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Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) welcomed the 2018-19 Victorian state budget, which saw the Victorian Government make major new investments in education, skills and training. These represented a solid and meaningful commitment to building better futures for young Victorians.
Also encouraging were new investments in child protection, youth justice diversion, and tertiary mental health care for young people, as well as funding for mechanisms to better engage young people in their communities.
However, while largely positive, there were missed opportunities to address several areas demanding attention. Funding to resource the lifting of the age of leaving out-of-home care to 21 years old was absent, as was further investment in housing, or significant investment in tackling the effects of climate change. More preventative funding might have been allocated to youth mental health and youth justice, to enhance early intervention and community-based care.
Here, we outline budget items of significance to young people and the youth sector, and highlight some “gaps” for future advocacy.
The 2018-19 state budget made significant undertakings to strengthen young people’s access to vocational skills and career opportunities. These include:
- $172 million over 4 years to provide free TAFE training in 30 priority courses and 18 Apprenticeship Pathway courses. The focus will be on growth industry areas such as infrastructure, family violence, aged care and disability support. New classes will be opened and 30,000 new TAFE places provided. The free courses announced so far include Community Services (Certificate III – Diploma), Disability (Cert. IV) Education Support (Cert. III – IV) and Mental Health (Cert. IV).
- $120 million to improve facilities at TAFEs in Morwell, Sale and Bendigo.
- $109 million over 4 years to strengthen careers education in schools, starting in Year 7. There will be:
- Career Exploration Workshops for Years 7 and 8 students
- A “careers e-portfolio” for Year 9s, along with professional career planning
- Tailored career counselling and Career Action Plans for Years 10-12 students
- Improved engagement between schools and industry
- Industry engagement activities for students facing disadvantage
- Support for careers education practitioners to attain relevant qualifications.
- $49.8 million over 4 years for the Head Start Apprenticeships and Traineeships program, to be piloted in 100 secondary schools. The program will let 1,700 students qualify in a trade while also getting their Year 12 qualification. Students will have the option of doing an extra year of school and finishing as a fully qualified apprentice or trainee. Participating schools will be supported by 50 new coordinators. There will be a focus on high-demand areas like construction and community services. The initiative will be supported by high quality work experience opportunities, on-the-job learning, possibly through holiday work intensives.
- $25.9 million over 4 years to enhance vocational education for secondary students. The new funds will develop a Quality Assurance Framework for VET in Schools (VETiS), as well as increasing delivery of VETiS by TAFEs, and topping up VETiS funding “to ensure funding is not a barrier to students accessing VETiS”.
- $15 million over 2 years for a new specialised employment support program, including for long-term unemployed young people and young people facing significant barriers to employment.
- $6 million over 2 years to increase employment of people at risk of disadvantage on Victoria’s major projects. This will include young people from Aboriginal and multicultural communities.
- $200,000 to support employment pathways for young people in the northern region.
YACVic has been calling for the status of vocational education to be lifted, for the removal of cost barriers for students seeking a vocational pathway, and for better careers advice for students, starting earlier. The Victorian Government has listened, and delivered.
Now, it will be vital that government works closely with youth services, Local Learning and Employment Networks, the School Focused Youth Service, and with students themselves, to ensure these initiatives deliver the best possible results for Victoria’s young people.
So far, 20 of the free TAFE course areas have been named; the remaining 10 are subject to further consultation. YACVic will advocate for Youth Work to be included, in light of the strong benefits that trained youth workers bring to our community.
Several budget items committed to making secondary schools welcoming and accessible for more students. They included:
- $44 million over 4 years for expansion of the Navigator program state-wide, to help young people aged 12-17 who have been disengaged get back into education.
- $65.5 million over 4 years to support student health and wellbeing, through school nurses, allied health services, additional mental health support, a suicide prevention pilot and positive behaviour support. The respected Geelong Project, which brings together schools and services to prevent student homelessness and disengagement, will be expanded to more schools.
- $22.2 million over 4 years to strengthen literacy and numeracy, including through professional development for teachers.
