In photography a triptych form consists of separate images that are variants on a theme. We think of these three sections (Middle Years, Abuse and Trauma, Diversion) as a kind of “triptych”.
We know that there are children and young people disengaging from school as early as the middle years, ie from between the ages of 8 and 12. Among the factors that can contribute to early disengagement are family disruption, residential mobility, parent(s) with mental health problems andsubstance misuse, all of which may be associated with poverty and financial hardship.
It is true that today “family life itself is less secure and predictable” than it once was. “Relationships are dissolved with less stigma than in the past, marital separation and divorce are more common”.
Both Australian and international research also suggests that high levels of residential mobility also have negative consequences for the development of children.
Children raised in dysfunctional environments (where there is substance misuse, parental mental health difficulties, financial disadvantage and many other problems) do not fare well. Parental substance misuse frequently co-occurs with many other problems, the combination of which place children at heightened risk of abuse and neglect.
The higher prevalence of histories of mental illness, substance abuse, and incarceration among disrupted families helps account for why certain children are more severely impacted by family disruption in the long run than others.
Clearly, if we accept some of the most likely contributing factors to early disengagement from school, the challenges that follow are great. However “at present it is not clear whose responsibility it should be to address the gaps in middle years policy and service provision, but generally speaking, policies and services do not cater for those aged between 8 to 12, or 8 to 14. Some organisations and Local Government Areas (LGAs) are now adopting middle years-specific policies. However this is not yet standard practice”.
Victorian local government has become the largest single provider of early years’ services in Australia and all councils in Victoria have developed individual early years’ plans. Whilst 93% report of Victorian LGAs provide generalist youth services, only 36% of report operating in the “middle years”.
Some existing models and programs (especially ones funded by the Victorian State Government) have the capacity to engage with and support children and young people in their middle years, and or their families. Among them we note and welcome the 2015/16 Victorian State Budget which included an allocation of $48.1 million over four years for Child FIRST and family services.
The “Gonski Review” identified five factors of disadvantage impacting on educational outcomes: low socio-economic status, indigeneity, English language proficiency, disability, and school remoteness.
We might well add a sixth factor: childhood trauma (including sexual, emotional and physical abuse, and witnessing family violence) and neglect.
It is now widely acknowledged that childhood trauma, abuse and neglect can lead to a wide range of adverse consequences for children and young people, and that they can affect “all domains of development - physical, psychological, emotional, behavioural, and social - all of which are interrelated....” Among the possible consequences (as identified in research literature) includes “attachment and interpersonal relationship problems, learning and developmental problems, mental health problems, alcohol and other drug use, behavioural problems, and aggressive and violent behaviours in adolescence…”.
Berry Street’s Childhood Institute states that “one of the indicators of poor school engagement is exposure to traumatic stressors including abuse, neglect and violence directed at young people. The Institute maintains that “unfortunately, the frequency of this type abuse is on the rise in Australia”.
It’s also our view that early disengagement from education and youth unemployment, is more likely to occur among children and young people who have been traumatised or severely neglected.
“Pegasus Economics estimates that the fiscal (budget) cost to Australian taxpayers of unresolved childhood trauma is at least $6.8 billion per year for child sexual, emotional and physical abuse alone.
In other words, if the impacts of child abuse and trauma (on an estimated 3.7 million adults) were adequately addressed through active, timely and comprehensive intervention, the combined budget position of Federal, State and Territory Governments could be improved by a minimum of $6.8 billion annually.
When broader definitions of childhood trauma are taken into account, the estimated cost has been put as high as $9.1 billion. In other words, if adult survivors of childhood trauma experienced the same life outcomes as non-traumatised adults, the collective budget deficits of Australian governments would be improved, at a minimum, by an amount roughly equivalent to the entire Government outlay on tertiary education”.
According to ACSA, childhood trauma, including abuse, affects millions of Australian adults.
Unresolved childhood trauma has short-term and life-long impacts which substantially erode both national productivity and national well-being. Over two decades of research have demonstrated potential negative impact of child abuse and neglect on mental health including depression, anxiety disorders, aggressive behaviour, suicide attempts, eating disorders, use of illicit drugs and/or alcohol abuse, post-traumatic stress, and self-harming behaviours.
Many survivors’ lives are characterized by frequent crises, the result of unresolved childhood abuse issues. The reasons are complex, but for many survivors ongoing internal chaos prevents the establishment of regularity, predictability and consistency.
Victims of child abuse and neglect are more likely to commit crimes as juveniles and adults.
Child sexual abuse has been found to be a key factor in youth homelessness, with between 50-70% of young people within Supported Accommodation Assistance Programs having experienced childhood sexual assault.
- Of the 170,000 notifications of suspected abuse or neglect in 2011-12, 46 per cent were further investigated.
- About 37,700 children were found to be the victims of abuse or neglect (or around 1 in 135 children aged 0-17 years).
- Emotional abuse was most the common abuse type, followed by neglect and physical abuse.
- Across Australia, almost 41,000 children were on a care and protection order at 30 June 2012.
- Rates of children aged 0-12 on care and protection orders nearly doubled between 2000-2011.
- Nationally, over 39,600 children were in out-of-home care at 30 June 2012, most in foster care.
- Indigenous children were: almost 8 times as likely to be the subject of substantiated abuse or neglect.
Too many young people are abandoned by the people and the systems that are supposed to care for them; and there are not always happy endings for these young people, who tend to have higher rates of mental illness and involvement in criminality than other young people.
