By Rhiana Whitson
11 July 2017, 4:30pm
Highly vulnerable young Tasmanians are ending up homeless or in youth detention because they are “too hard to care for”, according to a new report from Anglicare’s Social Research and Action Centre.
The report, Too Hard: Highly Vulnerable Teens in Tasmania, found at-risk young people aged 10 to 17 were often ignored by the state’s Child Safety Service (CSS).
It includes interviews with young people and frontline workers in government and non-government agencies, who spoke of a systemic failure in caring for highly vulnerable young Tasmanians.
As one police officer interviewed put it, “society is making them young criminals because we’ve got no other place for them”.
Youth Support Services coordinator Mardie Blair has 16 years’ experience, including five years working for the CSS.
“These young people have come from families that have been in chaos; family violence, drugs and alcohol, the young people have experienced this over and over,” she said.
Ms Blair said the CSS saw young people as able to “self-protect” and instead prioritised the care of younger children and babies.
‘Political leadership needed’
Some interviewed said young people thought they would be better off in detention.
“There were actually kids that we have that wanted to go to Ashley (youth detention centre), they desperately wanted to go. Because they knew they’d have somewhere to sleep, they’d get fed, they’d be able to access school, they’d be able to access medical services,” a manager of a youth program said.
Young people interviewed in the report spoke of their feelings of hopelessness.
“I would really like to have a place to go to when I had first run away. I would have liked to be able to have food in my belly,” Kiera said.
The report has recommended the Tasmanian Government invest in intensive long-term relationship-based care.
Researcher Catherine Robinson said there was an urgent need to address the chronic shortage of accommodation, mental health, and educational support.
“This cohort requires political leadership, we need to see responsibility being taken within State Government through the creation of a program area that focuses on highly vulnerable teens,” she said.
“We need to see child protection really step up in their responses to teens both in terms [of] their risk being understood and appreciated and also for the care options that are available for young people in this state.”
Children ‘have a right to safety’
The report and its recommendations have been backed by Tasmania’s Commissioner for Children and Young People Mark Morrissey.
“I believe Anglicare’s report is a call to focus on how we can do better by this particular cohort of vulnerable young people,” he said.
“We need to take more responsibility … children have a right to safety.”
Ms Blair said without a different approach the future for young people was grim.
“These young people are going to end up in our prisons so Risdon or Ashley youth detention centre, very poor health outcomes, massive high risk of suicide and death through risky behaviours.”
The State Government welcomed the report by Anglicare and said it had developed a Youth at Risk Strategy.
“The Government’s action and implementation plan for the strategy will be released in the next couple of months,” a spokesperson said.
Government vows to get tougher on ice
Police Minister Rene Hidding said it was an important report, and it raised many challenges.
Mr Hidding said the Government would push on to make sure it was tough on drug sellers.
“They [young people] ought to be protected, by a strong tough-on-crime stance … to ensure these young people don’t have ice pushed on them at a vulnerable point,” he said.
“This is a report that looks at the scourge of ice.
“As Police Minister, I am furious from the Mr Bigs who import it, all the way down to the street dealers, that this a shocking drug being pushed around the streets of Tasmania, particularly at the young people.”
He called on the Opposition to support the Government’s stance on crime.
“Every Tasmanian family, every element of government, every arm of government has to read this report carefully, react to it, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder against the kind of challenges this report is outlining,” he said.
“This in an intergenerational challenge.”