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Youth Advocacy Centre is in the Spotlight

by Peakcare Qld on 2nd April 2015

Home -> Articles -> 2015 -> April -> Youth Advocacy Centre is in the Spotlight

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“YAC is a great organisation. The YAC workers supported me and assisted me with all my problems. They were friendly, reliable, they listened, were supportive and even came to the house to help.”

The Youth Advocacy Centre (YAC) offers a range of free legal and social welfare assistance services to young people between the ages of 10 to 18 years. The Youth Advocacy Centre is a Brisbane based service supporting and advocating for children and young people in the greater Brisbane region– particularly those involved in, or at risk of involvement in the youth justice and/or child protections systems and/or who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. More limited support to young people outside of Brisbane via telephone, website and publications is also possible.

Shining a spotlight on YAC exemplifies that there is so much to highlight. When delving into what it is that makes YAC the respected and probably unique organisation it is, the philosophy of the organisation and the manner in which this is incorporated across the organisation is note-worthy. From the governance arrangements to direct service delivery with children and young people, YAC maintains solid boundaries on ethical and client-focused practice. Regardless of shifting external influencing factors and varying perceptions about advocacy, the rights of children and young people and other associated matters, YAC holds true to its values and practice. It could easily be claimed that whilst the temptation to appease either those in power or processes in vogue, YAC remains prepared to negotiate, learn and grow whilst also remaining committed to core values and philosophies pertinent to sound practice. YAC’s Director, Janet Wight is clear about the organisation’s purpose: “Our aim is to engage with civility and respect for people who hold differing views in order that our advocacy for young people is heard and so has a chance to be influential, but that does not mean that we compromise on the message.”

In stating YAC’s philosophy, children and young people are considered a vulnerable group in society requiring specific attention. Their developmental processes are acknowledged, so too are their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC). In particular, YAC holds true to:

  • The right of young people to be treated equally, irrespective of “colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.”
  • The right of a young person to have an opinion and to be heard in all matters affecting the young person.
  • Consideration of the best interests of the young person to include consideration of the views of the young person.

The best interests of a young person can only be ensured if justice is not only done but, more importantly, that the young person perceives that justice has been done. To that end it is acknowledged that:

  • Young people’s interaction with legal and administrative systems and processes is frequently because of social circumstances and difficulties in their lives and as such it is important to work with the young person in relation to their legal and social welfare issues and listen to and advocate for their perspective.
  • A young person has the right to an advocate to rebut any allegations made and/or to put forward their views in any matter which affects them, irrespective of whether they are alleged or found to have transgressed the legal or other systems in some way or they are the victim of a specific act, situation or a systemic problem.
  • In accordance with Australian law, if a young person is considered to be “Gillick competent” in relation to the presenting issues, the young person is entitled to have an advocate act on their instructions and to confidentiality from their advocate.

In order to actualise YAC’s core principles and philosophies, a strong and unified team cognisant of the skills and capacity of each individual team member is a key component to success. The views and opinions of all staff in relation to matters which affect them individually or as part of the broader organisation are valued equally and all have an important role in decision-making processes. To that regard, YAC considers itself an egalitarian organisation. All staff are collectively responsible for upholding YAC’s philosophy and mission and contributing to a safe and productive team environment. “It seems inappropriate to advocate for respect for our young clients and ensure that they are listened to, if, as an organisation and staff, we don’t model that type of behaviour in our day to day work interactions and organisational policies” says Janet Wight.

With the strength of governance together with sound philosophies that denote the value of both children and young people and the staff who work with them, the Youth Advocacy Centre delivers various services through a multidisciplinary team that comprises Lawyers, Social and Human Services Workers and Administrative staff. YAC is intent on maintaining and enhancing the rights of young people in legal and other systems by providing legal advice, referral and advocacy but also addressing the multitude of social welfare, environmental and personal issues that generally underpin their legal issues such as: homelessness, abuse, family breakdown, peer issues, education and training. Kirra Faulkner is one of YAC’s solicitors who considers working with children and young people facing a gamut of complex issues in their lives as significant in her work: “For me the biggest drawcard as an employee of YAC is that we operate within a holistic framework. Whilst it is important to address the legal issues there are often more important issues for young people and their families. Without addressing these issues we would just be band-aiding young people through the legal system.”

In working towards a more responsive approach to children and young people YAC undertakes and sponsors critical research and provides evidence based commentary and expert opinions in relation to the law and legal and social welfare systems and processes. The impact on children and young people is also acknowledged when briefing key personnel in government and the community sector. YAC is particularly concerned with highlighting the difficulties facing young people at risk whilst also promoting strategies which encourage communities to step up and take responsibility for the solutions required to support their children and young people. Whilst calling on communities to take a stand and respond through advocacy and education, the rights of children and young people remain central to any process.

Academics, advocates and practitioners in this field who are familiar with the plethora of issues facing children and young people and relevant research about trauma, abuse and offending behaviors recognise that the two issues are not mutually exclusive. The vast majority of young people who cross paths with juvenile justice systems have histories of significant harm, homelessness, displacement, missed schooling and lacking life opportunities and are disenfranchised due to experiences outside of their control. So few are malicious with the intent to do harm. Yet so often in our society we forget the social costs of child abuse, poverty, lack of acceptance and the various other factors such as race, religion and social status that marginalise young people and set them apart. Whilst offering support options, programs and interventions has long been demonstrated as the answer we continue to minimalise the pertinence of such options and often instead punish young people for ‘acting out’ behaviours, so commonly a derivative of trauma. At this point in time Queensland’s Juvenile detention centres are more crowded than ever. We know how to support young people differently. We know incarceration need only ever be used as the last resort. Given we know how to work better with children and young people we have no excuse but to do better.

Janet Wight sums this reality up succinctly when she states: “YAC exists because we want our society to care about its young people and recognise that young offenders are usually victims of their circumstances (troubled) before they are offenders (troublesome) and if we want them to turn their lives around, the adults in control of their environment need to assist with that”.

It’s hard to fathom why anyone would struggle with the reality that children and young people acting out from abuse and harm coupled with difficult life experiences should be shown anything but kindness and compassion whilst being offered multiple support options to heal their trauma and encourage positive life opportunities. All evidence suggests that early intervention with young people is the best possible scenario for them and society as a whole. Yet we continue to focus on unsympathetic options that ensure our detention centres burst at the seams.

How could any well-meaning person in our society choose to punish those who’ve yet to have an opportunity to truly be themselves devoid of the full influence of life experiences that include harm, including when adults were at the helm in decision making in their lives?

To find out more about the work of the Youth Advocacy Centre click here.

What do you think about these comments? Should society be more aware of how much harm children and young people face and be more cognisant of that when they make mistakes?

Do we need further interventions for young people who have experienced trauma and then have contact with the juvenile justice system?