The most recent national figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), indicate that during 2012-13, there were 184,216 Australian children suspected of being harmed or at risk of harm from abuse and/or neglect. This resulted in 272,980 notifications being issued by state and territory authorities (a rate of 35.5 notifications per 1,000 Australian children). The total number of notifications represents an increase of 7.9% from the 252,962 reports made in the previous year.
Child protection statistics are one indicator of the extent of the problem of child abuse and neglect in Australia. However, they do not reveal with accuracy how many children in the community have been abused or neglected. Child protection data reflect only those families reported to child protection services. Economically disadvantaged families are more likely to come in contact with, and therefore under the scrutiny of, public authorities. This means that it is more likely that abuse and neglect willbe identified in economically disadvantaged families if it is present. More work needs to be
undertaken to enable more accurate estimates of how much abuse and neglect occurs in the community. Some estimate 40% of students have been exposed or witness to traumatic stressors. One in three girls and one in six boys are abused before the age of 18.
The transitions and pathways of young people involves many stakeholder groups, and the views of all stakeholders need to be sought and valued - including those of young people. Consultation with young people can mean better awareness about their lives, illuminating sometimes otherwise unheard stories and experiences. It’s also important, as they can not only articulate their ideas but recommend solutions.
Young people have important and relevant things to say in how programs which affect them should be shaped, developed and delivered. Feedback can lead to an improved understanding of the experiences of young people in their transition from schooling to working, while informing the development of transition programs and support services.
When young people are given a voice on matters which directly affect them, (adult) biases and assumptions can also be tested. There have been many important youth surveys and consultations during recent years, and we highlight several below. .
In 2007 a Report, “Youth Voice: Peer Research into Youth Transitions” was prepared by Peter Kellock from The Asquith Group with support from the members of The Youth Collaboration, in partnership with the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVic). It involved research conducted at government secondary schools, community VCAL programs, and assorted youth programs.
Among its findings was that knowledge of available local services was limited, and that young people are generally unaware of the various options that are available. This is all exacerbated by the ways in which services are branded and identified by funding sources.
During the second half of 2012, a series of “Shout Out” Youth Summits were held in every State and the Northern Territory. These summits were an opportunity for young people to meet with local decision makers who witnessed young people completing a survey which captured their thoughts and experiences with the Youth Connections program, and with education more generally. These Shout
Outs were also well supported by Federal, State Members of Parliament and by Local Government.
Youth Connections clients that undertook the “Shout Out” survey ranged from age 11 to 30, with 60% of participants aged 14-16. Almost 500 Youth Connections clients (current and exited) took part.
In a survey conducted late 2012 of clients in the federal Youth Connections program, over 1,400 responses were received to a question which allowed respondents to pick as many options relevant to their future. The large number of responses indicated a real sense of aspiration. Whilst the standard education setting was not working for them, they still had aspirations like all other young people to “get a good job”. This is noteworthy, and challenges the stereotype sometimes perpetuated in the public and political arena in relation to young people and employment.
In 2013 the Youth Reference Group (YRG) of YACVic held a forum, “YOUth Untitled”, bringing together over 80 young people from around Victoria (eg representatives from youth-led organisations, politicians, youth workers) to discuss several topics, one of them being secondary education. After the forum the YRG analysed the data created, conducted additional research to further explore the issues, and then published a set of findings and recommendations for the Victorian Government.
We might expect any service or program provided to young people to have a capacity to engage with, and meet the needs of, this cohort. Young people and the youth services sector consistently report that young people are more likely to engage with or respond positively to youth-specific programs; that these programs are best delivered by, or at least supported by youth workers or by those who understand, can engage with and advocate for this cohort.
As obvious as this seems, in practice this doesn’t always happen. Young people who have left school and apply for a government benefit do not see youth workers, but are referred by the Australian Department of Human Services to a contracted employment services provider, seen by an adult not necessarily equipped to engage with them, and only in an office setting, usually by appointment only.
There are and should be differences between services for youth people and those for adults. In services for the former, young people can “look for advice from their peers, take risks and are often limited in their capacity to think about longer term consequences”, all “normal aspects of growth and the development of a person from a child to an adult.” 33 However in an adult service they “are not easily accommodated, with the consequences of non-compliance becoming an impediment to success”. As a Jobs Australia Policy Report states, “young people respond best to a youth specific service … “.
The federal employment services market until recently included specialist youth providers, and there was a time when young unemployed people with barriers to employment could be assisted by specialist youth services. There have been at least two worthy federal programs during the past ten years which have had funding discontinued. The first program was the Jobs Placement Employment Training (JPET for short) which provided intensive case management and outreach to young people with barriers to further training or employment, operated between 2004 and 2009. The second most recent program was Youth Connections, which was funded from 2010 to the end of 2014.
Whilst we welcome in principle the 2015/16 Federal Budget announcement of a Youth Employment Strategy, and an investment in school to work transition programs to help vulnerable young people, we would add that the previous federally funded “Youth Connections” program was actually a capped service, and so “not able to meet all the demands for services, even from those who meet eligibility requirements”.
Whilst we can see contracted employment service providers change (with new tenders or reallocation of business), the same situation has not applied to federally-funded youth programs.
With the commencement of a new federal system (Job Active), there are now questions being asked as to how effectively this system is going to cater to certain cohorts, including young people.
In past research young people have indicated that they would prefer ongoing support relationships to assist with their transition. They would like a more personal form of assistance than that which is frequently available through short-term, ‘outcome-focused’, government-funded services”.