Call-to-arms amid ‘juggernaut’ of youth unemployment

A FRONTLINE Latrobe Valley support service has escalated a call-to-arms for State Government and education stakeholders to avert a “downward spiral” of youth welfare in the Latrobe Valley.

Berry Street deputy director Jane Barr said she was compelled to intensify her advocacy for at-risk teenagers, after the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed youth unemployment had hit its worst levels in more than a decade.

“We have 600 early school leavers per year (in Latrobe and Baw Baw) who are Centrelink receivers… it’s like this unstoppable juggernaut and no one is really stepping up to try and stop it,” Ms Barr said.

The ABS data, released last week, showed national unemployment for 15 to 19 year olds had reached a 17-year high of 20.4 per cent, a statistic Ms Barr said was all too prevalent in the Valley.

With only three months of Commonwealth funding remaining for ‘Youth Connections’ – a “vital” youth outreach service coordinated locally through Berry Street which aims to re-engage early school leavers – Ms Barr said the Valley was unprepared to fill the impending service gap.

“From January to June we had an intake of 93 young people, and that was only what we were able to take in, we actually had 50 per cent more referrals than that,” she said.

While Ms Barr welcomed Morwell’s recently established Flexible Learning Option – a ‘safety net’ school for teenagers struggling in mainstream education – with a current intake of 32 places (soon to grow to 60) she said it would have a limited impact.

“The government has some flexible options in place and in development, but the gateway for those options is through the school system … we are talking about hundreds of children who are already severely disengaged outside the school gate, and those are the ones we are mostly concerned about,” Ms Barr said.

“We have an increasing number of young people presenting in court, putting only more pressure on families and the justice system… it’s very true that young people are carrying the burden of instability.”

Ms Barr has today made a formal approach to Member for Morwell Russell Northe for his support, while youth support services and education stakeholders will discuss the crisis at a round table discussion on 29 August.