Street kids: ‘We can’t casework our way out of this'



Above: Get them dancing. Photo by Pete Gleeson


Remote communities are better off than Alice Springs and Tennant Creek for youth activity programs.

UPDATE, 3 June 2016, 7.43am: Chief Minister Adam Giles responds, see bottom.

“Casework is not the appropriate tool to deal with hundreds of youths on the street – we have to thin out the numbers and the way to do this is change the environment,” says veteran youth worker Blair McFarland, manager of the Central Australian Youth Link Up Service (CAYLUS).
Runs on the board for CAYLUS include stamping out the scourge of petrol sniffing in desert communities: the strategy was to reduce supply with the introduction of OPAL fuel and reduce demand with organised recreational activities.
Remote communities are now better off in terms of this aspect of youth services than the highway towns of Alice Springs and Tennant Creek: “There is no community of any size south of Tennant Creek that does not have a youth program,” says Mr McFarland.
p2338-youth-Arlparra-girlsIt’s not rocket science: the programs involve things like weekly discos, movie nights, computer rooms, organised sporting activities, cultural trips to country, cooking programs, fashion shows.
At right: Miranda Morton, Andrea Lewis and Brenda Ross from Arlparra High School enjoying a fashion shoot. Photo by Timothy Ware
They are run by the regional councils as well as organizations like Mt Theo in the Warlpiri area. CAYLUS also contributes. For example, next week they will help when Urapuntja Health run a two-day festival for young people in the Utopia area: along with the fun the young people will get health checks and flu jabs.
Night-time activities are the missing ingredient in Alice, argues Mr McFarland. Mainstream sports and other groups are not engaging “the demographic that we are talking about”.
After the 2012 mini-budget slashed $3M from youth services, the drop-in centre operated by Congress out of the Westpoint building and the night-time activities run by Tangentyere out of premises on Brown Street both had to close their doors.
“Now we’ve got kids on the street – go figure!”
He said the experience of those services was that most young people would go home afterwards: “They’d been out and done something and were then happy to go home to sleep. Now they go out wandering the streets till the early hours, looking for something to do and not finding anything.”
p2338-youth-PapunyaWhat exists at present in town is simply not enough, he says. The Gap Youth Centre offers a program on Monday and Thursday nights, from 5-9pm. The Alice Springs Youth Centre puts on a disco on Saturday nights, finishing 10pm, funded by the Department of the Chief Minister. Last Saturday it attracted 150 young people. Apart from that, a stalwart group of volunteers opens the Uniting Church Hall as a drop-in centre, on Thursday and Friday nights.
At left: The well-patronised computer room at Papunya. Photo courtesy CAYLUS. 
“They run on nothing but their idealism, attempting to plug a gaping hole in the services,” says Mr McFarland. They regularly get around 50 people per night and up to 100, including older teens, “a notoriously hard demographic to get”. CAYLUS and other agencies help where they can “because we value what they do”.
The NT Budget ignored the problem and “the community was left to pick up the tab”, says Mr McFarland. In the worst case scenarios, neglected young people will end up in detention, “costing the community squillions and setting them on the treadmill” of a life of crime and incarceration.

Chief Minister Adam Giles sheets home responsibility for the 2012 cuts in youth services in Alice Springs to Robyn Lambley who was treasurer at the time. (Ms Lambley has since resigned from the government and the CLP and is running as an independent in the next election.)


Taking questions at a press conference yesterday he told the Alice Springs News Online that since he has been Chief Minister a lot of money has been put back in to youth services. The examples he cited are the $750,000 funding the youth patrol run by the Town Council and Congress “to get kids off the street at night to a safe place of refuge”; the $10m increase in the budget for the Department of Children and Families; and the second multi-million dollar redevelopment of the Alice Springs Youth Centre.


None of these, however, provide what the youth sector is calling for, which is a strong program of supervised meaningful night-time activities for young people who are not accessing mainstream programs.


