Tony Justice (he/him) is the Youth Services Coordinator at Knox City Council, and a living legend of the youth sector. Starting back in the 70s in Broadmeadows for the YWCA and then the Uniting Church Carlton, Tony has supported young people to expand their possibilities with youth work through a community development approach.
When Tony first started, youth work was just starting to find its feet as a discipline, so he only knew of voluntary youth workers.
Now he is the co-ordinator of youth services at Knox, responsible for a team of 10 people which runs events, support groups and youth-led initiatives for 33,000 young people and their communities in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.
Tony’s work supports young people to elevate their voices and the broader community to walk alongside them.
The more we can encourage people to acknowledge and walk with young people and accept them as part of the community, the better our communities will be. Yes, sometimes they're different. Sometimes we were different to when we were young. But it's really important that we're a cohesive community, and we show some interest and care about young people.–Tony Justice
“My passion is to help scale young people up, give them the opportunities for them to voice their concerns, and to address issues that they think they that they see as really important. At our Youth Summit this year, young people talked about mental health, climate change, issues about being cared for and being part of community.”
Tony’s philosophy when it comes to youth work is a community development approach.
“It’s not just about the young person, it’s about their families, their connections to community and other agencies,” says Tony.
“I remember vividly back in Carlton having a young person say to me, ‘you can work with me as much as you like, but unless my family takes on some of the things that we've been talking about, we're never going to actually get there.’ So I’ve come with this approach about building the community and being a youth worker that looks at a community aspect.”
One of the unique strengths and value of youth work is how youth workers work and relate very well to young people, and are passionate about what the young person wants.
“Sometimes a teacher's got to do another role. And that role might have responsibility back to the school, or back to parents. It's same with the clinician. So youth work has a unique position, and that is to advocate with and on behalf of the young person and build their skills up and help them get their voice.
“Not all other service providers will understand that concept of we need to be working with the young person and young persons about what they're wanting to address. Sometimes that'll be in conflict with other services around. Because we're so active about the importance that young people are in control of their own lives.
Tony has one vivid story of a young person who led and supported the Council to be more visible, active and supportive of LGBTIQA+ young people and the wider LGBTIQA+ community.
“I first met him back in 2016 when he did our young leaders program. Back then, he identified differently and we supported him in that journey. He’s also grown a lot and he’s helped us in getting a better understanding around those issues,” says Tony.
“He has now gone off and done the most amazing work. He was involved in scripting and filming of the two short films we made, Masked and Still Me, and he’s now doing professional development training for educators and LGBTIQA+ young people.”
Ultimately, Tony is passionate about showing young people things they have never experienced before.
It’s opening all of the possibilities for young people to see what there is for them. As a youth worker, I want to enable young people to see what’s out there in their communities and take an active role.–Tony Justice
“Youth work matters because young people matter. Youth work is an important job, and it can be done in all different places. Young people need to have advocates that support them and help them get their own voice.”
Tony shared his story as part of YACVic’s Youth Work Matters campaign. Find out more about the campaign here.