Father Chris Riley, CEO, Youth Off The Streets
Last week ABC’s program Four Corners featured a harrowing story about the challenges faced by young people living in poverty and disadvantage. The program focused on the south-west Sydney suburb, Claymore, but the shocking truth is that there are kids all over Australia who are facing similar symptoms of poverty every day. Four Corners states that 2.2 million Australians live below the poverty line, and more than 60,000 children under 15 live in households where nobody holds a job. Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and yet families and children continue to face the cycle of poverty that entraps them through generation to generation.
It is clear that the circumstances in Claymore are symptomatic of a community in need of assistance. Domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, childhood pregnancy, youth violence and destruction, family breakdown, low employment rates, homelessness and low education attainment rates are signs of a community that is being neglected. Children, the next generation of Claymore, are struggling to access the support that they need to complete their schooling, find employment and to stay positive about what their future has to offer them. Without the support that this community dearly needs, these young people face the same poverty and life opportunities that their parents have faced.
We have seen in the past the consequences of insufficient support for a community facing these same issues. In 2005, Macquarie Fields experienced public disturbances as a result of the deaths of two young males who were involved in a high-speed police chase. This was a community that had faced high disadvantage and poverty rates and had had organisations and government programs implemented and stopped in a revolving door of quick-fix solutions. There had been very little real long-term investment in the community and its people. It took the deaths of those two young men in 2005 for all of us to stop and take notice of what is happening in our backyard. Non-government organisations, including Youth Off The Streets, were invited into the community to provide support to the young people affected by the incident. Over the last seven years, we have seen substantial achievements since the development of long-term services for youth in the area; however, these approaches could have been even more successful had these services been used in the prevention and intervention phase rather than the treatment of a community in crisis.
Like Macquarie Fields, Claymore is a pot waiting to boil over with an incident that finally causes action to support the community, but at what cost. Young people are committing crimes, becoming involved in drugs and alcohol and are acting violently towards others. We need to be focusing on prevention and intervention support for our young people early on, rather than treatment later after a crisis takes place. It is time that the government and we as an Australian community took the need for youth-friendly infrastructure seriously, so that young people in disadvantaged communities, like Claymore, are given access to the services that they need.
Link to Four Corners Growing Up Poor Program – http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/program/1009153.