- Construction of new secondary schools in Point Cook, Craigieburn South and Seddon.
- $93.2 million over 2 years to meet demand for the Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD), as a result of new school enrolments.
- $31.6 million to foster inclusive school practice towards students with disabilities. This will include technology, equipment, and scholarships for teachers to do postgraduate study in special education.
- $22 million over 2 years to meet the demand for transport for students with disability.
- $10 million over 2 years to continue the Language and Learning Disabilities Support Program.
- $10 million injection into the Inclusive Schools fund, which provides infrastructure such as inclusive playgrounds and outdoor sensory areas.
- $36.1 million to continue the Camps, Sports and Excursions Fund into 2019.
YACVic welcomes the investments in student wellbeing and the expansion of Navigator, which we have called for for some time. This positive step will help many vulnerable young people access the secondary education that they are entitled to.
In the future, we will continue to call for adequate supports to be available to every student with additional learning needs; at present, an estimated 60,000 students are missing out due to ineligibility for the PSD.
It will also be important to continue the valuable supports offered by the Camps, Sports and Excursions Fund beyond 2019.
Safe homes for young Victorians
Ending family violence and reforming the child protection system continue to be priorities for the Victorian Government. Key undertakings in this year’s budget included:
- $390.7 million to increase home-based care placements (including for young people with complex needs) and a range of supports for carers, including a new kinship care model and professionalised foster care.
- $226 million over 3 years to strengthen Child Protection, including increasing the workforce by 450 new workers; a rise of about 35%.
- $49.9 million over 4 years for family violence therapeutic and flexible support. This will include investment in therapeutic responses to adolescent violence in the home, and the establishment of a multi-disciplinary centre in Wyndham to provide specialist support to victim-survivors of sexual assault and family violence.
- $13.5 million over 4 years for an Aboriginal 10-Year Family Violence Plan, and to ensure the Support and Safety Hubs are accessible to Aboriginal Victorians.
- $43.4 million over 4 years for the establishment of a new child information-sharing system.
- $47.3 million over 4 years to continue transferring the management of Aboriginal child protection and out-of-home care to the Aboriginal community.
- $24 million over 4 years to continue family violence prevention work.
- $22.9 million over 2 years to continue the development of Respectful Relationships in Schools.
- $2.3 million to extend the Better Futures leaving care model for young people in Gippsland and south-east Melbourne.
YACVic welcomes the Victorian Government’s visionary commitment to preventing and ending family violence. Also critical has been the Government’s strong undertaking to improve the way our state cares for its most vulnerable young people.
The Victorian Government has made welcome commitments to improve supports for young care-leavers. At YACVic, we believe the next step is to extend out-of-home care on a voluntary basis to young people up to the age of 21. At present, young people are required to leave care at 18, when they are still highly vulnerable. This is not in step with community standards. As the state election approaches, YACVic will be calling for the age of leaving care to be raised.
Unfortunately, the budget contained no new commitments to social housing; in proportion to Victoria’s rapidly growing population, our stock of social housing is in decline. This is especially concerning given the lack of affordable private rental properties. YACVic supports VCOSS's call for Victoria to deliver a social housing pipeline to provide growth of 30,000 homes over the next decade.
YACVic will also continue to provide feedback on the child-information sharing system. At present we are still seeking further clarity on which services will be involved, how success will be measured, evaluated and reported, how “child wellbeing” will be understood, and how the system will work alongside the NDIS.
The mental health of young Victorians
Another prominent item in the budget was mental health. Budget commitments include:
- $11.9 over 3 years for a new 20-bed residential facility in Melbourne’s north-west for young people with mental illness.
- $232.5 million over 4 years to fund new and existing acute inpatient beds and community-based service hours, to meet the growing demand.
- $345 million over 4 years for the reform of clinical mental health services, including establishing six new emergency mental health and alcohol and drug “crisis hubs” (at the Geelong, Frankston and Sunshine hospitals, Monash Medical Centre, St Vincent’s, and the Royal Melbourne), and six hospital outreach post-suicidal engagement sites.
