Valley youth left in limbo

A local youth support organisation fears rates of crime, homelessness and drug and alcohol abuse will rise in the Latrobe Valley and West Gippsland as the result of program cuts in the federal budget.

National outreach program Youth Connections, which helps early school-leavers re-engage with education and training, will not be funded beyond the end of the year.

It last year helped more than 400 disengaged local teenagers.

“It’s like the guts have been ripped out of you,” Berry Street senior manager of youth support services Deb Hamilton-Bean said.

“Schools won’t have anyone to refer to. There’s no safety net.”

Berry Street provides the Youth Connections program locally, with four case managers and three part-time staff, who could lose their jobs if they cannot be moved elsewhere in the organisation.

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

Ms Hamilton-Bean said the team assisted teenagers through assertive outreach and first helping them address any family, mental health or drug and alcohol issues, and this was a unique approach.

In a statement to The Express, a spokesperson for Parliamentary Secretary for Education, Senator Scott Ryan said Youth Connections was not funded by the previous Labor Government beyond December 2014 and was intended for state and territory governments to take over.

The spokesperson said students and children under the compulsory school age of 17 years were the direct responsibility of state and territory governments and 74 per cent of Youth Connections participants were under 17.

They said the Federal Government was committed to a range of programmes to assist young people into employment including Disability Employment Services, the Indigenous Employment Program and Job Services Australia.

Berry Street believes Job Services Australia is not equipped to provide the kind of specialised service Youth Connections can.

JSA 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 this January, JSA acknowledged it did not have the flexibility of Youth Connections and often made recommendations to the service.

In a statement in March, the government said it would ensure the next round of Job Services Australia in 2015 would “effectively address the needs of young Australians seeking work”.

On Friday, the spokesperson would not say how JSA would be changed.

“We are improving financial incentives for young people to find and stay in employment through the Job Commitment Bonus and the Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job scheme,” the spokesperson said.

“In addition to these programmes, the government is also investing $300 million over four years from July 2014 for the Green Army programme, which will provide opportunities for young Australians aged 17 to 24 years to gain training and work experience.”