KIDS who drop out of school early are those most at risk of becoming ice addicts and traffickers, and falling foul of the law.
This was a sentiment repeated numerous times by presenters at an ice forum in Wonthaggi last Thursday night attended by almost 400 people.
Youth outreach worker and community activist, Les Twentyman, spoke about the high number of kids being expelled from schools in the western suburbs of Melbourne and how much of his time and effort was spent picking up those kids for sports programs and other activities so they didn’t turn to a life of drugs and crime.
“If you don’t have counsellors there to help these kids, how are you going to stop them getting into it?”
He said schools simply didn’t chase these troublemakers because they didn’t want disruptive elements in their schools.
His comments are echoed in a ruling handed down last Wednesday, in the Morwell County Court, by Judge Elizabeth Gaynor, in the case involving Jacob Quine, the 19 year old Korumburra youth convicted of the disturbing attack on three South Gippsland Tourist Rail volunteers earlier this year.
Judge Gaynor said Quine had a lack of supervision and no work after leaving school in Year 9, and with too much time on his hands, hooked up with other idle youth in the town and started using and abusing both alcohol and cannabis.
Several increasingly violent episodes followed, culminating in the “appalling” assaults on the three tourist rail volunteers, by Quine and a co-accused, on February 28 this year.
Youth services, counsellors and programs, including sports activities and facilities, are the keys to picking up kids who drop out.
Unfortunately Wonthaggi and Bass Coast is seriously lacking on both fronts.
It would have come as a complete surprise to many people in the audience at the Wonthaggi ice forum to hear that Wonthaggi and Bass Coast are very poorly provided for when it comes to youth services.
Apparently the State Government withdrew a significant amount of money from youth services in this sub-region at the end of 2014 – but who knew?
The loss was only highlighted publicly for the first time at the forum by the Regional Drug and Alcohol Assessor for the Australian Community Support Organisation (ACSO), Brendan Witt.
He was at a loss to say why youth services were so lacking here.
“You don’t have the best support services down here (in Wonthaggi) for youth, here and in the South Gippsland area,” Mr Witt said.
“I don’t understand why but you don’t have the services for youth down here,” he said.
So we put the question to Bass Coast Health CEO, Veronica Jamison: “What does he mean? What health, mental health or other youth support services (that we need) are lacking here?”
Ms Jamison confirmed that there had been a withdrawal of youth service funding by the State Government at the end of last year.
“BCH would like to see the re-establishment of the Youth Connections program,” Ms Jamison said.
“This program supported vulnerable students to stay in school/education. Unfortunately the State Government funding was withdrawn at the end of 2014. This was a significant service loss for the youth of the Bass Coast shire,” she said.
Ms Jamison went further, highlighting access problems.
“Youth services provided in the Bass Coast community are delivered by a number of providers, including BCH. Predominantly, youth services sit in the Latrobe Valley as outreach services to the Bass Coast community. Thus access is an issue.
“It would be a fair comment to say that the Bass Coast shire area suffers from leakage of clients and patients to other health providers in South East Melbourne and the Latrobe Valley because of this. We could have more services on the ground in the Bass Coast shire area if people accessed the available services, including all of the many health services provided by BCH. This ‘leakage’ is a source of frustration for BCH because without the data to show increases in service provision, it is hard to make a case for additional resources.”
As well as the return of the Youth Connections program and better access, Ms Jamison highlighted other services needed.
“We would also like to see the establishment of an Inpatient Mental Health Unit for people of all ages, including youth. Such a unit could service the entire Gippsland South Coast including Phillip Island and the Waterline area up to Koo Wee Rup.
“BCH has recently applied for funding for a permanent Alcohol and Drug Withdrawal residential inpatient bed. We are hopeful that we will get this funding which will go a long way in supporting those people in our community, including our younger adults, withdraw and recover from alcohol and drug addictions.
“Overall it would be good if our youth did not have to travel further afield to access services,” Ms Jamison continued.
“Public transport is an ongoing issue for people living in the Bass Coast shire and the Gippsland South Coast. Travel costs money! Those youth who may be experiencing financial hardship only end up suffering further financial hardship if they have to travel further afield to get assistance.
“They may also lose the connection and support of their family and friends if they need to stay away from their community for extended periods.
“We would like to see better access to a range of transport options for the youth of the Bass Coast if they have to leave to get services that cannot be provided locally.
“BCH understands through its partners, that recently several prevention programs for youth have been defunded, meaning vital support and general life skills programs which made a difference for vulnerable young people are no longer available to stop them slipping through the gaps.
“One of those programs was the Youth Connections program, mentioned above.
“Many of the services that exist in the Bass Coast Area are only outreach services, this means that the actual service resides outside of the local gove
rnment area, usually Latrobe Valley.
“BCH also understands that many people give up on services provided in the Bass Coast as they are limited which means they are not timely in their delivery therefore young people will often access services outside our catchment either in Latrobe Valley or southern Melbourne.
“This means we do not capture the data on exact needs for youth as they leak out of our shire to access services. This makes it harder to advocate for the actual services we need,” Ms Jamison said.
Also in the audience at the forum were committee members of the Wonthaggi Basketball Association.
As a result of what they heard on the night, they have redoubled their efforts to get proper indoor sports facilities in the town.
“Many towns, far smaller than Wonthaggi, have basketball facilities that we can only dream about. It’s got to be affecting our youth,” said a spokesperson for the group.
Youth service shock