It is an issue for the ages and one which has confounded social workers, psychologists and parents for decades; how to successfully divert a young person from a near-certain path to juvenile detention.
And yet with just $380,000 of seed money and a six-month contract, the pressure is on a small team of specialists to prove they can make a big difference in the ACT.
Child welfare organisation Ozchild, which runs similar programs in NSW and Victoria, has been awarded the contract to deliver a new ACT program called Functional Family Therapy, specifically targeting those adolescents who are generally disadvantaged and flagged by the youth justice system as at a high risk of serious offending.
The Chief Police Officer for the ACT, Neil Gaughan identified inter-generational crime as a significant territory issue, observing that his officers are now arresting the grandchildren of those family members that he arrested 30 years ago when he first walked the beat as a ACT community police officer.
“As a community, we have got to get ahead of this persistent issue,” Deputy Commissioner Gaughan said.
“While at the back end, it’s law enforcement problem, at the front end there are many other things that have to be looked holistically in that discussion; that’s disadvantage of many kinds, it’s housing, health, education and welfare.
“We have to get inside those families and find out why that particular kid is knocking off that car, or breaking into that house because sometimes it might be as simple as [that young person] living a hand-to-mouth existence.”
The chief executive officer of Ozchild, Lisa Griffths agreed completely and is realistic about the extent of the task ahead given that some of the young people and families that her team are targeting will have seen a wealth of well-meaning social workers come and go over the years.
But she is confident in the processes they have established, and the team she has in Canberra.
“We run the same program in Tuggerah, in NSW, and we run a very similar program in Victoria which is called multi-systematic therapy, which is part of the youth justice system, too,” Ms Griffiths said.
She said that there was strong evidence for the effectiveness of the program.
“We have quite a depth of experience in it [the program] and of course, the hope is that with the efficacy model we have, we think we can start to show results in three to four months. We already have our team ready to go and the cases are already coming in.”
In her experience, many of the families are pleased to receive support.
“There is a requirement from the young people involved to want to buy into the program; they are voluntary [programs],” she said.
“This is a diversionary program; it’s about early intervention, it’s about encouraging positive behaviour, it’s about getting to these young at-risk people either at the very early stages of their offending, or when they’ve first made contact with the youth justice system.
“It’s always a challenge when there’s inter-generational dynamics involved so that’s why we will be working with the family and dynamic surrounding that young person.”
The Justice and Community Safety directorate has identified and referred the young people to Ozchild.
The directorate said that Ozchild had delivered programs for the Gugan Gulwan Youth Aboriginal Corporation, engaging successfully with 47 families and 142 young people where the children were at risk of being placed into out-of-home care.
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