How we keep our youth from harm's way
A GROUP of up to seven workers from the Byron Youth Service are keeping young people who have committed offences away from harmful situations, offering new opportunities and lending a kind hand.
The Restorative Pathway Programs identifies people aged 12 to 17 years of age that have offended for the first time, and allows them to take responsibility for their actions, often face the people they have wronged, repair the harm done, and explain to them that their circumstances are not necessarily who they are, and that they can chose a better life.
These are children living or going to school in the Byron Shire who have committed drug and/or alcohol offences, disorderly conduct, assault, assault, intimidation, stalking and harassment, amongst others.
Facilitators Lindy Lou Smith and Dale Shaddick have met every child, know every single harmful act they have committed, have met some people they have harmed, and many times have been the first person to actually listen to a child's story before they face a magistrate.
A NSW Attorney General grant of $250,000 allowed the Byron Young First Offenders Program to start operating almost a year ago, with another eight months until funding runs out.
Up until July 2019, the workers are currently working with up to 35 young people Ms Smith said.
"They received intensive support and case management from the team," she said.
The program has supported 46 young people at 'restorative circles', a meeting between the perpetrator and the victim plus support workers, to discuss the incidents.
"The police have been great, they have really come on board; Chief Inspector Matt Kehoe trained in restorative practices and he was stoked with it," Shaddick said.
'With restorative practices, the healing spreads through the community."
The team has also delivered training for 73 teachers, in ten educational activities at four high schools.
They have also delivered 20 weeks of pop up services at Friday night Byron Bus Service Street Cruise, reaching more than 200 youth.
Ms Smith said the team works in partnership with NSW Police, Byron Shire schools and other youth support organisations in the area, mainly to identify those at risk, but also to educate teachers and other adults in regular contact with young people.
"We work with young people in terms of accountability and building relationships, restoring and repairing harm, and getting them to accept responsibility and learn, rather than punishing them," she said.
The program effectively gives young people an extra opportunity to correct their wrongs in a positive, non-punishing way, trying to move away from the 'bad kid' label.
"We also work with pre-offenders that are heading that way: they have been suspended or expelled from school, and or they are using substances," Ms Shaddick said.
Whether the young people have been charged by police or not, the workers manage their cases and sometimes support them through the court system.
Although most of them live with parents, foster carers or family, between five to ten percent of the children in the program are currently couch surfing or are living in homelessness.
"A referral could come from the police after someone is busted with drugs at a music festival, or it may be an incident at school, break and enter, an assault or harassment, so we can get referrals from schools too," Ms Shaddick said.