The Victorian Government’s 2018 budget will help keep more young people in education and training, and support more young people into gainful employment, according to the state’s youth peak, Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic).

“This budget recognises one of the biggest challenges facing young Victorians: getting started in a meaningful career,” said YACVic CEO Leo Fieldgrass. “Starting in secondary school, more young Victorians will now be able to build the skills and connections they need for a solid, rewarding career.”

 The Victorian Government will pilot the Head Start Apprenticeships and Traineeships program in 100 secondary schools. The program, which involves an optional additional year of schooling, will let 1,700 students qualify in a trade while also getting their Year 12 qualification. Careers education will also be strengthened, starting in Year 7 and including industry engagement activities for students experiencing disadvantage. Meanwhile, the budget undertakes to make training free for students at TAFEs in 30 priority courses and 18 Apprenticeship Pathway courses, focused on growth areas including infrastructure, family violence, aged care and disability support. This is accompanied by expansion of the Navigator program state-wide, to help young people who have been disengaged get back to school.

“YACVic has been calling for a higher status for vocational education, the expansion of Navigator, removal of cost barriers for students interested in vocational pathways, and better careers education, starting earlier,” Mr Fieldgrass said. “Today the Victorian Government has delivered. Now, it is essential that government works closely with youth services, Local Learning and Employment Networks, and with students themselves, to make sure these initiatives deliver the best possible results for Victoria’s young people.”

Also welcome was a $15 million commitment to a new specialised employment support program, including for long-term unemployed young people and young people facing significant barriers to employment. YACVic awaits further details.

Another big ticket item in the budget was mental health, and YACVic welcomed the announcement of a new 20-bed residential facility in Melbourne’s northwest for young people with mental illness. The budget also commits to establishing six new emergency mental health and alcohol and drug ‘crisis hubs’, to supporting 3,000 people per year through six post-suicide engagement sites, and to increasing the numbers of acute inpatient beds and community-based service hours.

“Young people tell us regularly that mental health is one of their biggest concerns,” Mr Fieldgrass said. It is vital to have expert services on the ground. While we welcome today’s investment, it is focused mostly on helping people who are already very unwell. A huge challenge facing our community is how to protect young people’s mental health, prevent illness, and address problems early.”

A key priority for this government has been strengthening Victoria’s out-of-home care system. This budget includes funding to employ more than 450 child protection workers – a rise of around 35% – as well as new supports for young care leavers in Gippsland and south-east Melbourne, and funding to transition young people out of residential care and keep siblings together. Increased therapeutic counselling for victim-survivors of family violence was also a welcome budget item, as was the commitment to expand the Geelong Project, which helps vulnerable secondary students avoid homelessness and stay in school.

“We applaud the Victorian Government’s strong commitment to improving the way our state cares for the most vulnerable young people,” said Mr Fieldgrass. “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.”

Several youth justice initiatives were also welcome, including the extension of the Children’s Court Youth Diversion Scheme and Koori Youth Justice Program, the provision of additional culturally targeted programs for Aboriginal young people to reduce their over-representation in the youth justice system, and funding for therapeutic support to stop adolescent violence in the home.

“YACVic strongly supports initiatives which divert young people away from crime at an early age,” Mr Fieldgrass said. “The over-representation of Aboriginal young people in our justice system is a crisis which must be addressed, and we welcome the Victorian Government’s recognition of this. More expert interventions to prevent adolescent violence in the home are also needed; we await further details about how this will work. However, YACVic remains concerned that the majority of youth justice funding goes towards imprisonment and other tertiary interventions. We need more investment in crime prevention and rehabilitation.”

Also welcome was a further $2 million over four 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.

“Empower was the first new funding the Victorian community had seen in the youth work space for several years,” Mr Fieldgrass remarked. “We welcome the expansion of the program. However, YACVic will continue to advocate for more trained, supported youth work professionals all around Victoria. We believe youth workers play a unique role in supporting young people and building strong, cohesive communities.”

Further comment: Leo Fieldgrass – CEO Youth Affairs Council Victoria – 0439 254 667 or [email protected].