarat, Gippsland, Warrnambool, Shepparton and Bendigo lines, and a new Surf Coast line.
- 24-hour train, tram and bus services to continue in Melbourne on weekends, with night coaches to select regional locations.
Public transport remains a priority for young people, especially in rural and regional areas and growth suburbs. In our recent regional youth forums with 472 young people around Victoria, public transport was raised by young people 172 times, with concerns raised about how shortages of reliable services impact on young people’s access to education, work and social connections. We welcome new investment in this space.
We are also delighted by the ongoing delivery of Melbourne’s Night Network, which we are confident will have strong uptake by young people.