VCOSS recently provided a submission to the government’s What’s important to YOUth? Discussion Paper, contributing to the development of a whole-of-government youth policy.
VCOSS commends the commitment to address gaps in support for young people experiencing disadvantage. While most young people do well, some face challenges which can limit their ability to engage in education and training, gain meaningful and secure employment, participate in community and social activities and access secure and affordable housing.
The VCOSS submission recommends strengthening the vision and objectives of the policy to emphasise the rights of young people and to include young people as partners in policy and program development. The submission also sets out a range of fundamental approaches and elements that should underpin the new youth policy, including:
- Addressing the structural and personal barriers young people may face to living fulfilling and happy lives and achieving their potential;
- Maintaining a focus on the strengths and rights of young people without focusing on a deficit approach to responding to disadvantage;
- Recognising the role of the community sector as partners in the delivery of policy objectives;
- Building greater collaboration between all parts of the service system and government, including youth specific services, adult services, education, justice and employment to improve outcomes for young people;
- Providing a holistic focus on a young person’s context to support them to thrive, such as family, community culture and place. This includes supporting the broader service system is able to provide ‘youth specific’ and ‘family friendly’ responses; and
- Recognising the diverse identities, experiences and needs of young people.
The VCOSS submission recommends strategies to strengthen support for young people against each section of the discussion paper including education, training, employment, mental health, alcohol and other drugs, housing, discrimination and transport.
Ensuring young people have equitable access to quality educational opportunities are fundamental to supporting them to realise their potential. Unfortunately the picture of educational opportunity across Australia shows significant disparity in the educational opportunities for young people. Alarmingly, recent research indicates that around ‘23 per cent of young people in Victoria do not attain a Year 12 or Certificate III equivalent by age 19.’ There is the opportunity for the youth policy to incorporate a range of strategies to reduce early school leaving, make the education system more responsive and accessible to all young people, better support students experiencing disadvantage including an increased focus on student wellbeing, and increase collaboration between the education, community and youth sectors.
Vocational Education and Training (VET) provides a key pathway to employment for young people, supporting their financial independence and engagement with the community. It also provides an essential pathway for vulnerable young people to engage in education and access training. Unfortunately relatively recent changes in funding arrangements and cuts in funding for some providers resulted in declining student enrolments among vulnerable learners and a range of quality concerns. Therefore including strategies to improve the accessibility of the VET system to young people facing disadvantage, protect the needs of vulnerable learners such as through quality control mechanisms and access to independent advice, and increase the alignment between training and employment opportunities are important priorities for the youth policy.
Youth unemployment and underemployment within Victoria sits at unacceptably high levels. A whole-of-government youth policy requires interdepartmental effort to address youth unemployment and under-employment, with a particular focus on young people facing multiple disadvantage. This should include greater support to help students become job-ready, through the development of employability skills in secondary school, including VCAL and Vocational Education and Training in Schools (VETiS) programs, as well as the provision of intensive, case-managed support for young people facing barriers to employment who require further assistance. This could be combined with broader strategies to improve the employment prospects of vulnerable people as outlined in the VCOSS report Tackling Unemployment.
More than one in five young people who completed Mission Australia’s 2014 Youth Mental Health survey met criteria for a probable mental illness. Early intervention is key to reducing the impact of mental ill-health on individual wellbeing and on the community. However there are significant gaps in the provision of youth specific mental health services in Victoria. A whole-of-government youth policy can support a cross-departmental approach to ensuring the availability of accessible and culturally appropriate youth-specific mental health supports along the service spectrum of prevention, early intervention, specialist/tertiary services.
Alcohol and other drugs
While Victoria could be described as leading the way in the provision of youth alcohol and other drug (AOD) services, young people still face barriers to accessing the support they need. In particular access to services needs to be improved in rural Victoria and for those living in the urban fringe.  A whole-of-government youth policy could include a commitment to interdepartmental collaboration and investment in programs and services, and to working with the youth AOD and broader youth and community services sectors to implement the ten point action plan developed by Youth Support and Advocacy Services (YSAS), the Centre for Youth AOD Practice Development and Youth Drugs and Alcohol Advice (YoDAA).
Young people in Victoria face significant barriers to accessible housing – within the rental market, as prospective property owners and in relation to public housing. They may also experience homelessness as members of families or as individuals. Holistic, wrap-around models of support to address homelessness, with links to educational and employment opportunities and support to address additional challenges they may be experiencing (such as mental health or substance abuse) are needed. Young people leaving care and exiting the justice system are particularly vulnerable to housing insecurity and need access to access to stable, long-term affordable housing. Young people experiencing disadvantage would also benefit from innovative social housing programs tailored to their needs.
The diversity of young people means that some young people are more likely to experience discrimination, racism, sexism and barriers to social inclusion than others. Young people also experience age-based discrimination in a number of areas including opportunities to participate in decision-making processes that impact on them. To help address discrimination and strengthen young people’s access and sense of belonging, the government could focus on improving the capacity of universal, secondary and tertiary services to be inclusive and accessible for all young people, and use education as a key tool in addressing discrimination. VCOSS also recommends an empowering, participatory approach to discrimination that sees young people as partners through schools, services and programs.
Access to reliable and accessible public transport is essential for young people to engage in education, training and employment, access critical services, and participate in social and community activities. However, access to public transport remains a significant barrier to participation for many young people, particularly those in geographically isolated areas (fringe, rural and regional areas) of the state, young people with disabilities and economically vulnerable young people. A youth policy can seek to address transport barriers for young people through a range of strategies including considering patterns of public transport use by young people, being smarter with the ways we use existing community transport resources and adapting ticketing products to improve vulnerable young people’s access to a valid ticket.
VCOSS also encourages the state government to consider issues beyond those raised within the discussion paper, including:
- Support for diversion and youth centred, integrated and holistic approaches to rehabilitation for young people who have contact with the justice system.
- Support for the enjoyment of cultural rights, including recognising the unique status of Victoria’s Aboriginal communities, and approaches to cultural strengthening across education, the workforce, the services sector and communities; and
- Support for young people to build healthy relationships to strengthen wellbeing and as a preventative strategy to reduce the incidence of family violence in Victoria.
 Lamb, S., Jackson, J., Walstab, A. & Huo, S. (2015), Educational Opportunities in Australia 2015: Who succeeds and who misses out. Centre for International Research on Education Systems, Victoria University, for the Mitchell Institute, Melbourne: Mitchell Institute. p.42.
 VCOSS Snapshot: Youth Unemployment in Victoria and Melbourne’s North. April 2015. Available for download from http://vcoss.org.au/blog/vcoss-snapshot-youth-unemployment-in-victoria-and-northern-metro/ Accessed 4/11/15.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Table 22: Underutilised persons by Age and Sex – Trend, Seasonally adjusted and Original ‘ Labour Force, Australia, Cat. No. 6202.0, September 2015.
 Mission Australia (2014), Youth Mental Health Report, p.4
 Ibid, p.27.
 Bruun, A. (2015) The Victorian Youth Alcohol and Other Drug Service System: A vision realised. Youth Support and Advocacy Service, Melbourne.
 The Youth Disability Advocacy Service outlined a range of concerns related to transport access for young people with a disability in their Submission to the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport (Transport Standards) 2012 Review. Available for download at http://www.ydas.org.au/policy-corner/ Accessed 4/11/15.