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Wednesday, 16 February 2000
Page: 11859

Senator GIBBS (1:32 PM) —I would like today to draw the Senate's attention to an innovative program that has started in Queensland. The Queensland government has set up three Youth Justice Service pilot programs to address the problem of youth crime. These services are in Townsville, Logan and Ipswich. There has been a lot of attention recently on the significant problems with mandatory sentencing laws in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, specifically in relation to how they affect young people in those places. I do not intend to focus on that today, but I note that this Queensland program presents plenty of evidence that there are other ways to address the problems of youth crime. There are ways to tackle this problem in a fair and balanced manner.

In January I attended the opening of the Ipswich Youth Justice Service pilot program and I am extremely pleased to say that I was very impressed with what I saw and heard. In opening the facility, Queensland Families, Youth and Community Care Minister, Anna Bligh, summed up the program by saying that its goal was to hold young offenders accountable, tackle the causes of their crimes, give them a fresh start and increase community safety. One of the main goals of the services is to achieve a balance between encouraging and valuing participation by youth offenders, while also recognising that a certain level of responsibility and accountability must accompany their participation. The youth justice services manage young people subject to community based juvenile justice orders such as probation, community service, immediate release and fixed release. They also supervise young people placed on conditional bail programs and, with youth detention officers, are responsible for the coordination of young people in detention.

Youth offenders may be required to attend for service to comply with the conditions of their court orders. That attendance requires participation in a range of activities, such as assessment and planning of their program needs, counselling, group work, community service, education, employment and training, skills development and victim awareness work. This work is done to help the young person gain an insight into the causes and impacts of their offending. It helps them develop options for meeting their needs without offending. It also helps the young person develop skills, interests and community networks to divert them from future offending.

The services provide specialist case management that assesses the factors contributing to offending behaviour. When a young offender comes to them, they target interventions to meet the needs of that individual. Staff at the Youth Justice Service are responsible for overseeing the young person's compliance with court imposed orders. They provide counselling in accordance with other requirements. They respond to identified lifestyle issues such as health, education and drug abuse. They also provide services in areas such as accommodation, work, training and education that assist the young person's integration into the community.

Youth justice services operate within a set of primary objectives. These objectives are closely matched by work practices. They aim to identify the issues contributing to the young person's offending behaviour. They identify the most appropriate interventions. They implement an intervention strategy targeting the behaviour that caused the offence. They monitor the young person's participation and compliance with order requirements and they divert the young person from further involvement in the juvenile justice system.

There is a specific rationale for setting up the program. Throughout Australia in the late 1980s and the early 1990s there was a move to specific juvenile justice legislation. This move was a response to higher and higher rates of youth offending. But in addressing this situation, there was also a need for an accountable system capable of providing a balanced response to juvenile offending. In most states, child protection and juvenile justice services were separated. That approach had not been used in Queensland before this project started. Research from Australia and overseas suggests that separating juvenile justice services from child protection services helps authorities better assess and better plan interventions for young offenders.

One of the benefits of splitting the services is that staff can specialise more in the services they provide. Specialisation gives staff the opportunity to develop a more coordinated approach to service delivery. The benefits are passed on to the clients in terms of enhanced assessment and case planning interventions. With more time and focus for assessment, case workers are in a better position to assess the issues underlying offending behaviour and to develop appropriate interventions.

The centres conduct their work on a collaborative basis. Previously service delivery was geared towards establishing a relationship between the young person and a single case worker. The new system turns this system on its head somewhat and focuses on a team approach to case management that includes the youth, their family and relevant community networks and agencies. The collaboration is being achieved by including the young person, their family and their extended family. Programs and activities are developed to meet the specific needs and interests of the individual. Workers consider the most appropriate venues and methods for conducting meetings with the young person. Finally, workers will also try to match the young person with a worker from a similar cultural background where possible.

That collaboration is further heightened by establishing partnership with other government and community organisations. This has been achieved by inviting community organisations to deliver services to the young people; planning and delivering programs with other service providers; and establishing local reference groups that oversee the operation of each service. The local reference groups consist of government and community representatives, such as education, health, police, magistrates, employment and training and youth agencies. The local reference groups monitor, guide and assist the progress of the service. They also provide an avenue for securing the involvement and collaboration of relevant stakeholders who are in a position to offer young people access to services, skill development and supports.

Each service has a different staff structure reflecting the particular needs of the clients and the community. This includes case work staff, program staff, specialist workers and administrative staff. A significant number of the young people targeted by the services are from disadvantaged backgrounds. They are quite often people who experience difficulties in areas including social disconnection, substance abuse, literacy and numeracy, family disruption, unemployment and abuse. Part of the primary focus is to address the number of indigenous youth being subject to juvenile justice orders.

In the pilot locations indigenous young people represent a high level of juvenile justice clients. In Ipswich they represent 40 per cent of the clients; in Logan, 33 per cent; and in Townsville, 60 per cent. These statistics highlight the need to guarantee that the services develop interventions that properly meet the needs of indigenous youth. Queensland has also taken an innovative approach to housing for youth justice services. Each of the services has been located in the community independently of other family and youth and community care services. The premises themselves have large program areas and are conducive to the delivery of activity based interventions. The premises set up a less intimidating environment for young people and their families by allowing for greater interaction between young people, staff, the community and other agencies. The premises have been designed to give staff the opportunity to increase the amount of time and space available for direct work with young people. This is based on the principle that the more time staff can devote to individual young people, the greater the opportunity for them to effectively engage and acquire a detailed understanding of their rehabilitative and support needs. Alternatively, the more young people can be engaged and included in coordinating interventions for themselves, the greater the possibility that they will be motivated to participate in a positive fashion.

As I said at the outset, considering recent events surrounding youth justice in some parts of Australia, I find it refreshing that at least one state in Australia is taking a balanced and informed approach to issues of youth crime. I wish the project well and I look forward to reporting on its success in the future.