By ERWIN CHLANDA
Cr Jade Kudrenko (at left) couldn’t have put it better: “All we are doing is asking for a report.”
There is not much more left than that, in terms of actual commitment, of an ambitious project the town council had proposed, unanimously, just two weeks ago.
Last night the council did an about-turn and marched away from setting up a refuge for street kids who most nights are rampaging at will, stealing and vandalising.
Most importantly, the eight councillors had thought the kids, some as young as eight, are at extreme risk and needed help.
At the meeting of the council committee on July 11 all eight councillors had put up their hands for an extension of its Youth Patrol program which gives street kids lifts home.
Last night, at the full council meeting that could have ratified the shelter project, it was whittled down to the council mentoring, facilitating and supporting, but not “owning” the initiative.
Councillors said it should be the responsibility of the NT Government and NGOs all of which, just two weeks, ago were considered by the councillors to be making a hash of it.
Mayor Damien Ryan (belo right), who was on leave from the July 11 meeting, last night did not even know how many street kids there are: He took “on notice” a question from the Alice Springs News Online early in the meeting, saying: “I don’t have that information with me.”
That was an astonishing admission given that much of the meeting was about to discuss what to do with these kids.
So far as the NT Government is concerned, a partner in the Youth Patrol project, Chief Minister Adam Giles had told the News he had no objection to the disclosure of the number of kids being transported by the Youth Patrol. Locals have been wondering for years about the number of young people in the streets at night.
The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, the third partner in Youth Patrol, didn’t even bother to respond to enquiries by the News.
The council has that information: It is meticulously collected by its Youth Patrol team.
CEO Rex Mooney last night told the News he may be able to give us the details tomorrow, but made no commitment.
Last night the back-pedalling unfolded at a breathtaking speed, beginning with Cr Chancey Peach (below right): “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” he said.
He understood that Cr Steve Brown, the initiator of the proposal two weeks ago, now had a new plan which departed from the “in for the night unless picked up” principle which, said Cr Paech, could not be enforced without the consent of the parents: “We cannot legally restrain the children.”
That was claimed several times during the meeting but without substantiation. It appears at odds with the practice of protective custody into which police take hundreds of adults each year. They are clearly less vulnerable than pre-teens in the streets at two o’clock in the morning.
Cr Paech said there are existing services that have a proven record with youth issues.
Council money would be better spent in other areas. Diversion schemes are better than a “punitive” approach, he said.
The scheme would erode the capacity of families who should be “front and centre in this”.
Cr Brown (below left, with Cr de Brenni) said the committee decision – enshrined in a minuted motion – had really been just a “hunting for ideas”. There had been lots of feedback and there had been a “wrong impression of what I said”.
Contrary to the intentions expressed at the committee meeting Cr Brown said last night: “We cannot force children to do anything such as locking up or holding people in.
“If someone forces their way out we can’t do anything except maybe not letting them in next time.”
On the other hand Cr Brown referred to the “Port Augusta solution” he had raised when campaigning for election to the council, which he said accepted that the council had a duty of care for kids at risk, but in the form of “non judgmental supervision and completely voluntarily”.
Cr Brown said he was withdrawing what he now calls his “discussion point recommendation” and suggested a new plan to “engage” with the Chief Minister, Congress and any other bodies in after hour youth services.
Mr Mooney told the meeting that government officials had in recent discussions expressed “reservations” about the initial plan, but they were prepared to discuss the issues, they asked for a detailed request, had always adopted a “push back” attitude to after hours initiatives which were being considered as having been “not overly successful”.
The meeting was also told the police are not in favour of a safe house as proposed two weeks ago.
Deputy Mayor Jamie de Benni last night said the council should be “very pro-active,” should mentor and facilitate initiatives but not “own” them.
Mayor Ryan said he had concerns about the safe house recommendation but would support “exploratory work”.
Cr Paech supported a “trial” involving the council, the Youth Centre and Congress.
Cr Kudrenko said the new plans are “much better”.
There should be “intensive case management and support for families. We need more preventative measures”.
Many children are in the care of the department, she said.
They had been taken from their families which had subjected them to trauma.
Referring to the initial proposal she said the issue was “not a matter of entertaining them for the night. They just keep coming back”.
Cr Kudrenko said previous recommendations had not been followed. A “wholistic effort” is needed.
Cr Eli Melky (at right) said while the vote two weeks ago was unanimous, he encourages Cr Brown’s review, but it still wasn’t clear how the initiative would be funded and who would “own” it.
Cr Brown, mentioning that he is the CLP candidate for Araluen in the August 27 Territory election, said it was all about “not seeing young children on the streets at night”.
He had spoken to Mr Giles who “promised a review of how many children are in care”.
Cr Brendan Heenan said he would like to see the council go further, canvassing a broader community support.
He says the street kids are trapped in a revolving door situation. They could be encouraged to come to a safe house, “make it a fun night through education”.
Cr Jacinta Price (at right) also said the council should be a facilitator only, “make sure there are follow-ups, there are reports, but not have ownership. The last meeting was very emotive. Tonight kids are not banging on the windows.”
She said families had the key role: “This is where all the issues start from. They have to take the first step.”
Street kids refuge: Now you see it, now you don't.
By ERWIN CHLANDA