Mr Giles says youth programs are not just the responsibility of government: Apart from parents and families “a lot of the time it is the town council who should be responsible right across the Northern Territory. I think they need to step up as well, plus the many organizations out there at the same time.”

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  1. Somehow I doubt if the cuts in youth services in Alice Springs can fairly be attributed solely to Robyn Lambley.
    Unless I am mistaken, she has already admitted that the new CLP government cut too deeply when they first took office almost four years ago.
    Whoever is to carry the can for past cuts, what’s important now is to get some programs up and running and to stop pretending that “she’ll be right”.

  2. @ Hal: I think that there has been enough money wasted on these people. It’s just a big black hole. It is about time these people start taking responsibility for themselves and their own families.
    As I am sometimes in the supermarket late at night, I wonder why these children are not at home in bed for school the next morning.
    They are also in the shops during the week day, why are they not at school.
    If they do not want to go to school, why are they not learning about their culture and learning about their land in their own school?
    Please I do not want to hear that their culture is complicated. Well, uncomplicate it. They do have elders they can talk to.

  3. @ Fred the Philistine, Posted June 3, 2016 at 7:18 pm:
    The removal of a presumption in favour of bail for youth offenders causing property offences could thin out the numbers of juvenile delinquents on our streets at night.
    I have no problem with this. One criticism of this move is that it would hamper judicial discretion, but then why does the current presumption in favour of bail not also hamper that same judicial discretion?
    Jails will become crowded, uncomfortable and unpleasant places to be. Good. Learn that at an early age, and maybe there will be less of a desire to go back later in life.
    Meanwhile, a strong program of youth activities might just reverse what is happening right now on our streets at night. This is especially so after a few of the more intransigent offenders get taken out of the equation.
    Why is the Gap Youth Centre only operating two nights a week? And why close at 9?
    A weekly disco at the Alice Springs Youth Centre is also good, but, again, why close at 10? And what is the facility doing the other six nights a week?
    Unfortunately, asking ASTC to get into the mix is a waste of time. And those often mentioned “elders” seem to be mostly preoccupied in familial demarcation disputes.
    They know full well who the offenders are but seem powerless to do anything about it. So any action will have to come from NT government departments. This would be money well spent.
    As it now is, if the police are called they have to walk on egg shells or worry about charges of brutality. If welfare steps in they have to operate under the self-seeding cloud of stolen generations. We seem to have hobbled ourselves.
    “These people”, as you call them, are causing avoidable grief to the rest of town, and with impunity. As a community we do not have to put up with this, professional crybabies notwithstanding.

  4. The Chief Minister alleges I am to blame for the cutting of youth services in Alice Springs in the 2012 Mini Budget. This is entirely misleading.
    The Mini Budget was announced 3½ months after the CLP came to Government in December 2012. It is true, as Treasurer (for six months) I demanded all areas of Government tighten their belts. And in hindsight I was responsible for a few ordinary decisions. But cutting funding to Alice Springs youth services was not one of them.
    The fact is Giles cut youth services when he became Chief Minister in 2013 and 2014 to the tune of over $2.5m per annum. This included closing the Youth Street Outreach Service (YSOS) and various drop-in and structured recreational services.
    These cut backs have led to a direct increase in kids roaming the streets at night, anti-social behaviour and crime.
    Mature politicians can reflect on their decisions and try to make amends for the bad ones.
    Robyn Lambley
    Member for Araluen

  5. In the case some of these children Welfare has stepped in and the children are supposedly in care. But they are still roaming the streets despite being under the responsibility of the Minister.

  6. @ Hal: In jail we need to teach these people life skills. However, unfortunately when they wanted the inmates to learn a trade, the local businesses complained that they would be disadvantaged and get less work.
    It was all because of their own greed that they could not look beyond this, and see it as a good thing.
    They could grow vegetables at the jail and do the hospital laundry. This would be a start. It would have been more sensible to give the jail a water licence, instead of one greedy pastoralist having it all, just to grow grape vines.


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