Youth program hangs in the balance

RELATED COVERAGE: ‘Lost without Youth Connections’

A NATIONAL outreach program, which last year helped more than 400 disengaged local teenagers, could be scrapped in December.

Berry Street Gippsland is pleading with the Federal Government to renew funding for the Youth Connections program to avoid what it says will be a devastating impact on local youth.

The program helps early school-leavers re-engage with education and training.

According to Berry Street, between 2010 and 2013 the program assisted 889 local young people return to vocational education, gain employment or access support.

Berry Street’s senior manager of youth support services Deb Hamilton-Bean said the Youth Connections team took a holistic approach to assisting teenagers, by first helping them address any family, mental health or drug and alcohol issues.

They are then invited to attend flexible life skills classes where they identify their own interests and hobbies before looking at options for education and training.

“Berry Street gets what these kids are going through,” Ms Hamilton-Bean said.

“We do assertive outreach. We actually go to these kids, grab them and bring them in.”

Berry Street is contracted to provide the Youth Connections program to teenagers in the Latrobe Valley and west Gippsland area who are either at risk of leaving school, recently disengaged, or have spent a year or more out of school.

It is given resources to reach out to about 200 teens each year, but last year worked with 485 young people.

Youth Connections is funded until the end of this year, but the new Federal Government is yet to show its support for the program.

A spokesperson for Parliamentary Secretary for Education, Senator Scott Ryan said funding beyond 2014 would be the subject of this year’s budget process.

“The Coalition recognises the importance of young people’s access to employment opportunities,” the spokesperson said.

“That is why our policies are directed at increasing economic growth, to ensure increasing job opportunities.”

The spokesperson said the government would ensure the next round of Job Services Australia in 2015 would “effectively address the needs of young Australians seeking work”.

Job Services Australia is the peak body for not-for-profit organisations that assist the unemployed to find and keep jobs.

In a report of recommendations to the Federal Government about youth transition services, JSA acknowledged it did not have the flexibility of Youth Connections and often made recommendations to the service.

“JSA providers value Youth Connections as a service because it is able to offer something they can’t: a relationship-based and youth culture-oriented approach to engaging, developing and supporting young people, encompassing a broad range of activities,” the report stated.