Young people tell us regularly that mental health is one of their biggest concerns; it’s vital to have expert services on the ground. But we note that this budget’s investments are mostly in services for people who are already very unwell. A wider challenge remains: how to protect young people’s mental health, prevent illness, and address problems early.
It is also important to ensure that Victorians can access appropriate community-based mental health rehabilitation services following the transfer of Mental Health Community Support Service funding to the NDIS. At present, it appears that large numbers of people with mental illness will fall through the cracks; this raises deep concerns for the communities where young people are growing up.
Engaging young people in their communities
New investments include:
- $2 million over 4 years to extend the Empower Youth program to a further four organisations, to connect young people facing disadvantage with education, employment, support services and positive community life.
- $82 million over 2 years to better engage girls and women in sport.
- $21.8 million over 4 years to increase coordination for Neighbourhood Houses to provide more services and activities to build strong local communities.
- $8.6 million over 2 years for the Government’s response to the African Communities Action Plan, to empower members of Victoria’s African communities to address economic and social issues.
- $1.7 million to support young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds at risk of offending.
- $5.2 million for early intervention programs to support young people at risk, including three Community Support Groups to engage young people and families in a local community setting.
We support initiatives to build strong, cohesive communities for young people to grow up in.
In particular, we welcome the extension of Empower, which was the first new funding for youth work that the Victorian community had seen for several years. But YACVic will continue to advocate for more trained, supported youth work professionals all around Victoria. We know youth workers play a unique role in supporting young people and building strong, cohesive communities.
We await further details concerning the investment in programs to support culturally diverse young people, and vulnerable young people and their families.
- $145 million over 4 years is being directed into the youth justice system.
- The largest single investment here appears to be new security measures at Parkville and Malmsbury.
- Other substantial investments are also focused on youth justice centres and the provision of health services and the structured day program.
- However, there is also investment in extending the Children’s Court Youth Diversion Service and Community-based Koori Youth Justice Program, and additional culturally specific programs to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal young people in the justice system.
- $25 million over 4 years for community crime prevention, which will include youth crime prevention projects.
- $12.6 million in continued funding to target youth offending, as part of a $15 million whole-of-government commitment between 2017-19.
We strongly support initiatives which divert young people away from crime at an early age, so it is encouraging to see recognition here of the value of diversion. And it is very welcoming to see a commitment to reducing the alarming over-representation of Aboriginal young people in the justice system.
However, it is concerning that so much of the investment in youth justice remains focused on imprisonment and other tertiary responses. Far more focus is needed on crime prevention, early intervention, and rehabilitation.
We await further details concerning the funds to “target youth offending”.
Notable items in the budget included:
- $ 4.5 million over 2 years to support transition to the NDIS.
- $ 9.2 million over 3 years to implement the State Disability Plan. This plan includes initiatives to increase employment, deliver more accessible public spaces, and increase the reach of disability advocacy organisations.
We welcome these investments, and would call for youth-specific resourcing here, given the particular needs, interests and strengths of young people with disability.
Following the 2018-19 budget, key developments in Victoria’s public transport will include:
- More rail services to Seymour and Wyndham Vale.
- More buses and new flexiride services across rural towns, including Bellarine, Lara, Gisborne, Trentham, Daylesford, Ararat, Horsham, Donnybrook and Kilmore.
- Continuance of the Shepparton line upgrade.
- Additional services on the South Morang, Hurstbridge and Dandenong lines.
- Planning for an airport rail link which should deliver fast rail to Geelong.
- Planning for a light rail connection to Monash University’s Clayton campus.
- Discounts to regional student passes.
- Public transport concessions for international students (2018-19)
Public transport remains a priority for young people, especially in rural and regional areas and growth suburbs.
YACVic will also continue to advocate for additional resourcing to the valuable L2P program, which has helped hundreds of isolated and vulnerable young people to become independent drivers.