Determined to drive down youth crime, the Townsville Stronger Communities Action Group is employing a holistic approach to tackle the tough issues.
Made up of seven representatives from key agencies, the Townsville Stronger Communities Action Group brings together Police, the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Partnerships (DATSIP), Child Safety, Youth Justice, the Department of Housing and Public Works, Education and Queensland Health in a united approach to tackling youth crime.
Operating out of Condon, above Relationships Australia on Riverway Drive, the group (established last October) is unique in that this is the first time key representatives from different agencies are working together on a full-time basis. Taking a prevention angle, they are reaching out to at-risk youths and their families to make sure they are connected with the community services they need.
“The group provides intensive coordination of government and non-government services for young offenders and at-risk children (10 to 16-year-olds) in a bid to break the cycle of youth crime,” says Glenn Doyle, Government Co-ordinator for the Townsville Stronger Communities Action Group.
“It does this by addressing the underlying issues that can lead some young people to offend including poor
school attendance, mental health problems and family dysfunction. We’re also working with 17-year-olds (who are classified as adults, rather than juveniles) who are in custody at the Townsville Correctional Complex.
“I understand there’s a lot of talk about harsher penalties but I’d ask people to look closely at the disadvantaged circumstances the majority of these young offenders come from. We want to stop these young people getting on that conveyor belt that takes some of them from the child protection system into the juvenile justice system, adult offending and prison.”
Towards this end, the action group has started up a new Children’s Court early response service. Research shows that if a child under 14 has had two contacts with the criminal justice system then they’re at high risk of committing further offences. This risk is even higher if the child is not in school. As a result, the action group is targeting children (mainly 10 to 14-year-olds) who are attending the Townsville Children’s Court for the first, second or third time and who have not previously been on a Youth Justice order. The action group will work with families to link children and their parents or carers to professional support services in a bid to address issues such as family dysfunction, poor school attendance, drugs and alcohol, and mental health.
The action group is also working to create a work experience program.
“We can equip young people with ‘hard skills’ in terms of qualifications but what we’ve been missing is combining this with ‘soft skills’, where they have the opportunity to learn about the other things that matter to employers such as taking responsibility, communication, attention to detail and willingness to have a go,” says DATSIP’s Sam Reuben.
“We’re building a relationship between government departments and non-government organisations to provide soft skills to young people and connect youths with employers for work experience. We need to combine hard skills with soft skills so these youths can truly turn their lives around.”